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MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 115 minutes
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Heather Matarazzo, Hector Elizondo, Mandy Moore, Caroline Goodall, Robert Schwartzman and Julie Andrews
Screenplay by: Gina Wendkos
Directed by: Garry Marshall
Retail Price: $19.99
Features: Audio Commentary with Director Garry Marshall, "The Ultimate Tea Party" Audio Commentary with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway, A New Princess featurette, Deleted Scenes, Myra Music Video - "Miracles Happen", Krystal Harris Music Video - "Supergirl," Sneak Peeks
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, THX-Certified, Scene Selection (27 Scenes)
Released: December 18th, 2001
Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is a bright, awkward teenager from San Francisco who resides with her mother and her cat. While she's tormented at school and feels that nothing really makes her standout, all of that is about to change when her grandmother (Julie Andrews) that she's never met before comes for a visit and informs Mia that she is the heir to the throne to the fictional country of Genovia. Mia now has to make a choice: does she continue with her usual, daily life or does she make a leap to become a princess? In typical family fare, it's up to Mia to go from klutz to steady royal heir through "princess lessons," accept her new found fame, juggle her social life and of course, gain confidence within herself.
This is Garry Marshall's "The Princess Diaries," based on the popular book by Meg Cabot (which has spawned a few sequels itself). I really like Garry Marshall as an actor and as a director (okay fine - I'm a Garry Marshall fanboy to an extent, and I may be the only one of my kind), and while I never read the book, the trailers made this movie seem decent enough with what appeared to be a good premise, even if it is rated G. While Marshall has directed some great movies and has directed his fair share of stinkers, I have to say that "The Princess Diaries" winds up somewhere in the middle.
Marshall does a pretty decent job of directing here. This film goes at a nice pace, but I often felt he rushed into things too quickly and doesn't give the audience time to breathe. I really don't think the main problem is with him though, as I think Gena "Coyote Ugly" Wendkos' script is what brings this movie down so many notches. We all know what kind of quality a script like "Coyote Ugly" is, and here Wendkos gives us just that: inferior material that really could have been something outstanding. Again, I never read the book but the script is really, really underdeveloped. It introduces us to one dimensional characters who somehow play big roles without saying much and while they create conflict, we really don't feel it. These characters play more like objects and are not exactly natural. They are there to sort of give the underdog feel and wrap things up toward the end of the movie. I'm talking about the head cheerleader, her boyfriend and a few others who are easy to point out. Mandy Moore as Lana the cheerleader has what, five lines? She's supposed to be the big enemy of Mia, but there's hardly conflict between them despite some mentions and a scene or two. Same goes for her boyfriend, Josh (Erik von Detten). Mia fantasies about him and they share two scenes together that really have no point and don't even make much sense for that matter. Let's also take Lilly (Heather Matarazzo), Mia's best friend. They fight, they love each other, they fight... it gets old rather quick, not to mention how uninspired it is. And there's Lilly's brother, Michael (Robert Schwartzman) who always has a factor in Mia's life but nothing is truly built up between them. Besides Mia and her grandmother, there is no real chemistry between these characters. It tries to create it, but you need more then two scenes and a lot more interaction between them to really create conflict and a good feel.
The script also features plotlines that go nowhere. I will admit the good portions: Mia and her grandmother. Things do develop there, not to mention some funny lines or two. It also opens a little bit about the famous and that everyone-deserves-some-privacy-issues. Still, it's not enough to save this movie. This script lacks build-up and set-up, it just goes right in and we go for the ride. Again, I think this is a very good idea for a movie but the outcome is very mediocre. I expected a lot better, since there is really a lot you can do with a concept like this. It's just poorly, poorly developed and comes out a bit jumbled as the film needed more structure to what it's trying to present. It has good themes and morals about being yourself and fame, but it just takes one thing usually and then gets rid of it instead of spreading it out. What we really needed (or at least I did) was to see more of Mia's desires and insecurities. But hey, this movie is rated G. It has to make your grandmother smile.
Still, I have to give credit where credit is due. The acting in this movie is pretty much all you can ask for, and the actors do give a bit more then what the script offers. Anne Hathaway, from the short-lived Fox show "Get Real" has a big career ahead of her as she fits the shoes nicely as Mia - I really enjoyed her. Indie acting teen queen Heather Matarazzo does a fine job as Lilly, while Robert Schwartzman is quite good as her brother Michael (he just looks like his brother Jason Schwartzman, it's a bit eerie). Mandy Moore has a few lines as I mentioned and I guess she's okay (this was her debut role, and since then she's actually transformed into a really good actress), but she's hypocritical in this movie as she once said she'd never show off her navel and get sexy like other pop stars, but in this flick she actually does (but not too sexy - this movie is G after all). Go figure. Erik von Detten is nothing exciting as Josh while Marshall alumni Hector Elizondo is his usual great, likable self and even offers insight on to more mature matters children probably won't understand. Larry Miller also pops up as his hilarious self and finally, Julie Andrews has a very big role as Mia's grandmother, Clarisse. While she can't sing like she used to, she does a really excellent job acting in this movie and brings the honor, grace and dignity to the queen of Genovia. Overall, a really great cast that acts out the material well.
