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Movie Review

In 2001 The Princess Diaries became a surprise hit by building on the universal princess fantasies of young girls everywhere. In it, we learned that the clumsy, awkward American teenager Mia Thermopolis was none other than the long lost princess of a tiny European country called Genovia.

Flash-forward several years and the transformed Mia, now turning 21, is due to assume the crown from her grandmother, the reigning queen. One hitch: The scheming Count Mabrey wants his nephew to become king and for the royal line to pass to his own family. Thus, he prods the Genovian Parliament to observe an ancient law that requires the queen to be married.

In other words, if Mia doesn’t marry in 30 days, she won’t become queen. To make matters worse, Mabrey’s nephew, Sir Nicholas, is the cute guy she was crushing on at the royal ball. Now, he’s trying to steal her crown.

With the help of Mia’s high school friend, Lilly, and a couple of silly servant girls, the queen fires up a hunt for a suitable king for Mia, landing on the near-perfect English Duke Andrew. But will Mia be able to go through with an arranged marriage? And will she be able to win over the people of Genovia in spite of her brash American ways?

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Positive Elements

As Mia’s mentor, role model and grandmother, Queen Clarisse is almost always kind, positive and encouraging. She generally treats both her servants and her enemies with respect and patience. She speaks lovingly of her late husband, the king. She genuinely wants Mia to make choices that are the best for her.

Though Mia struggles to get things right, she doesn’t give up. She works at showing the grace and kindness her grandmother emulates, as well as learning her leadership skills. She recognizes the suffering of some orphans in Genovia and works to get an orphanage built for them. She also stands up to Parliament for what she believes is right. (Not all moviegoers will agree with her position, though.)

Spiritual Content

There seems to be a connection between church and throne in Genovia. Every time the late king is mentioned, everyone present chants (to comic effect), “May he rest in peace.” Both the royal wedding and the coronation are performed by a bishop in full robes.

Sexual Content

While looking through photos of potential marriage partners for the princess, one man is said to have a boyfriend, implying that he is gay. Aside from that unfortunate wink at an immoral lifestyle, PD2's limited sex quotient remains playful at worst. A 12-year-old prince who wears cologne dances with Mia and asks if he can blow in her ear. Several ladies, including the queen, longingly look at a photo of Prince William of England.

Mia kisses Duke Andrew and Sir Nicholas on various occasions. She also sneaks out of the castle with Sir Nicholas (remember, she's no longer a teenager) and the two share a romantic evening by a lake, where they dance. Eventually, they fall asleep in each other’s arms (they're fully clothed) and don’t wake until morning. A press photographer gets video of them waking up, and the ensuing scandal implies they were doing more than sleeping; they weren’t.

Violent Content

Mia intentionally stomps on a man’s foot with the heel of her shoe, causing him pain. A rubber snake is used to spook a horse Mia is riding, leading to comic embarrassment for her.

Crude or Profane Language

None.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Friends toast Mia at her birthday party. Drinks are seen in people's hands in a few other scenes.

Other Negative Elements

Mia displays (mildly) negative and/or disrespectful attitudes toward Parliament, Count Mabrey, Sir Nicholas and even the queen. Lilly also has a penchant for treating others with disrespect, including uttering a threat about the TV gossip personality who continually looks to expose the goings-on of the palace.

Conclusion

Based on a popular series of books by Meg Cabot, the first Princess Diaries film found its target thanks to Anne Hathaway’s funny and winning performance, a decent script that understood the girl next door's princess heart, and nice turns from most of the cast, including the regal Julie Andrews. The film didn’t make many “10 best” lists, but it landed near the top of the princess pack.

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement reunites much of the original team, but it is several steps less charming and funny than the first film. To start with, it’s not based on one of Cabot’s books but is an original story by Gina Wendkos and Shonda Rhimes that seems to lose its grip on the characters.

Gone is the awkward, self-doubting adolescent brought to familiar life by Hathaway, now replaced with the self-assured (arrogant?) college graduate. Instead of struggling with her reluctance to assume the throne, Mia now carries a sense of entitlement and can’t believe how unfair it is that anyone would challenge that. Hathaway is still likable, but less so.

In addition, director Garry Marshall seems to be less than focused on the business at hand. You get the sense while watching some of his films that he’s kind of making things up as he goes along, inserting scenes and dialogue as if brainstormed on the set. The resulting clumsy plot, trudging pace and sluggish performances suggest a movie that should be on the Disney Channel instead of at the megaplex.

The only true star in this semi-enchanted sky is Julie Andrews, now 68, who brings class and a royal bearing to the silliness. She even sings briefly for the first time onscreen since she lost her full voice to throat surgery in 1997.

So, the film is likely to be ravaged by critics (me included), but princess-lovers everywhere are still going to adore it. Come on, it’s about a princess. In a castle. And a wedding. [Spoiler Warning] That's why I'm confounded with its ending. Rather than delivering the culmination of a royal engagement, the filmmakers decided to make the case for women’s empowerment, having Mia take a high-noon stand for the crown instead of relying on a king to get her there.

While it’s a noble notion to impress on little girls that they don’t have to have a husband to be all that they can be, some girls may latch onto the idea that they should avoid finding success with the help of a husband or even that they should avoid being under the authority of a man, at all. If you indulge your tween's fixation with princesses by cracking open this princess's second diary—it is rated G after all!—impress on her that the line between choosing to be a whole person apart from marriage and rejecting the biblical model for husband and wife is sometimes a slim one. Discuss the ideals of modern romance and the tradition of arranged marriages. Explore what it takes to be a good leader, develop inner character and avoid compromising situations. Crusty film critics aside, those teaching opportunities (if taken full advantage of) coupled with a near total lack of objectionable content will make lots of families wish Genovia was more than just a fairy tale destination.

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Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

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Profanity/Violence

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