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Go Figure: It's Cool As 'Ice'

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page WE47

"ICE PRINCESS" is a feel-good infusion for your precious little darling (or pack of darlings) who could use an uplifting fantasy about a sweet-natured teenager (Michelle Trachtenberg) who braves the intimidating odds and gets her glory moment as a figure skater.

What could be easier for tender-care parents than this? No dark and disturbing material. No icky stuff (although, brace yourself, there is a little bit of, ewwwww, kissing). Just a simple story that is -- oh, boy, does this need to be said -- 100 percent formula. But that's the point. Formula is sugarcoated medicine for audiences who just want to enjoy themselves without incident or taxing brain activity -- while also ingesting bathtub-size cartons of overpriced popcorn and soda. (The difference between a cashier at the concession and an outright mugger? The cashier accepts Visa and MasterCard.)

Rink dreams: Coach Tina Harwood (Kim Cattrall) with her young student Casey (Michelle Trachtenberg) in the sweet but formulaic "Ice Princess." (Rafy -- Disney)

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Trachtenberg plays Casey Carlyle, daughter of Joan (Joan Cusack), who's determined to keep her whiz-kid daughter on the Harvard track. Forced to find an original science project that will impress the Ivy League gatekeepers, Casey decides to identify the science of ice skating. Can those spinning moves be rendered into aerodynamic equations?

After getting begrudging permission from a local group of elite teenage skaters, led by chilly instructor Tina Harwood (Kim Cattrall), she starts filming the athletes and making notes. But something's missing, she concludes. She is going to have to go through the motions herself. So she starts taking lessons from Tina, who looks askance at amateurs like Casey who don't come with affluent, pushy parents.

Casey learns quickly, to Tina's surprise. Also taking note of this is Tina's daughter Gen (Hayden Panettiere), who's the popular princess at school and who secretly dreams of ditching this ice thing. It's Tina who wants her daughter to win gold medals, not Gen.

Meanwhile, Casey's mother thinks figure skating is tacky and anti-feminist. Bring on the mother-daughter disputes. Should kids follow their own dreams or those of their parents? Discuss. And pass the popcorn.

Apart from appreciating the joys and ecstasies of triple axels and Lutzes (and cameos from Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano as rink commentators), Trachtenberg (who also played in "Harriet the Spy" and "Inspector Gadget") is the biggest reason to watch this movie. Hey, that's Dawn from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" up there on her blades, and very soon down there on the hard cold stuff, rubbing her heinie. She trained hard for this movie and performs some respectable routines, too. (Of course her and the other characters' more intense skating is performed by superchamps such as Jennifer Robinson, Sandra Jean Rucker and Lauren Wilson.) As the physics geek who secretly carries a passion for skating, Trachtenberg is thoroughly believable, an unspoiled charmer. Her rise from clumsy girl to someone brimming with confidence and the author of one heckuva physics project, she's a pretty cool princess to root for.

ICE PRINCESS (G, 92 minutes) -- Contains nothing objectionable. Area theaters.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company