I'm not the key demographic for this film, but I will admit I have enjoyed some family films aimed at much younger audiences than myself in the past. As there are films that I can fully recommend for whole families to enjoy, this is one where I really can't. There are a number of problems with this movie, but let me just say that if you know or have a young girl, they will probably like this movie (actually they love it - the film was a sleeper hit during the summer of 2001 and grossed more than 100 million domestically) as it is acts out the dream of most young girls: someone ordinary becoming a princess. And as we should all know, Disney Princesses have become a very marketable thing over the past few years with their animated films, and girls look up to them in some sense and actually desire to be them (I wish I could be Belle, but hey, we can't have everything! And yes, I am joking). So yes, this movie is for young girls but if you must sit through it, there are a few situations and jokes to enjoy. Still, my opinion doesn't matter so much when it comes to a movie like this since I'm not a little girl (though sometimes I wish I was! - yes, just joking again). This movie perfectly fits in with Disney's live-action film line (and again, their whole Disney Princess thing), but as the Garry Marshall fanboy I must say this: the man has done much better, and even broader (yes, even if this movie is rated G) films.
Available in separate THX-certified full screen and widescreen versions, this 1.33:1 full screen version looks pretty good despite the obvious cropping. For the most part the transfer looks soft, but at times it does exhibit being sharp. Noise and edge halos pop up quite a bit too, and the source print isn't exactly clean - there are plenty of blemishes, specks and dirt pieces to be found. On the more positive side of things, fleshtones come across excellent, detail is really good, color saturation is pretty good (and fits well into the scheme of the movie with no bleeding at all) and there's no edge enhancement. Slightly underwhelming overall, but still nice.
The included English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is decent, but a little bit on the low side. Dialogue is very clear and comes across fine, but I was pretty disappointed in how the music comes out, such as John Debney's fine score and the pop songs. The music sounds pretty flat overall, and doesn't give the track a boost as it should (I definitely expected more energy when it came to the pop songs). As far as surrounds go, the rears do get a chance to shine in some key moments but can't totally save things together. Mia's training to be a princess, her acting like a klutz and the beach party scene stand out and bring some action. In all, this is a perfectly standard mix. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is on the disc as well, plus English closed captions and subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
The disc has two commentaries, and the first - the Audio Commentary with Director Garry Marshall - is excellent. Of course I'm a fan of the guy, but he certainly knows how to deliver a commentary. Marshall gets going and pretty much never stops (I'm not sure if he even stops to take a breath during the commentary) - he's chatty, and he presents himself as if he's right next to you speaking. Marshall is really hilarious (he always is), but he wonderfully touches on all aspects of the production - from story details to technical aspects to the actors and a whole lot more. It's really amazing just how detailed Marshall is when it comes to the production, and how he remembers so much of the production, as if he knows it like the back of his hand. I may not be a giant fan of Marshall's movie, but I certainly loved his commentary.
There's also The Ultimate Tea Party Audio Commentary with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway. The concept of this track is quite nice - the two stars are in a Disney screening room and while they're watching the movie, they're having an English tradition - high tea (which occurs at about four in the afternoon if you don't know, or if you ever make it to the U.K.). This is a very solid track as it's clear that each actor respects one another, and they do have a natural rapport together (which certainly does show on screen). Each offer a lot of praise to the cast and crew, but they actually have a lot of great production stories to share, some of which are quite fun (Andrews seems to be pretty interested in asking Hathaway questions about scenes she wasn't in). I think some younger fans of the movie will listen to this commentary (it's definitely more accessible to them, and a lot calmer than Marshall's track), but older folk will certainly enjoy it too.
The twenty-four minute A New Princess featurette takes a decent look at the film coming together. Hosted by star Anne Hathaway, this is actually a pretty strong look at the making of the movie with loads of on-the-set footage, audition footage, movie clips and interviews. Producer Debra Martin Chase, producer Whitney Houston, director Garry Marshall, Hathaway, Heather Matarazzo, Mandy Moore, Patrick Flueger, Julie Andrews, Mindy Burbano and Robert Schwartzman. We get information on the basis of the movie, the cast, how great of a set it was, how great everyone was, fun events during filming - things along that line. It's a bit self-congratulatory, and not always in-depth, but it's still a good watch. Besides, it's really hard to resist Garry Marshall's energy and what joy he brings to his sets.
Next up are eight Deleted Scenes with introductions by Garry Marshall. Marshall is not only fun (he offers a tip for teen boys in how to get "intimate" with teenage girls), but he offers impeccable explanations on why he chose to cut these scenes. Most of the scenes aren't that bad actually, and the quality is spectacular - they're fully edited and look sharp (even if they are in non-anamorphic widescreen) and feature Dolby Digital 5.1. With the intros (and Marshall's hilarious conclusion that mocks his own sister somewhat), it all lasts a bit over eighteen minutes.
Rounding things off are some sneak peeks and two Music Videos - one for Myra's "Miracles Happen" and Krystal Harris' "Supergirl."
"The Princess Diaries" is a good movie for young girls, but I'm not sure if anyone outside that demographic will enjoy it as much as them. This is a nice DVD of the movie though with a good transfer, decent 5.1 mix and some pretty nice extras. I don't need to tell you that if you have a young girl or know one, then you'll probably be buying this DVD at some point or another.