Monday, August 16, 2004

Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement 

I didn't love it. It seemed like the entire first half of the sequel was spent in trying to remind the audience (at least some of us) of why we loved the first one, but it was like a four-year-old who got a favorable response from some unintentionally entertaining statement or act, and who then proceeds to attempt to relive that moment of glory over and over, to the point that it becomes simply annoying. The second half was much better though, once they relaxed on the forced gaffs and gratuitous goofiness. The turning point was an emotional confrontation in the stables, and it seems that baring of the characters' true feelings allowed the film to move on as its own entity.

A large part of The Princess Diaries' charms was the contrast between gawky, goofy and unrepressed Mia (Anne Hathaway) and her world and her royal grandmother (Julie Andrews) and her formal, elegant and well-coordinated world. When worlds collided and each came away with something from the other, both sides were a little better than when they started.

The sequel takes place entirely in Genovia, where Mia is the Crown Princess nearing the age of eligibility for the throne. It would seem that in the years while she was earning her bachelor's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, the entire well-oiled staff of the palace were replaced with vaudeville actors. The Captain of the Palace Guard sounds like Bill Murray in the big basic training graduation scene from Stripes, the two maids assigned to Mia tend to break out into spontaneous but perfectly choreographed mini-song and dance routines, and Joseph (Hector Elizondo) has even gotten his own youthful and awkward security intern.

Once again Mia's ascension to the throne is threatened by internal politicking, this time by a distant royal descendent (he and Mia share a great-great-great-great-great grandfather or something along those lines) who reached the age of 21 shortly before Mia, and who is not restricted by the Genovian law which requires a woman to be married before being eligible for coronation. Mia is given 30 days to marry. And hijinks ensue.

What struck me as very odd was that many things with seeming portent were established early on, and then never came back. Or people that should have been significant were brought back from the first movie, but had no importance whatsoever. Mia's mother has to leave the room to change her new baby's diaper and is then gone for a REALLY long time. Apparently this was simply so that on her return she could have an Abbott and Costello verbal exchange with her husband about what occurred in the meantime. Mia's best friend Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) returns, but she seemingly underwent a surgical removal of her frank brashness while she was in grad school at Berkeley, and she was left as a mere shell of her previous character. There was a set up for a Big Chase Scene (every good romantic comedy needs a climactic Big Chase Scene), but it was unfulfilled since we never see the big frantic arrival in which it should culminate. The chaser simply appears.

But lest you be completely dissuaded from seeing The Princess Diaries 2, let me just say that while I didn't love it, I did enjoy it. The second half was enjoyable and flowed easily (with the exception of the return of Paolo, the hair stylist). Overall it was warm and fuzzy, and Julie Andrews sang a song and mattress surfed down a royal staircase. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Cameos of note: Paul Willams, Raven, Gary Marshall, Tom Poston, Elinor Donahue, and a picture of Prince William.

Reality Check: The Girl felt this one was, like the original, just okay.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 7:20 AM