Some sequels, no matter how good or bad they end up being, either financially and critically or both, can never truly be understood. Why does a particular sequel exist at all? Sometimes audiences/fans wanted a follow up film, other times it’s just forced upon the masses. Even if it ends up being somewhat entertaining and enjoyable, all the glaring problems can’t keep you from still coming away feeling that the film is much worse than the original.
The Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures film “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement”, based on characters created by Meg Cabot, is nowhere near as fun as the original, and that’s really unfortunate. It could’ve been something fun for all, but due to whatever strict and cliche template the studio wanted writer Shonda Rhimes (yes, that Rhimes) to adhere to, all people got was more of the same. Surprisingly, even for a family film, more of the same just won’t do. The target audience might not care too much, but those who are forced to endure it, the wonderful parents, aunts and uncles, etc., won’t think too kindly of it. I guess, judging from this viewing, time hasn’t done it any favors and will only be despised that much more as time goes on.
I know this film is for children of all ages, but did Rhimes really need to get all cliche and predictable on us? She and those who employed her had to know that more than just children would be interested in this film. And I’m not even really weighing the adults that took the children to see the film. Well, not really. I can only imagine what my own parents thought when taking me and my sibling’s to see this film. At least, I’m assuming we saw this film in theaters. It certainly would’ve been a film one of us would’ve wanted to see. Anyway, moving on.
And so now, many, many years after having seen this film last, probably over 10, I’m discovering this film for what it’s always been. Pretty damn terrible. That sums it up. One can’t get more succinct than that. I guess this is also a good lesson about watching films from one’s childhood simply because they’re on some premium movie channel.
It’s overly predictable and cliche, from just about the beginning of the film. You’ve seen it all before, and while mildly entertaining, it’s still quite painful to sit through. This paint by numbers film, it’s sad to say, is all about stopping some other party from taking the crown away from Anne Hathaway’s Mia. And now that you’ve read that, you’ve no doubt figured out what’ll happen during this film and how it’ll end. So now you can skip the actual watching.
In order to achieve this, even if it’s also how the film achieves its expected overall message of doing your own thing and being your own independent person, Hathaway must go up against an obnoxious archaic law. A woman can only be crowned queen if she’s married, but not so for a man. You can see where this is going, can’t you? And so, even in a family film, love is thrown out the window (sort of) and finding a suitor for marriage must be achieved in a matter of weeks. Not even Quinn King could work her magic with this type of matchmaking. It’s that painful. Making things even harder for Hathaway, which is where this film seriously took a wrong turn, repeated sabotage efforts by the other party, must be a key player. It’s the oldest storytelling angle in Disney film’s or most other family films, but I’m not sure if it’s ever felt this exhausting before. I’m sure I’ve looked past it in other instances, but somehow here, it’s just too distracting. Flashing neon sign distracting.
Making things worse for this film, is the fact that all the royal events Hathaway and Julie Andrews must attend, as that’s part of the job and are understandable from a narrative standpoint, don’t seem to come about all that organically. Some do, but not nearly enough. They’re pretty much random. They begin randomly and end all of a sudden. Throughout most of the film I felt like I was watching something with major portions of it left out. Deleted scenes are one thing, but this is a far cry from that. I’m beginning to think this isn’t the cut that Rhimes was envisioning.
Princess Of No True Development
I’m also not thinking that Rhimes was angling for bland characters. As sad as it is to say, even with all the charm and familiarity Hathaway and Andrews bring back, they don’t actually come across as having grown, nor do they seem to grow all that much during the film’s events. Yes, as is expected, things happen to them and they must go through various events, but none of it makes me feel like there’s some kind of change happening to them. I can see it, but that’s it. Perhaps I just didn’t respond to what was attempted and believed to be character growth. On the flip side though, having Hathaway and Andrews back is really the only reason you wanted to watch the film in the first place, and the reason you stuck through it until it’s final predictable moment.
