Movie Review: The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
By Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
Though DreamWorks' "Shrek" films poked some holes in the princess fairy tale, Disney is sticking to its guns with "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement," an improvement over the inelegant original.
As the subtitle suggests, American-bred princess Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) faces an arranged marriage before she can rule the tiny (fictional) country of Genovia.
But even before director Garry Marshall ("Pretty Woman") lays out the film's central conflict, "Princess Diaries 2" sputters to a rocky start, as star Hathaway doesn't even show up until five minutes into her own film.
During an opening montage, a look-alike doubles for Hathaway in what feels like a tacked-on preamble about her graduation from college. Marshall constantly obscures the stand-in's face - a trick usually employed by directors during re-shoots or when an actor's death necessitates it (see Bruce Lee in "Game of Death").
Audiences will breathe a sigh of relief, then, when a safe-and-sound Hathaway finally appears, teeth glistening white, at the top of a ballroom staircase.
Having just come from medieval spoof "Ella Enchanted," the tiara weighs a little heavy on Hathaway's typecast head. Julie Andrews, herself having just provided the voice for the Queen in "Shrek 2," returns as Mia's grandma, the reigning monarch of Genovia, and manages to keep both roles from drowning in blue-blooded boredom. A cast of supporting characters, including Mia's love interest and possible usurper Sir Nicholas (newcomer Chris Pine), adds momentum that was missing from the original, as well as stronger laughs. (Look for a cameo from Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, who plays a drunk and/or lecherous dignitary).
We're also given a few more details about Genovia, which looks like Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. populated by the actors in a Benetton commercial. We learn that the anachronistic, benevolent monarchy is probably "between Spain and France," but not whether it joined the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq.
Screenwriters Shonda Rhimes and Gina Wendkos still crib liberally from other Victorian-era and princess-out-of-water tales, including a bow-and-arrow lesson ripped straight out of "Emma." But Hathaway remains so disarmingly good-natured, it's difficult to fault the winsome starlet for plunging into the genre.
But if superheroes are simply a metaphor for adolescent male power fantasies, then the princess myth fulfills the little-girl dream of instant glamour, social elevation and the promise of "happily ever after."
"Princess Diaries 2" still stays with this trope, but stretches formula as well, adding a bit of feminist flair to Mia's creative solution to her crown crisis. Even if we can see everything else coming, "The Princess Diaries 2" ends strong, in an ultimately smoother, smarter sequel.
"The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement"
Directed by Garry Marshall; screenplay by Shonda Rhimes, Gina Wendkos; photographed by Charles Minsky; production design by Albert Brenner; music by John Debney; produced by Debra Martin Chase, Whitney Houston, Mario Iscovich. A Buena Vista Pictures release; opened Wednesday, Aug. 11. Running time: 2:00. MPAA rating: G.
Mia Thermopolis - Anne Hathaway
Clarisse Renaldi - Julie Andrews
Joe - Hector Elizondo
Lilly Moscovitz - Heather Matarazzo
Sir Nicholas - Chris Pine
Viscount Mabrey - John Rhys-Davies