After The Village plummeted in its second week at the box office, Disney’s summer hopes now rest on the shoulders of Anne Hathaway’s performance in Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, a film with a slender plot and little character development but with solid performances from Hathaway as Princess Mia, Julie Andrews as the queen of Genovia, and a host of minor characters–human and feline–who keep the zany action moving and the laughs coming. Although it is not for every taste, this G-rated film will no doubt delight its target audience of preteen girls and prove palatable enough for the rest of the family.
The sequel to the enormously popular Princess Diaries begins five years after the action of the original with Mia having graduated from college and preparing to take over as queen of Genovia, where Mia’s grandmother and current queen (Julie Andrews) is ready to retire. The central dilemma in the film is created by a little known codicil in the Genovia constitution stipulating that for a woman to take the throne she must be married. Parliament gives Mia 30 days to find a suitable mate. Hence, the “royal engagement” phrase in the title.
Meanwhile, the conniving Viscount Mabrey (John Rhys-Davies) is angling to have the throne delivered into the hands of his nephew, Nicholos Deveraux (Chris Pine), named after Niccolo Machiavelli of course, whose portrait adorns the Viscount’s office. With a levity appropriate to the mock threat the Viscount represents in the film, Machiavelli’s philosophy is here reduced to “power means never having to say you’re sorry.”
As the Viscount plots, Mia groans under the burden of an arranged marriage, “Who would accept such a thing?” she laments in the presence of her grandmother and then quickly catches herself, “Well, I guess you did.” The queen takes this in stride and explains that it all worked out as she and her husband “grew quite fond of one another.” Mia wants true love, not fondness, but more even than this she wants to undertake her duties as queen. She reminds herself, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the judgment that there is something more important than fear.”
Of course, the target audience for the film is preteen girls, and that perhaps explains the inclusion of a royal princess slumber party to which Mia invites all the princesses of the world, a scene that figures not at all in the rest of the film. Also a bit cloying is the scene where the queen shows Mia her bedroom and its lavish collection of shoes and jewelry. “I live in a mall!,” Mia squeals.
Mia is not quite the slovenly, socially dysfunctional teen she was when we first encountered her in Princess Diaries. But the rough edges are not entirely gone either; indeed, the funniest moments in the film come from Anne Hathaway’s slapstick. Some scenes are quite effective in a Lucille Ball kind of way. In a Romeo and Juliet moment, Mia climbs from her window onto a tree for a clandestine meeting with Nicholas, for whom she bears a secret and potentially scandalous affection. She finds herself stuck upside down in a tree just outside the window where the queen is sitting. Hathaway’s physical humor is complemented by that of her maids, ever eager to be of assistance, in this case, they put on a quick song and dance routine to distract the queen.
Returning from the first film and helping to provoke Mia’s zaniness is Lilly, Mia’s sharp-witted high school friend from San Francisco, in Genovia for a visit during a semester break from grad school at Berkeley, or Berzerkeley as she calls it. Julie Andrews is delightful yet again as the queen, whether she’s singing, as she does briefly, or delivering droll lines of gratitude to the cooks, “thank you, culinary people.”
Of course, the queen is here to do more than entertain. Her role is to educate a young woman to take on her role as the next queen. In such a light, summer comedy, one ought to resist the temptation to look for deep meaning, but one cannot but be struck by the film’s attempt to balance independence and responsibility, to integrate freedom into a sense of duty. It plays doing the proper thing against doing what one wants, taking neither entirely seriously but seeing in each a kernel of truth. After an embarrassing public scene, Mia feebly excuses herself by saying, “I just lost it.” The queen instructs her: “Other people lose it. We’re supposed to find it.” To which Mia responds, “The concept is grasped. It’s just that the execution is a little elusive.”
Audiences may or may not focus on the message the queen strives to deliver; they will certainly be happy that Mia’s execution remains a bit off, since her moments charming awkwardness are the chief attraction of Princess Diaries 2.
–Thomas Hibbs, an NRO contributor, is author of Shows About Nothing.