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The Princess Diaries: Special Edition DVD Review

The Princess Diaries

Theatrical Release: August 3, 2001 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Garry Marshall

Cast: Julie Andrews (Queen Clarisse Renaldi), Anne Hathaway (Mia Thermopolis), Hector Elizondo (Joe), Heather Matarazzo (Lilly Moscovitz), Mandy Moore (Lana Thomas), Caroline Goodall (Helen Thermopolis), Robert Schwartzman (Michael Moscovitz), Erik von Detten (Josh Bryant), Patrick Flueger (Jeremiah Hart), Sean O'Bryan (Mr. O'Connell), Sandra Oh (Vice Principal Gupta), Kathleen Marshall (Charlotte Kutaway), Larry Miller (Paolo)


Modern day San Francisco seems an unlikely setting for a princess story, but that's just where The Princess Diaries is set. Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is a shy, socially awkward 15-year-old girl, who attends Grove School, a private, upper-class institution with all the cliques that any high school would have.

Leading the snobby, popular clique is cheerleader Lana (Mandy Moore) and her friends Anna and Fontana. Of course, Lana is dating dreamy "Backstreet Boy clone" Josh Bryant (Erik von Detten). For Mia, the popular sect of high school is off-limits, but the mere thought of kissing Josh still warms her knuckles.

Mia is having trouble getting noticed in school. And when she does get noticed, it's for the wrong reasons, like freaking out at a debate session or being humiliated in gym class. The only people who seem to understand Mia are her mother (Caroline Goodall) and Lilly (Heather Matarazzo), her socially conscious and decidely not "A-crowd" best friend.

Like so many film protagonists, though, Mia's world is about to be rocked. It starts when the grandmother she's never known schedules to meet her. At this meeting, Mia learns the remarkable truth: her grandmother, Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), is the queen of a tiny European country called Genovia. Which makes the late father Mia never knew the former prince of Genovia and Mia herself the nation's princess!

Anne Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, a geeky 15-year-old girl. Oscar-winning actress Julie Andrews plays her grandmother, the queen of Genovia.

Potential princess, anyway. After coming to grips with this information, Mia agrees with her mother to try out being trained in manners by her grandmother and then determine whether or not she wants to take on the position. As in Pygmalion and other rags-to-riches stories, Mia happens to be about the furthest thing possible from a princess. Between her homely sense of fashion, her frizzled hair, and clumsiness, this teenager will need a complete overhaul to look and act the part.

So Mia's grandmother, the Queen, gives her princess lessons on how to act in front of a crowd, whether walking, sitting, or dining. Princesses must appear sophisticated, and both the Queen and her granddaughter have their work cut out for them. To complicate matters, the news about Mia is let out, and a media frenzy ensues at school. Suddenly, her classmates are not only noticing her, but they're including her in everything and some (like Josh Bryant) are wanting to get closer to her.

The Princess Diaries is both a high school film and a family comedy, but it manages to engage a far wider audience than most in either class. While it seems to be geared towards younger viewers, it doesn't condescend or talk down to them. The film also succeeds at painting a picture of the unforgiving dynamics of high school, while maintaining a clean-cut air that feels neither forced nor artificial. In trying to remain relevant, though, it's marred by the type of pop soundtrack that will make this look dated in the near future.

Mia is tied to her chair to give her more princesslike posture. Then, she gets a makeover, care of the one and only Paolo (Larry Miller).

Director Garry Marshall, a man behind romantic comedies like Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride, feels quite comfortable in this G-rated domain and the result is a mostly pleasant light comedy. While the film remains pretty predictable, it also remains fun. And funny, at times, rather than merely "amusing," which many family comedies happily settle for.

After all these years, Julie Andrews still brings grace to the screen with her Queen character, the most endearing figure in the film. In her film debut, Anne Hathaway does a fine job of holding the pieces together, and enables you to like her character, who at first look, appears to be a bit bratty.

Amusing supporting performances come from Hector Elizondo (who is most funny when he's not trying so hard) as Mia's chauffeur Joe, an uncredited Larry Miller as the Italian makeover artist Paolo, and Patrick Richwood as Mia's neighbor Mr. Robutusen, a quirky former soaps writer who now narrates the world around him. The location of San Francisco becomes a character, as its challenging hills are featured prominently, far more prominently than the titular "diaries" which don't really figure at all in the movie.

