Just when you thought Disney missed the royal barge by pitching “The Princess Diaries” (2001) to an audience a little older than the ones snapping up all those princess toys and accessories, along came “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” (2004). There's a scene in the sequel where Princess Mia throws an imperial pajama party, and that's basically what “Princess Diaries 2” feels like: one big pajama party, with even little girls invited this time.
Both films—out on Blu-ray for the first time in this two-movie combo pack—are directed by Garry Marshall, who offers no apologies for liking it light. And while the main audience is obviously little girls and little girls at heart, “The Princess Diaries” and “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” have enough appeal for the rest of the family as well—with the possible exception of boys too young to entertain vague fantasies about Ann Hathaway.
In the first installment, Mia Thermopolis (Hathaway) was an ugly duckling living with her San Francisco earth mother when she learned she was princess and heir to the crown of Genovia—a tiny principality in Europe. Her mother, it seemed, was a little too much of a free spirit for her mother-in-law, the queen (Julie Andrews), and her father had to choose between the love of his life and the love of his country. Mia’s conflict, however, is one that most girls would die for: either learn to become a swan of a princess and leave home, or stay true to the self and friends she grew up with. Mia's best friend and fellow nerd Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) provides the wisecracks to complement the physical comedy generated by the clumsy princess-to-be, but winning performances by Andrews as Queen Clarisse and Hector Elizondo as the Queen’s bodyguard and secret admirer, Joe, really elevate this formula flick.
If director Marshall (“Laverne & Shirley,” “Pretty Woman”) did a G-rated version of that happy hooker transformation with the first “Princess Diaries” film, the second plays a little like another Marshall film—“Runaway Bride.” Mia arrives in Genovia with degree in hand, ready to assume the crown which grandma had been wearing until a blood-line heir could take over. But Viscount Mabrey (played to the hammy hilt by “Raiders of the Lost Ark” alum John Rhys-Davies) wants his nephew to ascend the throne so he can play puppeteer. The not-so-good Viscount reminds everyone that the law states that no woman shall be queen unless she's married. Mia is given 30-days to find out whether the man she chooses with Lilly while eating popcorn and watching a slide-show of eligibles will be her Prince Charming (Callum Blue), or if it will turn out to be that nephew nemesis (Chris Pine).
Instead of a bachelorette party, the princess throws a pajama party for other princesses, though she seems to be one of the few adults in PJs. In another Disney nod to the toy-buying crowd, Princess Mia also hands out tiaras to a bunch of young commoners and invites them to join her in the royal parade, because "everyone can be a princess inside." It doesn't get any more formulaic than this, which is underscored by the made-for-TV feel the sequel has in spots—especially when people from the first film are imported for unnecessary cameos. Even Disney TV-star Raven shows up, obviously added just to sing a song and appeal to the after-school set. Human product placement.
Hathaway demonstrates in both films that she was maturing as a comic actress, and Andrews’ and Elizondo's performances are strong despite having less time to work with on their relationship sideplot. There's even a surprise song from Andrews (“Mary Poppins”) in the sequel.
More than most sequels, though, “The Princess Diaries 2” actually feels like the second part of the story, as if the two films were conceived in Meg Cabot’s mind as one big story line. They make absolute sense together, and that’s especially obvious when you watch them back-to-back. But as I said, there are a few too many over-the-top moments in the second film that make us feel as if we’re watching Disney Channel caricatures, and that hurts the comedy. I’d rate “The Princess Diaries” as a solid 7 out of 10, with the sequel meriting a 6. Both films are rated G and there's nothing that would prevent even the youngest princess wannabes from watching—though "couple" scenes won't hold their interest as much as the cat, the dog, the baby, the little girls, and the comedy in both films.
This 10th Anniversary Edition of “The Princess Diaries” comes with both films on a single Blu-ray disc, with a separate DVD included for each (total: 3 discs). In HD the films look better than ever, transferred to a 50GB disc using AVC/MPEG-4 technology and presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio—filling out the entire screen. There’s no slick sheen on either film, and the presence of a light layer of filmic grain adds a touch of reality to this two-part fantasy. Colors are vibrant, and there’s absolutely no bleed—even with reds. Edge delineation and detail are strong, and while some might have wished for stronger black levels, I found them perfectly suited to the feel of the film.
The featured audio on the Blu-ray is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with additional options in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. I like the mix on both films, with a pleasing balance between prioritized dialogue and ambient sounds and music. There’s not as much rear-speaker action as you might expect, but what’s there is channeled realistically.
Bonus features for both films are pretty average. The main “making of” feature for “The Princess Diaries” is “A New Princess” (25 min.), which, contrary to the title, isn’t an attempt to situate Princess Mia in the pantheon of Disney royalty. It’s a standard blend of behind-the-scenes montages, on-set interviews, and sit-down talking heads, with all the principals—even the late Whitney Houston, who produced—appearing.
The two feature-length commentaries are better than average. On the one, Marshall is himself—a no-nonsense guy who loves what he does and has a way of seeming funny, even when he’s being dead serious. Then Andrews and Hathaway team for an equally engaging commentary track.
Nine deleted scenes are included, with an intro from Marshall, along with a four-minute blooper reel. Finally, “Livin’ Like a Princess” is a three-minute round-up of historical princesses and the life of real princesses, illustrated by old-timey drawings and crude animation. It’s pretty random in the information that’s included.
On the sequel DVD, Raven serves as "tour guide" for a making-of feature. The best segments show the hijinks that happen on a Marshall set. Marshall introduces several deleted scenes that aren't terribly substantial, but a second short feature on how Genovia was built on a Los Angeles area back lot is decent. There's also a music video by American Idol's Kelly Clarkson, a "find your inner princess" personality quiz that isn't all that extensive, and a commentary by Marshall and Andrews that's pleasant enough but not terribly informative.
“The Princess Diaries” two-film collection is aimed at princess wannabes, cut from the same mindless entertainment cloth as light comedies from the ‘50s and ‘60s. They’re altogether wholesome, occasionally hilarious, and just plain fun if you watch the actors getting into it on an obviously loose Garry Marshall set.