Movie reviews: “The Princess Diaries”

After all the recent kids film presumably directed primarily at teenage boys — The Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park III, Planet of the Apes — teenage girls get one of their own, but The Princess Diaries is not likely to produce the same sort of commotion at the box office that the others did, critics seem to agree. They also suggest that the oft-told story, about a dorky girl who becomes a beautiful princess, may no longer play the way it once did. (In a subplot of Shrek, the opposite story is told.) Joan Anderman in the Boston Globe writes: “The transformation is, in fact, remarkable. So is the message: Inner strength is well and good, but don’t forget the makeover, girls. Power without beauty still doesn’t play in Hollywood fairy tales.” Similarly Francesca Chapman writes in the Philadelphia Daily News: “Its message about physical beauty is frustrating, and you might want to think twice before taking any curly-haired, eyeglass-wearing child to see it.” Nevertheless, Steve Murray in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution remarks that the film contains an ingredient not found in many current comedies: “charm,” while Loren King in the Chicago Tribune observes that Julie Andrews’ performance “kicks the class quotient up several notches.” And Susan Wloszczyna in USA Today comments that the movie “will be adored by 10-year-old girls who think they’re 14 going on 18” But most of the reviews are brutal. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times remarks that The Princess Diaries “is a march through the swamp of recycled ugly duckling stories, with occasional pauses in the marsh of sitcom cliches and the bog of Idiot Plots.” And Bill Dupre in the Raleigh, NC News and Observer suggests that the film reveals a stumbling studio stumbling once again. “In many ways it seems a throwback to Disney’s darkest years,” he writes, “after the death of Walt and before Michael Eisner came to the rescue, when the studio churned out uninspired and not terribly profitable movies and appeared to be headed toward oblivion.”