by Ed Symkus
Does anyone realize that there are still G-rated live action films being made? Even the recent Disney animated feature Atlantis had a PG rating. So what gives here? What gives is a film that should be attractive to an all-ages market, meaning that everyone -- even grandparents -- will enjoy it.
Part of this is because the story in the film is multi-generational. It's about a single mom and her daughter, who share a close relationship, since they both must adjust to the fact that grandma (the recently deceased husband's mother), who hasn't had much to do with the family for a number of years, has suddenly appeared on the scene with some shockingly out-of-the-blue news.
But let's back up. Mia (Anne Hathaway) and her best pal Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) are living out a kind of square pegs existence at their high school. They think everyone else is hipper than they are, and in return nobody else thinks the two oddball girls are the least bit hip. Mia's hair is an unruly mop; Lilly is prone to constantly changing hers, but never in any way that's the least bit flattering. Mia's free-spirited artist mom has carved out a happy -- if offbeat -- home life for herself and Mia, and one day says to her, quite casually, "Oh, your grandmother called." This would be the grandmother that Mia refers to as "the snobbish lady who ignores us." She would also be, unbeknownst to Mia, since it's been a family secret, Clarisse Renaldi, the Queen of (the fictional) Genovia.
As played by Julie Andrews, here starring in her first Disney film since Mary Poppins, the queen is all proper and funny and frustrated and totally confused about her granddaughter's strange lifestyle -- or at least what she considers a strange lifestyle. Andrews is also, by the way, still a breath of fresh air.
The simple story line tells that Mia's dad left her mom some time ago so she could bring up Mia and he could go back home to Genovia where he would someday become king. But upon his untimely death, Clarisse has paid a visit to the States, where she tells Mia -- who's been blissfully unaware of all this royalty business her entire life -- that now she is next in line for the throne.
The devastated, understandably angry Mia wants nothing to do with it. The slightly outraged Clarisse can't understand this behavior. But a deal is made. Clarisse will attempt to mold Mia into princessly material, and if Mia likes what's going on, she'll consider giving up her way of life and heading off to the kingdom.
The script, based on the book by Meg Cabot, keeps most things light and bubbly. Even when there are some traumatic goings-on at school, they stay brief, and soon Mia is back on her feet. There are examinations of friendships and how such a big impending change as Mia is facing can strain even the strongest one. Some funny business is attended to when other schoolmates find out what's going on. The story holds no soft spots for those who would take advantage of Mia, whether it's the unscrupulous guy she's had a crush on for a long time or the hungry animals who make up the world of the media.
Director Garry Marshall has plenty of fun in spreading bits and pieces of slapstick throughout the story (one scene, at a dinner party, is right out of a Three Stooges routine), and, as just about always in one of his films, he gives a small but choice part to longtime pal Hector Elizondo, here playing the queen's chauffeur and bodyguard and spouting off some of the funnier lines in the driest of manners.
The film itself features a couple of riffs on previous films. First, the story is a kind of reversal on My Fair Lady, in which Andrews starred on Broadway all those years ago. Here, she's Henry Higgins trying to reinvent Hathaway's Eliza Doolittle. And in a little nod to one of his own films, Marshall has cast comic actor Larry Miller to do a physical makeover on Mia, to transform her into someone special. Miller played very much the same part when he was called on to dress up Julia Roberts in Marshall's 1990 film Pretty Woman. In that film Miller was funny. In this one he's hilarious. On a side note, Hathaway bears a remarkable resemblance to what Roberts looked like 10 years ago.
Near the film's end, all kinds of crises and misunderstandings take place, and anything that can go wrong, does. But take a peek at the rating and at the name of the company that made it. You know that nothing will stay wrong for long. And who knows, maybe this absolutely regal family entertainment will all serve as something positive for all the confused real life teenage girls out there.