'Princess' shows sappy can work

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2001

A cynical reviewer might say there's an ugly message in ''The Princess Diaries'' -- that all awkward teens need do to find contentment is get a makeover and wait for a hitherto unknown royal grandmother to come lay a crown on their heads.

But this is G-rated Disney, the source of countless Cinderella tales in which no unrealistic expectation goes unfulfilled. So let's give cynicism a rest.

Based on Meg Cabot's' novel, ''The Princess Diaries'' is as sappy as they come, a Pygmalion story told in Pollyanna terms. But sometimes sappy works, and this is one of those times.

Powered by a stately turn from Julie Andrews and a sunny, winsome performance from relative newcomer Anne Hathaway, ''The Princess Diaries'' is one to savor for its good humor and big heart, not its hackneyed fairy-tale notions.

Director Garry Marshall does let the movie run on longer than it should and allows the action to veer from the princess-in-geek's-clothing premise into lame high school shenanigans that detract from the story. But he recovers the focus in time for the predictable yet convivial conclusion.

Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, a San Francisco teen-ager who's grown comfortable being an invisible outsider at her school. With her frizzy hair, Brezhnev eyebrows and terror of speaking in public, Mia hangs with fellow geekette Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) on the bottom steps of the popularity pecking order.

Then once upon a time, Mia's mom (Caroline Goodall), a freethinking artist who lives in a converted firehouse, tells her daughter that her paternal grandmother's in town for a visit.

Turns out Mia's recently deceased father was heir to the throne of the fictitious kingdom of Genovia. And now the job is Mia's, if she'll take up the scepter.

''Just in case I'm not enough of a freak already, let's add a tiara!'' whines the reluctant Mia.

As Mia's grandmother, Queen Clarisse, Andrews gets to play Henry Higgins to Hathaway's Eliza Doolittle, the role she originated on stage in ''My Fair Lady.'' Through ''princess lessons,'' the stern yet compassionate Clarisse schools her klutzy heir in the ways of royalty.

Mia ultimately must decide between her old, quiet existence and her new public life.

The film is aimed at young girls, but schmaltz-tolerant adults of both sexes will find it a decent, harmless piece of entertainment.

Andrews is pure class and elegance here. But Hathaway rules the film, creating a teen who's almost too lovable: At times, early on, Mia's so smart and beguiling it's hard to fathom how she could be anything but the most popular girl in school.

With a lesser cast, this one probably would have been dubbed a pauper in princely clothing. But the fresh, funny interplay among Andrews, Hathaway and the supporting players makes it engaging enough to accept its dreams-come-true dippiness.

''The Princess Diaries,'' a Disney release, is rated G. Running time: 114 minutes. (See related story for the rating definitions.)

------

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.

HEAD:'Princess' shows sappy can work

CREDIT:AP Photo/Buena Vista Pictures, Ron Batzdorff

CAPTION:In Walt Disney Pictures' live-action comedy, "The Princess Diaries," Academy Award-winner Julie Andrews, right, stars as the formidable Queen Clarisse Renaldi, who provides her American granddaughter, Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) with "princess lessons" and a complete make-over so she might be persuaded to accept her duty as heir to the throne of Genovia.

BYLINE1:By DAVID GERMAIN

BYLINE2:AP Movie Writer

A cynical reviewer might say there's an ugly message in ''The Princess Diaries'' -- that all awkward teens need do to find contentment is get a makeover and wait for a hitherto unknown royal grandmother to come lay a crown on their heads.

But this is G-rated Disney, the source of countless Cinderella tales in which no unrealistic expectation goes unfulfilled. So let's give cynicism a rest.

Based on Meg Cabot's' novel, ''The Princess Diaries'' is as sappy as they come, a Pygmalion story told in Pollyanna terms. But sometimes sappy works, and this is one of those times.

Powered by a stately turn from Julie Andrews and a sunny, winsome performance from relative newcomer Anne Hathaway, ''The Princess Diaries'' is one to savor for its good humor and big heart, not its hackneyed fairy-tale notions.

Director Garry Marshall does let the movie run on longer than it should and allows the action to veer from the princess-in-geek's-clothing premise into lame high school shenanigans that detract from the story. But he recovers the focus in time for the predictable yet convivial conclusion.

Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, a San Francisco teen-ager who's grown comfortable being an invisible outsider at her school. With her frizzy hair, Brezhnev eyebrows and terror of speaking in public, Mia hangs with fellow geekette Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) on the bottom steps of the popularity pecking order.

Then once upon a time, Mia's mom (Caroline Goodall), a freethinking artist who lives in a converted firehouse, tells her daughter that her paternal grandmother's in town for a visit.

Turns out Mia's recently deceased father was heir to the throne of the fictitious kingdom of Genovia. And now the job is Mia's, if she'll take up the scepter.

''Just in case I'm not enough of a freak already, let's add a tiara!'' whines the reluctant Mia.

As Mia's grandmother, Queen Clarisse, Andrews gets to play Henry Higgins to Hathaway's Eliza Doolittle, the role she originated on stage in ''My Fair Lady.'' Through ''princess lessons,'' the stern yet compassionate Clarisse schools her klutzy heir in the ways of royalty.

Mia ultimately must decide between her old, quiet existence and her new public life.

The film is aimed at young girls, but schmaltz-tolerant adults of both sexes will find it a decent, harmless piece of entertainment.

Andrews is pure class and elegance here. But Hathaway rules the film, creating a teen who's almost too lovable: At times, early on, Mia's so smart and beguiling it's hard to fathom how she could be anything but the most popular girl in school.

With a lesser cast, this one probably would have been dubbed a pauper in princely clothing. But the fresh, funny interplay among Andrews, Hathaway and the supporting players makes it engaging enough to accept its dreams-come-true dippiness.

''The Princess Diaries,'' a Disney release, is rated G. Running time: 114 minutes. (See related story for the rating definitions.)

------

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.



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