Unlike many other touchstones of "tween" culture (the Olson twins, for instance), it's easy to understand the appeal of the Princess Diaries franchise. Star Anne Hathaway is a charmingly gawky proxy for her often equally ill-at-ease audience, mentored by the pinnacle of charm herself, the great Julie Andrews, through an appealing fantasy world of princesses and palaces. The understandable appeal of the sequel to the 2001 hit, however, doesn't give it a pass on some serious faults.
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (rated G) picks up five years after the first film left off. Mia Thermopolis (Ms. Hathaway) has completed her college degree back in the United States, and returns to the mythical (in so many ways, including a weird hodgepodge of "native" accents) kingdom of Genovia. There she must begin her training to assume the throne, under the tutelage of her grandmother (Ms. Andrews), queen of Genovia.
When the queen decides to take an early retirement, Mia is thrust to the forefront of a Genovian controversy-ancient law dictates that a princess must be married before she may be installed as queen. A scheming Genovian politician, the Viscount Mabrey (the great but underused John Rhys-Davies), uses the occasion to hijack the throne for his nephew, Nicholas (Chris Pine). Guess who falls in love with whom?
Obviousness isn't this film's chief fault, however. That's to be expected, especially under the heavy-handed direction of Garry Marshall, never a strong proponent of subtlety. What's more bothersome are the traces of afflictions that infect many similar films. The Princess Diaries 2 has some positive messages, but it still contains the usual insipidly modern themes: Being a princess means believing that one is a princess (try that one at home!), and duty, responsibility, tradition, and so forth all play second fiddle to following one's heart. A certain amount of deception is also allowed (and even encouraged) for those engaged in either of the two above pursuits.
Most members of the target audience will enjoy The Princess Diaries 2, as did my movie-going companions, three very sharp girls of appropriate age whose chief complaint was that the sequel was "too mushy." For young girls, the movie offers some real charms, but don't look for it to break free from its blandly PC cultural context.