"Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" marks a return to Ruritania that arrives just in time to delight adolescent girls — and perhaps their mothers and grandmothers as well — before summer vacation is over. Like its predecessor, it's Hollywood hokum at its most glamorous and effective.
Sequels are always tricky, especially when they're pure make-believe, but old pro director Garry Marshall understands that unabashed fairy tales require solid acting to make them believable. Julie Andrews returns, eternally radiant as Queen Clarisse Renaldi of the tiny principality of Genovia, as does Anne Hathaway as her granddaughter and heir to the throne, Princess Mia. Andrews fans are treated to a surprise: Some years after throat surgery rendered her unable to sing, she is again easily able to duet with the singer Raven, cast as a pal of Mia's, in the rousing "Your Crowning Glory."
The film's writers wisely don't waste time with a back story, since most everyone who sees this film will have seen "The Princess Diaries," released in 2001. But for newcomers: Mia was a San Francisco 15-year-old living with her divorced mother (Christine Goodall) when she learned upon the death of her distant father in an accident that she's in fact a princess. If she does not succeed her grandmother on the throne it will fall into the hands of dreaded relatives. And if no one succeeds Clarisse, Genovia, clearly patterned after Monaco but like Switzerland in its mix of nationalities and nestled somewhere between Spain and Italy, will dissolve as an independent state.
This high-spirited sequel opens with Mia, now a gorgeous 21-year-old, graduating from college and heading to Genovia to be groomed for the succession. The loathsome relative materializes in the stalwart form of John Rhys-Davies' Machiavellian Viscount Mabrey, who points out in Parliament that Mia must marry before she can become queen — and also that his nephew Lord Nicholas Devereaux (Chris Pine) is actually in line to become king. Mia, concluding on her own that duty outweighs love, agrees to a match with the dashing Duke of Kenilworth (Callum Blue). At the same time she can't help but notice that the confident Nicholas is tall, dark and handsome.
Mia's predicament is hardly earthshaking, but the filmmakers understand that the worldwide fascination with royals seems as enduring as the power of fairy tales. While "Princess 2" is at heart a Ruritanian romantic comedy brought up to date, Marshall et al take seriously Mia and Clarisse's conflicts between duty and love — the long-widowed Clarisse has a discreet suitor in her head of security (Hector Elizondo).
The strong, engaging presence of Hathaway and Andrews and their obvious rapport sustain a character-heavy plot with too many tiresome running gags — Kim Thomson's ubiquitous TV reporter, for example, swiftly becomes obnoxious instead of amusing. A number of actors from the first film return, most notably Heather Matarazzo as Mia's best friend Lilly, who adds a welcome dash of vinegar to the proceedings when they threaten to get too sugary.
"Princess 2" is packed with elements to appeal to the princess in susceptible girls and women of all ages and shrewdly adds a touch of contemporary feminist assertiveness. Mia, swathed in pomp and circumstance, experiences a severe lack of privacy but has some spontaneous and rowdy good times too. Gary Jones' extensive wardrobe for Andrews and Hathaway is consistently elegant.
"Princess Diaries 2," like its predecessor, has been resourcefully crafted to look lavish, and was in fact filmed entirely in Los Angeles in an imaginative blending of sets and locations by veteran production designer Albert Brenner. The main hall of the royal residence looks like a vintage movie palace lobby, which is all to the good. Brenner has created a romantic fantasy world for a romantic fantasy that's gossamer as cotton candy.
'Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement'
MPAA rating: G (general audiences)
Times guidelines: Suitable for all ages
Anne Hathaway...Mia Thermopolis
Julie Andrews...Queen Clarisse
John Rhys-Davies...Viscount Mabrey
Heather Matarazzo...Lilly Moscovitz
A Buena Vista Pictures release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Brownhouse and Debra Martin Chase production. Director Garry Marshall. Producers Debra Martin Chase, Whitney Houston. Executive producer Ellen H. Schwartz. Screenplay by Shonda Rhimes; from a story by Gina Wendkos and Rhimes and based on characters created by Meg Cabot. Cinematographer Charles Minsky. Editor Bruce Green. Music John Debney. Costumes Gary Jones. Production designer Albert Brenner. Art directors Jack G. Taylor Jr., Adrian Gorton. Set decorators Peg Cummings, Casey C. Hallenback. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.In general release.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times