The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
Directed by Garry Marshall. Starring Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo, John Rhys-Davies, Heather Matarazzo, Chris Pine. (2004, G, 120 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 13, 2004
Little girls may be made of equal parts sugar and spice, but the movies targeted at them typically tip toward the saccharine end. Indeed, this sequel to the hugely popular The Princess Diaries strips most of the spice out of the original’s already quite high sugar content, but it still manages, within its modest ambitions, to entertain. In this installment – and Royal Engagement hints we’ve more installments to come, assuming the box office numbers concur – Princess Mia (Hathaway) has just graduated from college and returned to her adopted homeland of Genovia in order to take over the crown from her aging grandmother, Queen Clarisse (the enduringly endearing Andrews). But Mia’s royal aspirations quickly hit two roadblocks – first, an archaic decree that no unmarried woman may ascend the throne, and second, another contender for the crown jewels, a smooth operator named Lord Nicholas (Pine), who is egged on by a Machiavellian uncle (Rhys-Davies). Because Mia is so selfless, so pure-hearted, so devoted to Genovia, she agrees to an arranged marriage in order to ensure her succession; the bulk of the film takes place during the monthlong anticipation of her nuptials. Although it’s a stretch to say the film’s predecessor was realistic – geeky California girl finds out she’s really the princess of an obscure Western Europe country! – it did have burrowed in its fairy tale trappings a measure of contemporary resonance in Mia’s grappling with both finding herself, as all teenagers must, and being true to that self in the face of all this royal hoohah. Here, the darn thing’s gone off the deep end, what with the arranged marriage and priority tasks like learning how to shoot a flaming arrow through a hoop and figuring out how to operate the remote control to her closet (and it’s hard not to smart a little at the Mia – once the artistically minded antithesis of a clotheshorse – marveling at her expansive closet, "I have my own mall!"). Also gone is the American setting, jettisoned entirely for Genovia, a studio lot construct that frankly’s a gas – a multi-culti land in which American, British, Scottish, and French accents freely mix, its landscape dotted with farmers on cellphones and streets that are lined with pre-fab picturesque buildings and scampering orphans. Royal Engagement, in short, is pure contrivance, and at two hours, way too long for its target audience of squirming tykes. And yet, those two hours pass painlessly enough, thanks to the affability of its trio of leads, Hathaway, Andrews, and Elizondo, as the head of palace security (a part that’s not so far a leap from his role in Marshall’s Pretty Woman; one man’s marshaling of hookers, it appears, is the same man’s marshaling of queens). All three are class personified – not a little bit incongruous in such a low-rent, cornball production – and even if little girls won’t find an ounce of originality, ingenuity, or spice in Marshall’s middling genre outing, they will find in Hathaway’s spunky mix of regal poise and girl-next-door klutzdom a worthy role model.