When it was released to theaters three summers ago, The Princess Diaries was a surprise success for Disney, bringing in over $100 million and outgrossing Atlantis: The Lost Empire, their big budget animated release. There are movies far less deserving of such a fate, so it's nice to see that critics and audiences found the good qualities of the film. What Garry Marshall has made is not a thought-provoking or excellent work, but a light comic fantasy which captures and often delights viewers with its story and characters.

Buy The Princess Diaries: Special Edition from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; THX-Certified
Release Date: August 3, 2004
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Was $29.99)
White Dual Amaray Slim Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Previously released in separate widescreen and fullscreen, The Princess Diaries is presented in both viewing formats in this 2-Disc Special Edition. Each format is given its own disc, and unfortunately the reformatted fullscreen presentation resides on Disc 1.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on Disc 2 is the one you should be interested in. I doubt this transfer is any different from the original DVD release, aside from the fact that more disc space could be devoted to it this time, with most of the video extras assigned to Disc 1 with the fullscreen transfer.

The video quality is without fault. A 16x9-enhanced transfer of a recent film like this should be impressive and that's certainly what it is. Colors are accurate, vibrant, and consistent, and the print is impeccably clean. With a relatively low budget comedy like this, you're not dealing with special effects shots and experimental elements, but the transfer holds up perfectly in any scene the film offers, indoors or outdoors, day or night. About the only other comment one can muster is that the transfer is a little bit soft, or maybe it's just not as razor-sharp as others. Still, this is a wonderful video presentation for the film.

The Princess Diaries is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and the DVD also offers a satisfying audio experience. The film isn't brimming with state-of-the-art sound design, but the 5.1 track aptly handles the prominent score and ambient noises. The volume rises a bit for an array of pop tunes that line the film's soundtrack. Dialogue was almost always easy to understand, but a few times, it was overshadowed by the music. For the most part, the sound remainded heavily in the front speakers. Though it's not a track to show off your speaker system with, it's a fine audio presentation that I can't find fault with.

Disc 2 Main Menu of The Princess Diaries: Special Edition Julie Andrews in the making-of featurette "A New Princess."

EXTRAS

You may be wondering what's new from Disney's satisfying original DVD release of The Princess Diaries. The answer is not a great deal, and with the exception of the DVD-ROM material, all of it appears on Disc 2 and is covered below.

Disc 1's bonus features all appeared on the initial DVD release of The Princess Diaries.

First is the featurette "A New Princess" (24:12), hosted by Anne Hathaway. There's a lot of on-the-set footage, and this is complemented by interview clips with the cast and crew. Among those commenting are director Garry Marshall, Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Heather Matarazzo, Mandy Moore, Patrick Flueger, and producer Whitney Houston. There's even black-and-white audition footage included in this well-made featurette, which has a bit of praise-singing, but definitely lends insight into the film and its fun, camp-like production atmosphere.

In Deleted Scenes, we find eight sequences which were filmed but left out of the final film. With wit and wisdom, director Garry Marshall introduces the section on the menu, provides introductions to each scene, and explains why they were cut. Scenes that were excised include a discussion of childhood nicknames, a Mia puppet used as a story device, an awkward date between Mia's mom and teacher, a couple of close moments between Mia and Michael, an alternate comeuppance for Lana, and a banana dance at the beach party.

Marshall explains that a number of these were cut to keep a reasonable running time for the film. Some of these scenes are pretty interesting to see. They're also fully edited and in pretty good condition, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1. Overall, all the scenes and Marshall comments run over 18 minutes long.

Director Garry Marshall comments on the eight deleted scenes. Mia eats her pizza backwards in a deleted scene. Krystal's "Supergirl!" Music Video

Last are two music videos. First, Myra performs the film's closing song "Miracles Happen" in a colorful video (4:00) with a standard offering of "uplifting" lyrics and some clips from the film; the highlight is probably the brief introduction by Heather Matarazzo, in character as Lilly on her cable talk show. Second, Krystal performs "Supergirl!" (3:40) (heard in the beginning of the film), spiced up with sparse film clips as well as some new footage featuring the cast.

Disc 2 retains both audio commentaries from the original DVD release. The first, dubbed "The Ultimate Tea Party", reunites stars Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway. In the second track, director Garry Marshall speaks by himself.

