The Princess Diaries (2001 – 2004) – By Eleanor Morton

17th February 2016

The Princess Diaries – A look back

I have two ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to films. One, I will watch anything in period costume, including The Three Musketeers (2011). And two, I will watch any chick flick, no matter how terrible. I mean, any chick flick. I watched nearly 40 minutes of Sydney White (2007), which is more than any other human to date has managed. I don’t know why I watch them, I think it’s because I like pretty things and inspirational lifestyles, and not having to concentrate too hard on a plot.

Today I thought I’d re-visit one of the less terrible chick flick franchises as part of a mini-series I’ll be doing on Princesses in films. The franchise for today is The Princess Diaries, starring everyone’s favourite Not Shakespeare’s Wife, Anne Hathaway. We’re not going to focus on any changes from the books, because there’s no way I’m doing that amount of in-depth research. All I remember from the books is that she was whiny when she wasn’t a princess and whiny when she was. Ultimate white people problems. So, let’s have a look back at the films and see what The PD series was all about.


The Princess Diaries (2001)

Ok, firstly, 2001?? That can’t be right. That would make me nine when they came out. No, I don’t think so. Having said that, a quick glance at the fashion choices for the movie would indeed put it in the millennium. I’m talking lots of stretchy pink material and hair knots.

Mia Thermopolis is just your average teenage girl who lives in a disused San Francisco Firehouse with her artist mother, and who slides down a pole out of her turret bedroom every morning to go to her beautiful, prestigious school. She has quite frizzy hair, which I assume is meant to be unattractive. She has the face of Anne Hathaway but she wears glasses so obviously no one can see it. Eurgh. Gross. No hope for this troll hag.

Mia is awkward and clumsy but also teaches rock climbing as her after school job and travels by scooter everywhere. Her dad died before she could meet him, and she fancies a guy called Josh. You can guess what Josh is like because he’s called Josh.

So her life is pretty good – I mean, she feels like a bit of a loser and, again, the horrific frizzy hair thing, but otherwise, all good. I always remembered her being a total loser at the beginning of the film, but it retrospect, this all seems pretty sweet.

Mia finds out from her grandmother Julie Andrews that she her dad was a king and she is the princess of a pretend Lichetenstein-esque European country, whose officials and employees are all English or American. Mia freaks out and doesn’t want to be a princess, giving all the teenage girls in the audience the chance to shout ‘No! You’re a mental!’ Her grandmother, meanwhile, despairs that Mia looks so AWFUL (did I mention she has HAIR, which is FRIZZY) and that no one will ever accept such an ugly, graceless Royal. I assume Grandma has never seen the British royal family.

Mia and her Grandma come to an arrangement where she will make her decision about whether to be a Princess at a ball, which is a few weeks away, probably. So Mia must have all these princess lessons and a makeover, all whilst also learning that she should be comfortable with herself and that Josh is a jerk (SUPRISE!) and that her best friends hot brother is The One, because he’s in a band and has a Beatles hair cut. Oh, Mandy Moore also plays a mean girl, so, yeah. At the end, she decides she DOES want to be a princess because it’s all about caring for other people (I think she’s thinking of nursing?), and then snogs the brother, who is a whole hairstyle shorter than Mia.

The most important question – why do American girls want to be princesses? Have they never seen modern day royalty? If you’re a princess, your main fanbase is mostly middle-aged conservative women and people who hate immigration. Your main duties are waving at people and walking behind your husband. And yes, maybe, you’ll get to be queen one day, but that’s hardly a picnic. Where are the scenes where Mia has state dinners with war mongers, or uses millions of pound of tax money to heat her massive palace? Why would girls choose princess over popstar or politician, or pretty much any other job? Being a princess is about being told what to do, living your life in a narrow margin and embodying an antiquated gender role where you’re basically a trading pawn. Dental hygienist, on the other hand, is a full time, skilled job with a smart uniform and all the dental floss you could want. Just saying.

The thing that strikes me most about The Princess Diaries is that, as a kid, much more than being a princess, I wanted to be normal Mia. I wanted to live in a San Francisco firehouse and go rockclimbing with my mum. I wanted to be happy in my own awkward body and own a massive cat and drive a mustang. If I were Mia I would have stayed in that fire station.

Having said that, I do love Anne Hathaway. Especially pre-makeover Anne Hathaway. Mia doesn’t actually seem to be that bothered about how she looks –she likes wearing her glasses and her clumpy shoes. She’s charming and witty and seems like the sort of girl I would have wanted to be friends with as a teen. She should also have made her stylist pay for new glasses after he deliberately snapped her old ones. Glasses are expensive.

The Princess Diaries 2; Royal Engagement (2004)

After graduating from Princeton, Mia has moved to Genovia, a Frenchish country where everyone is American – was it so hard to find some European actors, guys? Genovia’s main export is pears, so I’m pretty sure it’s mostly just a tax haven. Also, there are two Scottish women in these movies. Two! That’s possibly more than any other movie franchise. Nice job. Due to some stupid Genovian laws, Mia has to be married, or she forfeits the crown to Gimli from Lord of the Rings and his hot nephew (a young Chris Pine, everyone). Apparently in Genovia, it’s still 1820. Mia settles for an English Duke called Andrew, though secretly she pines for Pine. Turns out the hot brother wasn’t the one after all, who knew a high school romance wouldn’t last forever?

The sequel is a lot more of a non-event, lots of standing around in palaces, weird affected accents and so many one liners. Good god, so many one liners. They are rarely funny. This film also appears to be set entirely in a softly lit garden party, although at one point Mia goes onto the streets of the capital for a parade and meets some orphans. I can only assume their parents abandoned them because they all sound American for some creepy reason. At this point she declares she will abdicate and redistribute her wealth to form a truly socialist society where pay is equal and inherited privilege is outlawed. LOLS NOT REALLY.

Later on, she invites princesses from all over the world to her hen party, because what says last night of singledom like a sleepover with eight year olds. There are lots of little girls in the film to remind us that anyone can be a princess. Though, specifically, legitimate female people whose parent is heir apparent.

In the end, Mia gets to have her cake and eat it; she gets Chris Pine, but doesn’t have to marry him, and then she gets crowned Queen. Grandma is super cool about this, and Andrew, like, didn’t even care. So, luckily, no one had to make any hard choices or think about consequences. Much like actual royalty, amrite guys? There is a nice bit where she’s all ‘I don’t need no man, Imma reign solo!’, but then she does still get the guy so…swings and roundabouts I guess. In many ways, the film retreads the first one – learn to be yourself, and stand up for yourself. Unless you have awful frizzy hair.

I enjoyed re-watching these films, they look nice and Julie Andrews has a lovely comforting voice. I know they’re are meant to be a bit of fluff where everyone watching can imagine themselves a Princess for an afternoon and look at the pretty colours, but it is still a bit worrying that this is what American teens might think Europe is like – a bland, pastel paradise where Royalty is kind and generous and wise, not inbred, lecherous and antiquated. This overview of Europe is an example of the wider problems with American foreign policy – a desire to see the rest of the world as a distant, fairytale land, somewhere that doesn’t matter as much. Still, none of that really matters once you’ve seen Chris Pine riding a penny farthing through a sheep field. A strong 7/10 for both.

Next time: A Little Princess and Liam Cunningham’s emotional impact on all female viewers.

Written by Eleanor Morton