As Queen Clarisse (Andrews) steps down as monarch of Genovia, Princess Mia (Hathaway), now graduated from Princeton, prepares to rule. Yet Genovian law states that she has to find a husband in 30 days or the throne will leave her family...
Perhaps the best film ever aimed at eight year-old girls to be directed by a 69 year-old man, this strikes a similar 'Pretty Woman for the Hilary Duff generation' vibe to its 2001 predecessor. But Garry Marshall's latest female fairy tale betters the first through sheer dint of a lighter touch, improved performances and having more zip to its tip.
Accepting the slenderness of the conceit, Marshall packs the plot with sight gags (particularly good are two endlessly curtseying ladies-in-waiting) and slapstick (the princess' disastrous archery lessons). While Mia chooses between an English drip and a bad boy Yank (guess who wins that battle, then) and learns the regal ropes, skeins of satire creep in, with royal reporting and the customs of small countries - especially in Genovia's collection of national songs - both neatly sent up.
On the debit side, it is overlong, doesn't have an original thought in its airhead and is scattershot in its attempts to please its target audience, chucking in cute animals, slumber parties, tweenie rapper Raven, Lindsay Lohan choons and adults talking teenspeak ("Shut UP!") to lock in attention spans. But the cast come close to banishing these shortcomings. Hathaway hits all her character bases with aplomb, and her scenes with Andrews (who sings publicly for the first time since throat surgery in '97) are affecting and affectionate.
Elsewhere, Heather Matarazzo has fun with Mia's acid-tongued best friend and John Rhys-Davies stays the right side of hammy playing a Machiavellian viscount who uses his blue-blooded nephew to usurp the monarchy. But stealing the acting honours is Marshall fixture Hector Elizondo, who, as Clarisse's head of security, adds class and assurance to the frenetic proceedings.
Also, for once, the never-in-doubt conclusion doesn't bottle out of its quasi-feminist convictions, allowing Mia her Prince Charming without surrendering her identity or ambitions. It's colourful, breezy, confidently marshalled by Marshall and has its heart in the right place. That said, The Princess Diaries 3: Bulimia, Confessional TV Interview And Messy Divorce may be a step too far.
A formulaic pre-teen chick flick that ladles on girlie wish-fulfilment, but is charming enough to bring out the eight year-old girl in anyone.