On this second disc, we also get three new bonus features never-before-released on DVD plus a nice offering of DVD-ROM fun.

First is "Royal Engagement: A Princess Diaries 2 Sneak Peek." Despite the sound of it, this is not merely a trailer but a 5-minute preview featurette on the sequel, which comes to theaters in August. From the set of the sequel, Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews introduce the viewers and show clips from a "video diary" of the production. In addition to the two leads, we hear from the returning Hector Elizondo, director Garry Marshall, and new cast members Callum Blue, Chris Pine, and (groan) Raven.

Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews host a sneak peek of "The Princess Diaries 2" Livin' Like a Princess Anne Hathaway fools around on the set in "Outtakes & Bloopers."

"Livin' Like a Princess" is a new featurette (3:30) which reveals the reality of being a princess, and the not-so-glamorous years of schooling future monarchs go through. There are some historical examples provided, and classic illustrations are animated, but there's not much of a point to the silliness. After a brief hip-hop song about princesses, this tongue-in-cheek informational featurette ends with the words "Fo' Shizzle."

The last new addition is labeled "Outtakes & Bloopers." This gag reel (4:15) compiles film of cast flubs, on-set tomfoolery, and other mayhem and sets it to loud pop music. It's a bit amusing, and interesting to see a couple of the outtakes made it into the film.

Rounding out the disc is a 35-second preview for the DVD-ROM features. This nice offering of DVD-ROM fun appears on both discs and is also brand new. As usual, to access these enhanced computer features, you'll need a DVD-ROM drive and a Windows system.

Most of the DVD-ROM material is found under the heading "Printable Fun." Here you can print out a "Regal Word Search," prince and princess royalty certificates, a paper tiara with decorations to customize, a variety of door hangers, and stationery and picture frames of both prince and princess variety.

DVD-ROM Image Gallery DVD-ROM Screensaver

In the "Image Gallery" you'll find a selection of nearly 50 stills from the film, accompanied by selections from the score (which can be turned off). There is also a Slideshow option so that you don't have to manually advanced through each photo. Lastly, there is an animated Princess Diaries: Special Edition Screensaver which rotates pictures from the film against a pink background. Those who can and want to access the DVD-ROM features should find them to offer some fun.

Both discs open with a teaser for The Incredibles, and DVD previews for Ella Enchanted, Mary Poppins: Special Edition, and Disney's Princess Collection (which provides a first look at the new princess song due on all three DVDs coming September). On Page 2 of the Sneak Peeks menu, you'll find previews for The Three Musketeers, Home on the Range, Mulan: Special Edition, and a line of books called "WITCH."

The 16x9 menu screens offer a pleasing blend of classical music (which starts out with the familiar Disney castle logo music, before morphing into a selection from the score) and slightly blurred imagery from the films. To distinguish things, Disc One's menus are pink and Disc Two's are blue. The THX Optimizer tests are included to calibrate your audio and video settings for the optimal movie presentation.

Inside the case, you'll find Movie Cash valid for one admission (up to $7) for The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, a booklet of coupons, and a double-sided insert listing special features and chapter listings on one side.

Look, she's a princess now! Forget Dick Van Dyke. Julie and Ann are the dynamic duo for a new generation.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you already own The Princess Diaries, there isn't very much material new to this Special Edition and it's not of great substance. If you don't, then now is the perfect time to add it to your collection, as this 2-disc Special Edition is bound to please everyone, no matter what their DVD preferences.

The good thing is The Princess Diaries was given a worthy first DVD release, and all the extras from that (two commentaries, deleted scenes, featurette, music videos) are carried over. The ticket to Princess Diaries II sweetens the deal, rewarding those who haven't gotten around to buying the movie. And while the new features (sequel preview, outtakes reel, featurette, and DVD-ROM content) might not merit an upgrade, they're welcome additions. So, you get this 2-Disc Special Edition and a ticket to go see the sequel; you win, Disney wins, everybody wins.

More on the DVD

The Book: The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
The Sequel: The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (comes to DVD 12/14/04)

Related Reviews
Recent Disney Films:
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) | Freaky Friday (2003)
Max Keeble's Big Move (2001) | Snow Dogs (2002)
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) | The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003)

Reviewed July 30, 2004.

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The Princess Diaries in the Live Action Films Countdown | Disney Special Edition DVDs

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