The makers of "The Princess Diaries
" should have quit while they were ahead. That 2001 family film wasn't groundbreaking, but it was harmless, well-meaning, and lightly enjoyable without talking down to anyone in the audience. Young girls, of course, adored it, imagining what it would be like if they could become real-life princesses themselves. Where there's money to made, however, there's unnecessary sequels to churn out, and "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" is not only something the world could have lived without, but also embarrassingly inferior to the original.
Five years have passed since Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) discovered that her grandmother, Clarissa Renaldi (Julie Andrews), was queen of the fictional foreign country of Genovia and she herself was expected to become the direct heir to the throne. Now having graduated from college, Mia's world is again put into a tailspin when Clarissa proposes that it is time for her to pass down the royal duties to her granddaughter. There's just one hitch: the courts have long since ruled that a princess must be married before she is allowed to become queen. With only thirty days to find a husband, Mia finds herself in something of an arranged courtship with the bland Lord Andrew (Callum Blue), whom she has no romantic feelings toward. Meanwhile, she begins a forbidden love-hate relationship with the dashing Sir Nicholas (Chris Pine), whom she can't help but be won over by even though she isn't sure if his intentions are honest and pure, or a shallow last-ditch effort to become king.
Saccharine-obsessed director Garry Marshall is on a roll this year, having made the insufferable "Raising Helen
" and now "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement," a cloying dullard of a movie that stinks of desperation. Almost everything that worked in the predecessor--the good-natured humor, the placement of a fairy tale story within the confines of the real world, the likable characters and relationships--is second-rate this time out. For one, the premise is as stale as a month-old loaf of bread, sure to cause a sense of déją vu for anyone who saw 2004's "The Prince & Me
" or 2003's "What a Girl Wants
." Second, for a romance and dialogue-heavy, G-rated Disney film, there is some confusion as to who, exactly, the target audience is. Young boys will be bored beyond comprehension, young girls will not be able to relate to Mia's predicament the same way they did in the first picture, and adults will be able to see right through director Marshall's cutesy, sugar-heavy condescension.
No cliche is left unturned in Shonda Rhimes' (2002's "Crossroads
") pitifully trite screenplay, right down to the daffy maid sidekicks who are there for unfunny comic relief and a climax that has Mia moralizing on a television broadcast as viewers at home smile and nod in acknowledgment. There is also the obvious dilemma of who Mia will choose as her suitor--the boring guy everyone expects her to marry or the exciting, passionate hunk--which could be solved in five minutes had the characters been written with any sort of practical intelligence. And, to top it off, there is a thoroughly unconvincing version of the stomach-churningly overdone "slow clap" scene (there's no actual clap, but you'll know it when you see it) that seems to find its way into just about every bad feel-good movie. When all else fails, director Garry Marshall opts for throwaway shots of animals looking adorable and little children doing precocious things because, heck, they're just so darn cute. It's enough to make the viewer want to vomit so they have a valid excuse to walk out of the theater.
The point-of-no-return nadir arrives midway through, as Julie Andrews and Raven (as Princess Asana) perform an out-of-the-blue, lip-synched duet at a slumber party for the sole reason that they both are singer-actresses. It is a scene right out of "The Twilight Zone," making no sense within the story and acting as a flimsy excuse to have them stretch their vocal cords. The appearance of Raven (currently popular on TV's "That's So Raven") in such a throwaway role probably has a lot to do with her being under commission with Disney.
Speaking of being under contract, there is likely no other reason why the lovely Anne Hathaway (2004's "Ella Enchanted
," an infinitely better family fantasy) has returned to this role of the often clumsy, always bright-eyed Mia Thermopolis. At 22, Hathaway is too old, too smart, and too talented to be playing the pratfall-inclined ingenue in such juvenile fare as this. As grandmother Clarissa, Julie Andrews manages to keep most of her dignity, a large feat when she is asked to surf down a slide on a mattress. Also making a return appearance for no logical reason is Heather Matarazzo (2004's "Saved!
"), as Mia's outspoken best friend, Lilly. Supposedly, Lilly has traveled to Genovia to spend the summer with Mia, but they barely say two words to each other throughout the entire film, as Matarazzo is asked to stand on the sidelines and spout one-liners. Finally, newcomer Chris Pine shows alluring promise as the nice-guy, bad-boy Sir Nicholas, Mia's requisite love interest, and young Abigail Breslin (2004's "Raising Helen
") has an effective cameo as an orphan Mia befriends.
Despite a positive message about staying true to yourself, "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" spits on the memory of its agreeable 2001 precursor
by having no interests outside of making a few bucks for the studio. Before stepping into the filmmaking arena again, Garry Marshall should take a look at what his latest projects have become: sickening, syrupy, dumbed-down products unable to even approximate the behaviors and emotions of actual human beings. "The Princess Diaries 2" may have no objectionable material parents will find offensive for their young children, but just about every viewer will be offended by the patronizing hooey stuffed down their throat. This isn't just a low-rent waste of time. At nearly two long hours that could have easily been trimmed to 85 minutes, the experience is close to excruciating.