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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Princess Diaries
Princess Diaries
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // December 18, 2001
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 18, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


A suprise hit late last Summer, director Gary Marshall's "The Princess Diaries" is one of those films whose flaws do tend to sink it, but for the most part, it works considerably better than it probably should have. The film stars newcomer Anne Hathaway as Mia Thermopolis, a very average young girl living in San Fransico with her mother. She goes from believing that she's essentially invisible to others around her to finding out that she's the Granddaughter of Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews) of Genovia. So, she finds out, in the midst of a few minutes, that she's the princess of a small country.

Of course, this leads into a lengthy section where Mia must be trained to act proper by a character played by Larry Miller and followed around by a bodyguard played by Marshall regular Hector Elizondo. There's little suspense or tension to any of the events, as they follow a pretty predictable path. The fact that these scenes often tend to go on moments more than they should is really one of the film's problems.

The film, written by "Coyote Ugly" screenwriter Gina Wendkos and based on a novel, is simply stew of every ugly duckling who's transformed into a beauty tale ever told. No points for guessing whether or not Mia is turned into a stunner, but the thing is - she didn't look too bad to begin with. There's also attempts at romance (Mia must choose between the jock and her best friend's brother, played by Robert Schwartzman). There's also the enemy (played almost too well by teen singer Mandy Moore) and best friend (Heather Matarazzo of "Welcome to the Dollhouse").

If there's any reason why this fluff actually works, it's thanks to the cast, who at least give it their all. Hathaway is terrific - she's cute, fun, has great timing and can play subtle moments nicely. Julie Andrews is graceful and elegant, as usual. Elizondo and Miller provide strong supporting performances, as well. Even singer Moore is hilariously bitchy as Mia's rival. The film's San Fransisco locations also practically play a supporting role of their own, captured quite well by usual action cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub.

Yet, and this is really the main problem I have with the picture - it simply goes on considerably longer than it should. A tale that could have easily been light and fizzy in 90-95 minutes gets stretched beyond its boundaries here. At nearly two hours, cutting about 20 minutes could have considerably helped the pace. There are also some continuity issues on occasion.

"The Princess Diaries" is pleasant enough and harmless; it should (and juding by box office, did) appeal to the young teen female audience everywhere. Personally, I thought it was decent, at best: the cast generally does a decent job overcoming a bland screenplay that doesn't offer anything original or particularly funny.


The DVD


VIDEO: "The Princess Diaries" is presented by Disney in a THX-Approved, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen edition. The image quality presents cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub (director Roland Emmerich's films)'s fine compositions quite nicely. The film also makes good use of its attractive San Fransisco locations. As for the DVD, Disney's efforts here are not perfect, but generally quite good. Sharpness and detail are fine, as the picture often boasts nice detail and depth to the image.

The picture does present a few minor problems, but I doubt that many will find them that noticable. The print is quite clean, with only a tiny speck or two visible during the course of the movie and a bit of light grain. Other than that, no pixelation is seen and only a slight bit of edge enhancement once or twice.

Colors appeared natural and accurate throughout, looking nicely saturated and crisp. Black level was solid, as well, and flesh tones accurate. This is respectable work from Disney with few blemishes, but it just lacks that certain sparkle that would take it from very good to great.


SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. There's little of interest in the film's soundtrack, as it chooses to present the usual comedy audio - no more, no less. Although the material doesn't exactly present opportunities for agressive surround use, the rear speakers hardly ever even pop up to offer subtle ambient sounds or reinforce the music. Audio quality remained fine, as the score sounded warm and crisp, while dialogue came through cleanly. Few opportunities for bass arose.

MENUS: Nicely animated main menu, complete with slight animation and background music.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: This is a commentary from actress Julie Andrews and actress Anne Hathaway. Called "The Ultimate Tea Party", the two ladies are actually having a tea party during the commentary recording (the electric buzzing sounds midway through is Hathaway spilling tea on the audio equipment - just kidding). Actually, this track remains more entertaining, in my opinion, than the actual film itself. The two chatter happily about the making of the film, pointing out details about the making of the picture and working with the various actors. Between comments, they clank their tea cups and talk about the tea they're drinking. Hathaway is about as funny on the track as she is on-screen, but she does tend to dominate the conversation and talks as if the tea they're drinking is definitely not decaf.

Commentary: This is a commentary from director Gary Marshall. Although Marshall does a considerable amount of "narration" throughout this track, he's otherwise hilarious throughout this track. There's something about the way that Marshall speaks that makes even his discussions of the obvious elements of how the film was made, or the story in general, extremely funny. There's not a great deal of technical information, but Marshall remains informative about his approach to comedy and working with the various actors in the film.

A New "Princess": This documentary is "hosted" by Hathaway and includes interviews with Marshall, Moore and other actors and actresses from the picture. Although there's a lot of "(fill in the blank) was sooo wonderful!", Marshall is absolutely a riot in the interviews and there's some neat behind-the-scenes footage (such as screen tests for Hathaway) and other material. The documentary lasts 24 minutes.

Deleted Scenes: Complete with an introduction from Marshall on the menu, there are nine deleted scenes. Marshall also provides an introduction for each deleted scene, including one where he discusses cutting himself out of the film. There are some nice moments here, but they were either cut out for story or length reasons.

Music Videos: Mya, "Miracles Happen" and Krystal Harris, "Supergirl".

Sneak Peeks: Sneak Peek trailers for "Peter Pan", "Peter Pan II", "Atlantis", "Cinderella II", "Snow White & 7 Dwarfs", "101 Dalmatians II", "Princess of Thieves" and "Disney's Child Star: Shirley Temple". No "Princess Diaries" trailer is included.

THX Optimode: The THX Optimode tests are located in the "set-up" menu.


Final Thoughts: I'm sure "The Princess Diaries" will be adored by its teen female audience - it's probably on the holiday wish lists of most of them. Personally though, I thought it was pretty unoriginal and although it had some good performances, the cast has a tough task trying to overcome the edgeless and rather bland material. Disney's DVD offers respectable audio/video and a lot of supplements, including two entertaining commentary tracks.

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