Our pet name for Judge Diane Wild used to be "Princess," but after a scathing look or two we dropped it.
The throne is all hers…but there's a little hitch.
The Princess Diaries was a charming sleeper hit in 2001. It starred Anne Hathaway (Ella Enchanted) as Mia Thermopolis, an awkward San Francisco teen who discovers that she is the heir to the throne of Genovia, a make-believe country between France and Spain. Mia takes princess lessons in order to live up to her birthright, and of course the ugly duckling is transformed into a swan. Hopelessly formulaic but still enjoyable, the original stretched every fairy tale cliché thin. So what's left for the sequel?
Facts of the Case
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement picks up five years after the first movie. Princess Mia is now 21, a college graduate, and heading to Genovia to learn to rule under the wing of her grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music).
Thoughts of a leisurely transition are foiled when another heir to the throne is thrust forward by his uncle, the power-hungry Viscount Mabrey (John Rhys-Davies, Lord of the Rings), who invokes Genovia's ancient law that an unmarried woman cannot reign. Mia is given one month to marry or forfeit the throne to Nicholas Devereaux (Chris Pine), a handsome young man who had the temerity to dance and flirt with Mia at her birthday ball without revealing his royal lineage.
With the help of Grandma Clarisse and best friend Lilly (Heather Matarazzo, Saved!), Mia shops for an eligible husband, deciding on truly nice and truly boring Andrew Jacoby (Callum Blue, Dead Like Me). If you believe the two of them live happily ever after, you haven't seen enough romantic comedies.
The lovely duo of Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews created the charm of The Princess Diaries, but even they can't save the sequel. The plot, such as it is, is one we've seen a million times before. The movie is a collection of random pratfalls and teen-friendly skits held together with bubble gum. Mia waltzes with an assortment of ludicrously bad dancers, falls into a fountain, fires arrows at everything but the target she's aiming for. It might work as an extra—outtakes from the first film—but as a feature on its own, it fails miserably.
The first Princess Diaries had the benefit of acting as wish fulfillment for every girl who's ever dreamed of being a princess. Princess Diaries 2 is about what a drag it would all be. All eyes on you, parliament messing with your personal life, fighting off pretenders to the throne, all that waving and smiling and faking interest in the common folk. Oh sure, you get a closet full of clothes and jewels, but is it worth it? Mia's motivation to enter into an arranged marriage is explained as a patriotic, familial loyalty, but she's fighting against villains whose villainy is an apparently legitimate desire for the throne. She's not exactly defending the free world.
Characters we met in the first film are wasted here. Best friend Lilly is relegated to a few throw-away lines. (To Nicholas: "Lilly Moscovitz. Best friend of Queen-to-be. I don't like you.") Clarisse's bodyguard Joseph (Hector Elizondo, Pretty Woman) gets closure on his queenly crush, but his part is as unobtrusive as the usual token Hector Elizondo role in a Garry Marshall movie.
New characters such as the obsequious guard Lionel or Mia's two maids are barely fleshed out, existing only for the occasional comic relief—badly needed in a movie that didn't even threaten to make me smile—which they don't actually deliver on.
The big news during the making of Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is that Julie Andrews sings on film for the first time since throat surgery in 1998. This is not quite the Event it was made out to be. In the commentary, Andrews herself explains it was possible only because the song had "five low notes" that she could talk-sing through. And the song itself, "Your Crowning Glory"—a duet with Raven—is not likely to go down in history as the next "My Favorite Things" or even "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
There's nothing wrong with dreaming of being a princess. Now let's dream of Hollywood providing more entertaining, challenging films for young girls. This is a G-rated movie, and it could be argued that families need more of those, but the target audience deserves better.
Technically, Disney and Buena Vista give Royal Engagement the royal treatment (oh come on, I had to slip in at least one royal pun). The picture is nearly pristine, with the vivid colors of a fairytale come to life, and only some softness to keep it from perfection. The movie is dialogue-oriented with some musical numbers and party scenes, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix does a fine job of making the sound sparkle.
While most of the extras are blatant marketing for other Disney products (That's So Raven, the soundtrack), they are fairly extensive and well-done. "Find Your Inner Princess" caters to Cosmo girls in training, while an enjoyable commentary with director Garry Marshall and star Julie Andrews will also appeal to adults. Marshall, as an added bonus, is far less annoying here than on the Raising Helen disc, for example.
So, I asked in the Opening Statement, what's left for the sequel? The answer is, sadly, not much. Walk right past this one on the video store shelf and check out Ella Enchanted instead.
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is guilty of sequel greed and condemned to life in a remainder bin.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
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