Reviewed by Donna Schwartz Mills
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
MPAA Rating: G.
Mom Rating: 3 out of 5br
Kid Rating: 4 out of 5br
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo,
John Rhys-Davies, Heather Matarazzo, Chris Pine
Writers: Gina Wendkos, Shonda Rhimes
Director: Garry Marshall
There was a time when I refused to buy a ticket to a sequel. I concluded that most of them were inspired less by the need to continue the story than by an urge to profit more from a previous success. They were invariably disappointing, so why bother? And what ever happened to the idea of just leaving the audience with the memory of a happy or satisfying ending?
But recent sequels, like Shrek 2, Spiderman 2 (PG-13, so not reviewed here) and the Harry Potter series, have turned my old rule on its ear. These stories get better with each subsequent film in the series... so I had high hopes for "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement."
And it looked promising. Once again, Garry Marshall was directing, and most of the original cast was back, beginning with the great Julie Andrews, and luminous Anne Hathaway, who looks fetching in all of her Princess ballgowns... as well as talented Heather Matarazzo, who kept the first movie from becoming too sweet, and Marshall regulars Hector Elizondo and Larry Miller. I knew that the original movie was based on a book series -- just like Harry Potter. And how often do you get to see a cast like this in a live-action movie that is rated G? No suggestive jokes or questionable language to worry about... This had the potential to be very, very good.
I should have quit when I was ahead.
The first "Princess Diaries" was an enchanting surprise. I think most young girls, raised on fairy tales like "Cinderella," have fantasized about being a princess. The story of young Mia Thermopoulis, who at the age of 15 finds herself living that fantasy... and discovers that the reality is not as much fun... resonated with young and old alike.
With all that "Royal Engagement" has going for it, one would have hoped that the folks at Disney would have started with a good script, perhaps going back to the well and adapting the storyline from another of Meg Cabot's books about Mia's education as a young royal. But instead, they delivered what is essentially an extended situation comedy (Laverne and Shirley Get Coronated?).
The movie picks up five years after we last saw Mia, who has now graduated from Princeton after studying world affairs and diplomacy (perfect preparation for her future role as queen). She returns to Genovia to begin training for her new job as ruler, but is thrown a curveball when she discovers that according to law, Genovian queens must be married. Mia is given 30 days to comply, or she loses the crown to a newly discovered rival heir to the throne.
There are a lot of problems with this premise, which the writers addressed weakly. Why didn't her grandmother, the current Queen, know about this law? (She did, but it was never enforced.) Why didn't anyone know about the rival heir? (It's been kept a secret by a Machiavellian minister of Parliament. Why? That's not clear.) Why are they giving her just 30 days to find a husband? (Because otherwise, there would be no basis for this sequel.)
The rival heir, by the way, just happens to be an attractive nobleman who Mia flirts with briefly before learning his intent. She likes him; she hates him -- and we know exactly where this is going. That's not so bad; romantic comedies follow this formula all the time and they still manage to engage us if they are executed well. A story this airy and light should float like a butterfly. Unfortunately, "Royal Engagement" moves toward its foregone conclusion like a steamroller.
And it does so slowly. At 115 minutes, this is longer than your average kid-appeal movie. It's padded with sequences that feel tacked on. A good example is a slumber party/ bachelorette bash that Mia throws for herself and a bunch of other princesses of all ages, for no other apparent reason than to give the film added appeal to its target tween audience. The woman has a little over four weeks to find a husband, get engaged, and deal with wedding details... and she spends time on this? It doesn't make sense. However, it does give the producers and excuse to showcase the ladies (including Andrews) "mattress surfing" down a palace staircase, and provide an opportunity to allow Andrews to sing. This, of course, has generated additional publicity for the film. (Could that have been the reason for it? Hmmm...) And -- surprise! Julie Andrews' song is actually a duet with Disney teen star Raven, who has no other reason for being in the movie, except to perform this cameo as a princess from an African nation (and show Disney channel fans what a talented singer she is).
The two eight-year-old girls I attended with did enjoy the movie. They laughed at all the "shtik" old sitcom-hand Marshall sprinkled throughout the film, and why not? This stuff seemed new to them. There was even a reference to Lenny and Squiggy, which probably went over the girls' heads. But even my daughter and her friend remarked that it was not as good as the original "Princess Diaries"... I guess it's time they learned about sequels...
Donna Schwartz Mills took film classes in college and spent 13 years working in the entertainment industry before "retiring" to marry a "non-pro" (Variety's term for anyone in any other business), and become a mom. Today she writes reviews of family films at her website, http://www.Family-Content.com , your source of family friendly content solutions for websites and ezines.