Anne Hathaway plays 15-year-old (yeah, right) Mia, whose life is a gawky teenagenightmare. Then her life is turned upside down by the arrival in San Francisco of hergrandmother (Julie Andrews), who is queen of the mythical country of Genovia, and she needsMia to shoulder her responsibilities as heir to the throne, or Genovia will cease to exist. Miaundergoes a radical make-over, and clumsily fumbles her way through lessons on how to be aprincess.
You have to wonde… what sort of fantasies director Garry Marshall was feeding with his needto shoot Hathaway in schoolgirl uniform from extreme low-angle shots as she comes down stairs.But let that be. Yet another variation on Pygmalion, The Princess Diaries has oneof the worst ugly-duckling set-ups I’ve ever seen. Bad enough that the old gambit of “curlyhair+glasses=ugly” is used, but Hathaway is so clearly beautiful in a very classical sense thatbelieving she is invisible to her classmates requires a herculean effort to suspend disbelief. Giventhat the plot and character behaviour make no sense either, you’re in for heavy work. There issome minor consolation to be had from incidental characters, such as “Mr. Robitussen,”Hathaway’s bitter writer neighbour, and from Hathaway’s performance.
The music starts off with a weak mix, needing a much bigger boost, especially in the rearspeakers. Once the second song of the opening credits begins, however, things improvemarkedly. Still, there is not much by way of surround effects, and there is some harshness inithe upper registers of the actors’ voices.
Both fullscreen and 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen options are present (on separate discs).The image is very sharp, and is blessed by excellent colours, contrasts and blacks. There is noedge enhancement or grain to deal with. In short, the film itself looks as pretty as it believes itselfto be.
Normally, the practice with a 2-disc set is to put all full and widescreen version of the filmon one disc, and the special features on the other. Here, the perverse decision was taken to splitthe extras between the two picture versions. This means that, for example, if you are watchingthe fullscreen version, you don’t get any commentary. At any rate, Disc 1 (fullscreen) has “ANew Princess” (the usual promotional nonsense), 8 deleted scenes introduced by Garry Marshall,and 2 music videos: “Miracles Happen” by Myra, and “Supergirl” by Krystal Harris.
Disc 2 has two commentaries. One is by Hathaway and Andrews, and though it is very good-natured, I could have done without the conceit of their having a tea party while they’re at it.Garry Marshall does the honours on the second track, and he has a most entertaining MelBrooksian persona. Also here is “Royal Engagement” (a promo for the sequel), “Livin’ Like aPrincess” (a Terry Gilliam-like animated look at what being a princess entailed), a gag reel, andDVD-ROM features. The latter include something called “Makeover Magic,” which soundsdubious in the extreme.
The menus are, for the most part, fully animated and scored, though there are a few screensthat are simply scored.
Though the performers are likable, one can’t help but wish they had better material to workwith. And the mixed messages regarding beauty that the film is sending are rather iffy too.
Special Features List
- Cast Commentary
- Director’s Commentary
- Deleted Scenes with Director’s Introduction
- 2 Music Videos
- “A New Princess” Featurette
- Outtakes and Bloopers
- “Royal Engagement” Featurette
- “Livin’ Like a Princess” Featurette”
- DVD-ROM Features