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Predictable 'Princess'

By Sara Gebhardt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 13, 2004; Page WE43

A LOT OF regular girls dream about becoming princess and gaining access to a bejeweled tiara, attentive servants, fabulous gear and an enormous castle. In this era of women power, the old Cinderella fantasy's continuing strength may have something to do with so many big-screen iterations of princess stories that inundate current entertainment.

It's hard to say if anyone really wants to see what happens after a heartwarming story about a regular girl morphing into royalty, but Walt Disney Pictures takes its chance on "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement." And why wouldn't they, considering people are more than willing to watch poorly produced reality television shows that house women in huge abodes looking for their Prince Charming?


Nicholas (Chris Pine) proves an unlikely suitor for Princess Mia (Anne Hathaway) in "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement." (Ron Batzdorff -- Buena Vista Pictures)

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Luckily, "Princess Diaries 2" doesn't promote the stereotype still prevalent in popular culture that a princess (read: woman) is weak or somehow broken without a male counterpart. Though it banks its plot on the quest of its main character Mia (Anne Hathaway) to find a man within 30 days or risk giving up her throne, the film focuses on Mia's reluctance to do so and her grandmother's challenging of an old law that states princesses must be married before becoming queen. Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews) herself is a strong, single and beloved leader.

Since the last installment, when Mia learned she was the princess of the small European country Genovia, she graduated from college in the United States and heads back to Europe to take more princess lessons from her grandmother before assuming the throne. But soon after she moves in to the royal palace, Mia learns that another heir to the throne exists, and the ideological 21-year-old American who cannot imagine partaking in an arranged marriage decides to sacrifice finding real love to keep her family's royal lineage going.

She quickly finds a suitor who meets all the requirements, though he isn't the right fit, and gets engaged. Meanwhile, in one of many neatly contrived plot elements, the enemy heir to the throne comes to the royal castle for an extended visit and just happens to be a handsome guy who pushes her buttons and forces her to doubt her ability to settle for a husband she does not love.

As the fight for the throne plays out, a lot of slapstick humor and unlikely silliness invade the castle. At one point, princesses from all over the world and Queen Clarisse are sliding down staircases on mattresses. Not that the queen in command of a country wouldn't be a master mattress-surfer, but chances are the Cinderella fantasy remains just that, even in the sequel. Nobody would really want to be princess if she thought she would have to stop having pillow fights (read: constant fun) or if there weren't an abundance of hot guys vying for her affection.

Sometimes charming, sometimes a tad too silly and all the time predictable, "Princess Diaries 2" gives you what you'd expect and doesn't take many chances besides allowing for the possibility that a princess might be okay without a husband. But even giving a belated nod to women's lib might just be a sneaky way to open doors for movie No. 3.

THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT (G, 115 minutes) -- Contains kissing and mild sensuality. Area theaters.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company