2001 saw the release of the film adaptation of Meg Cabot’s beloved young adult book series, “The Princess Diaries.” As expected, there were changes to be made, though the result is still surprisingly charming. Disney still gets it right at times.
Though many now associate Anne Hathaway with a glamorous up-do and an elegant cut, her breakthrough appearance featured her in a manner rather contradictory to her current image. With an unruly mane that would have given Hermione Granger nightmares and a brusque, gawky demeanor more reminiscent of a feminized Steve Urkel than an enchanting belle of the ball, Hathaway practically personified social awkwardness, but the rare kind that evokes a sense of charm.
Amelia “Mia” Thermopolis (Hathaway) is a 15-year-old social outcast, though she does have two close friends: twin brother and sister, Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) and Michael Moscovitz (Robert Schwartzman).
As in many ‘tween-catered romances, she spends much of her day crushing on the local clueless hunk, Josh (Erik von Detten) and suffering the ongoing verbal abuse of the tantalizing trio, in all its dramatic teenage glory.
Life seems to be progressing somewhat uneventfully, when suddenly her highly progressive mother, Helen (Caroline Goodall) receives a phone call from her absentee grandmother – the very same who Mia had blamed for her parents’ divorce.
It seems that grandmother Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews) is indeed a queen of a small, European nation called Genovia, and the death of her father left Mia as the sole heir to the throne – not that she particularly wants anything to do with it.
As Mia undertakes royal training for the upcoming annual Genovian Independence Day Ball, the surrounding media has a kingdom-sized field day with the newly-discovered royal.
“The Princess Diaries” is a fun film, but by no means a masterpiece.
That said, it still features a dynamite-packing cast of professionals. The very notion of Andrews’ presence as the sophisticated, superlatively cultured and somewhat cold queen adds instant brownie points to this less-than-faithful adaptation. As predicted, she carries the same regality and professionalism for which she was renowned in Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Hathaway is best when at her most awkward. Her humorous depiction of the socially challenged teenager gathered her well-deserved acclaim.
An absolute delight is Hector Elizondo as the royal chauffeur, Joe. Both charismatic and highly effective, Elizondo lit the screen each time with a presence so bright that it remained in scenes less pleasant, proving to be just enough to stomach some of the less-than-stellar aspects of the film, like the curiously campy character of the clichéd cliques, most of whose behavior made little sense.
In fact, most of the characters seem incredibly one-dimensional, especially the villains.
But it succeeds where it is meant to. More than anything else, “The Princess Diaries” is fun and proudly continues the tradition of Disney’s niche: to bring a touch of fairytales into the home.