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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/11/02

The Princess Diaries
Widescreen - 2001 (2001) - Disney (Buena Vista)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsTHX-certified

The Princess Diaries (widescreen) Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B

Specs and Features
115 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual layered (layer switch at 1:17:37 in Chapter 19), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with Gary Marshall, The Ultimate Tea Party audio commentary with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway, A New Princess behind-the-scenes featurette, 8 deleted scenes with introductions by Gary Marshall, Myra music video for Miracles Happen, Krystal Harris music video for Supergirl, promotional trailers, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1) subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"…and if I wasn't enough of a freak already, let's add a tiara!"

Nobody knows schmaltz like Gary Marshall. Terribly sentimental movies with overtly obvious messages, his films tug on the heartstrings and force us to eat huge amounts of sugarcoated plot. But, somehow he's untouchable and he can always get away with it. And The Princess Diaries, his family-friendly Cinderella story, somehow manages to be hokey and endearing at the same time.

Anne Hathaway is Mia Thermopolis, a gangly, clumsy fifteen year-old whose only ambition in life is to disappear... which is hard given her enormously bushy hair (it makes the flashbacks in My Big Fat Greek Wedding seem almost pleasant). She's grown up with only her mother, a San Francisco experimental artist, and she learns that her father (who she never met) has recently died. When his mother, her grandmother (Julie Andrews), comes to San Francisco to meet Mia, she reluctantly agrees. But one thing seems odd; why would her grandmother Clarice fly all the way from Genovia (a fictional European country) for a little chat over tea?

Truth is, Clarice is really Queen Clarice of Genovia and she's come to tell Mia that she's a Royal Princess. What's more, the country needs a new ruler now that Mia's father who was Prince is dead. Since Mia is the only member of the bloodline living, she must rule or the country will fall into the hands of a greedy duchess. Confused, but wanting to do the right thing, Mia accepts Clarice's "princess lessons" on the condition that, when she is supposed to be confirmed, she'll still have the choice not to rule. And thus, with a boosted confidence, a great makeover and her deadline three weeks away, Mia must choose between what is right for her and what is right for everyone.

Okay, it's pretty obvious that the film is... well, pretty obvious. We know where the characters are going before they get there. We know what we're supposed to learn before we learn it. And yet, the film has a quirky charm that somehow manages to save the film from being mediocre. It's the wacky high school PA announcements "Will the Fung Shui club please stop moving the tables on the lawn!" It's Heather Mattarazzo's charming best friend character that protests to save the whales. It's the welcome presence of Julie Andrews. And it's the star-in-the-making performance by Anne Hathaway.

I'm sure not every reader will look past the fact that this isn't groundbreaking cinema, but The Princess Diaries is a great diversion. Though it's certainly aimed at 10-13 year old girls, it's entertaining enough for anyone willing to watch. I give the film a "B" because it fulfills its duties perfectly. There is rarely a misstep in this comedy that doesn't rely on flatulence or profanity for laughs. It accomplishes the very thing that it sets out to do. While this is hardly a deep film, it's the kind of fluff entertainment that is great, and made better, by repeated viewing. Who could honestly ask for more than that?

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (a full frame version is also available separately), The Princess Diaries sports a near-reference quality video transfer. The colors are bright and vivid without bleeding. Skin tones are natural. Film grain and artifacting are never noticeable. With the exception of some visible edge enhancement halos, this is a perfect image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is a little less than impressive, although this isn't exactly your Jurassic Park/Star Wars-type film. Dialogue, which makes up the majority of the track, is always clear and understandable. When the surrounds are in use, it's for ambient noise and the score, which includes some teen-pop songs that I'm sure will embarrassingly date the film in the years to come.

The extras are where The Princess Diaries, surprisingly, becomes a good DVD. There are not one, but two audio commentaries. The first is with director Gary Marshall, who is very much himself for the track. Packed with information and little tidbits, the commentary is very entertaining: "THEN we went over HERE, and I had to talk to Julie ANDREWS. And I told her to STOP doing this. Well, maybe doing it a little was okay, but not too MUCH..." It's absolutely hilarious - you may want to check out the film with this commentary before watching the film itself.

The second commentary is a little more... um... sedate. Actors Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway sit down to have a traditional English tea party while watching the film. While they do a lot of back patting, the track is entertaining in an entirely different way. Though from completely different generations, Andrews and Hathaway have a great bond with each other, and it's great to hear both reminisce about the filmmaking. Hathaway's brain is filled with information on the technical aspects of the film, as well as the names of all the crew people. And I thought Andrews held her own ground with her comments on trying to make her character more sympathetic and how she worked with the hair and wardrobe people to subliminally let the audience know that Queen Clarice was slowly loosening up around Mia. And just learning that Julie Andrews liked Heather Welcome to the Dollhouse Mattarzzo is enough for me!

A New Princess is a great little featurette, which is half-EPK and half-insightful behind-the-scenes documentary. And again, Gary Marshall comes off as a great presence (and a somewhat unorthodox director). Also included are eight deleted scenes. The scenes themselves run about a minute each and all are book-ended by Marshall's comments and feelings on each scene. A few are actually really good (the ones that flesh out Robert Schwartzman's character), but were mainly cut for time.

You also get two music videos - somewhat annoying, especially so if you hate teen-pop (Supergirl by Krystal Harris and Miracles Happen by Myra). And there are the expected promo trailers for Peter Pan, Peter Pan in Return to Never Land, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, 102 Dalmatians, Princess of Thieves and The Shirley Temple Story. No... Princess Diaries trailers or TV spots.

The Princess Diaries is a film for everyone... and yet not everyone will want to see it. Yes, it's fluff... but it knows it is and just wants to have fun and relish in the pure "popcorny-ness" that it is. If you aren't interested yourself, your teen/pre-teen daughter will love this, and you'll definitely like it's video transfer and audio commentaries. Good for family viewing.

Graham Greenlee

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