With these two characters not doing all that much, you’d think there’d be something else with the characters to get excited about. There isn’t. No single character does much, and some, like Heather Matarazzo’s returning Lilly or Raven’s Asana, to name a few, are merely making a cameo appearance. They’re also, like several other characters, which itself is expected in Disney films or other films like this, trying to be the scene stealer and most memorable. Some moments are funny, but you can’t shake the feeling that that’s all they’re there for. I especially couldn’t help but notice how little Matarazzo actually had to do and was thus relegated to the far back. For a character that was pretty well developed the first time, it’s disappointing I don’t feel I learned anything about her, which is funny given that I’m sure Rhimes included bits about what she’s been up to in the subsequent five years. I guess it doesn’t help either that I can’t, nor do I care, about what they were.
I also didn’t care that much that while Hathaway was trying to force herself to fall in love with some random guy she’d never met, she was actually falling in love with Chris Pine’s Nicholas, who is the other party trying to take the crown from her. Of course this is a large part of how this story would unfold. How else could the film weave in romance that isn’t fake? While it’s fascinating to see a younger Pine in a role such as this,it’s also kind of disappointing. Mind you, he very well could’ve done worse. The biggest problem is that I never bought what he was selling. His acting, like all the acting in this film, was fine. Passable even. I just didn’t buy his falling in love with Hathaway. I wanted to, but as the film went on and their encounters grew in number, I couldn’t believe it. No, literally, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure whose fault that is, but it certainly hurts the film when you’re desperately trying to find anything to make the film and experience worth it.
Royal Comedic Antics
If anything can save this film and the experience of any one viewer, it’s the comedy and the antics borne from Hathaway’s Mia being Mia. For the most part, this is achieved. The only thing that might change how you respond to these comedy tid-bits, is if you don’t like silly and obnoxious comedy.
Most of the comedy is uninspired. Keeping with the theme, it’s what’d you expect. That being said, depending on what I mentioned above and how well you’ve gotten into the film, it might not matter. Sure you’ll notice how dumb and irritating some of it can be, as there’s a lot of repetition and running gags, but it does bring with it its fair share of cute moments. I guess that’s better than nothing. I must admit, I did like some of it and laughed quite a bit, but then again, I’ll laugh at just about anything.
One area of comedy I couldn’t figure out, was the returning gag of Hathaway’s clumsiness. It didn’t show up right away, but once it did, you knew what it signaled and it never went away. If anything about this can be considered a plus, it’s that it didn’t seem to be there too much. There were plenty of moments in between gags that could allow for anything else to happen. One thing I did note, which I still don’t feel I have an answer to, is that I couldn’t figure out if her clumsiness was truly funny. I wrote down, “Is this still funny?” It is at times, but at others it’s just tiresome. Some of the moments of clumsiness were fine, like with the bow and arrow training, but others less so. For instance, when it’s revealed Hathaway will have to ride side saddle, Andrews suggests that instead of learning it, Hathaway uses a fake leg. This is supposed to trick the public, but as expected, it doesn’t go well at all. All I could do was shake my head for it’s lack of being funny and the fact that it’s another annoying instance of sabotage that doesn’t predictably go as planned.
Fortunately, for me, and it very well could just be me, there was one big moment that largely made much of the suffering worth it. The engagement/slumber party bit. It was just so much fun! It’s quite possibly my favorite moment in this film, but it definitely doesn’t come close to being as fun, charming and cute as the “Love is a Battlefield” sleepover bit with Jennifer Garner in “13 Going on 30”. There was just so much excitement and positive energy that I didn’t have time think of anything else. I laughed and enjoyed myself, and then when Andrews and Raven got up to sing, that was everything I needed in that moment! If I can find some solace in this, perhaps other viewers could too and not consider this film a complete waste of time.
Originally Released: Aug. 11, 2004
Director: Garry Marshall
Writer: Shonda Rhimes
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Heather Matarazzo, John Rhys-Davis, Chris Pine, Callum Blue, Kathleen Marshall, Raven, Caroline Goodall, Larry Miller, Tom Poston, Joel McCrary, Kim Thomson, Sean O’Bryan, Hector Elizondo and Julie Andrews