A Truckload of Sugar 

The Princess Diaries (G)
Walt Disney Pictures

Walt Disney Pictures shamelessly markets and exalts itself as the kingpin purveyor of G-rated entertainment with this truckload of sugary platitudes starring Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo and adorable teen star Anne Hathaway.

In the theater, prior to the film's opening credits, we are treated to the "hit" song from the film's bubble-gum soundtrack, sung by "Buena Vista/ Disney pop sensation Myra," a breathy, Britney-esque whimper about "wings to help me fly." Then, following the obligatory ads and trailers, we are treated to Disney's tribute to itself, a musical film montage celebrating its princesses from Snow White to Ariel, the royal little mermaid, the fantasy figures "that inspired us to dream."

Then the film begins. Hathaway plays Mia, a San Francisco teenager who considers herself to be "invisible," an awkward ugly duckling with too much hair and bad glasses. Naturally, Mia lusts after the biggest jerk in her school, an Abercrombie zombie named Josh; her best friend, Lilly (Heather Matarazzo of Welcome to the Dollhouse), is a nerdy, screechy feminist; and her mother is -- God forbid! -- an artist. When Mia's grandmother, Queen of Genovia, Clarisse Renaldi (Andrews) appears one day, announcing that Mia is heir to the throne of the tiny principality, the girl is reluctant to assume her responsibilities, largely because she thinks she doesn't look good enough.

So Grandma give her charm lessons. Mia learns how to talk, walk and give the classic princess wave. Her hair is straightened, she gets rid of those clunky Doc Martens and is introduced to tasteful pumps and pantyhose. In short, she becomes a princess before our very eyes.

The problem with this lame entry into princess mythology is its false attempts to be bigger and more social-minded. After Mia is scoured and scraped, coiffed and creamed into the mirror image of a Revlon ad, we are asked to believe that the real reason she wants to be a princess if to "affect change." We are treated to an awfully earnest speech by Queen Julie, explaining the awesome responsibilities of princesses (designed to make us think of the tragically deceased, anorexic and unhappy but oh-so-adored Princess Diana, no doubt), but we don't for a minute believe that this is why Mia decides, finally, to be a princess. False sentiment piles up in the last 30 minutes of the film like too many spoonfuls of sugar, adding up to a truckload of saccharine that makes you want to gag.

The only conceivable demographic for this film is 9- to 10-year-old girls -- already vulnerable to the pervasive cultural message of what will make them worthy. At one point, Mia's loving grandmother berates her carriage, her hairstyle, her complexion, her "bushman" eyebrows, her dirty nails and her unsightly footwear, then winks and grins. Oh, we see, this can be fixed. We can all be princesses with the right cosmetics, credit cards and hairstylists.

Thanks, Disney, for giving us yet one more would-be princess who inspires us to dream. Wake me up when its over.


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