Sweet and fun, simple and enjoyable, The Princess Diaries is a pretension-free fairytale. It may lack the edge to cross over into the grown-up mainstream, but it has enough dream-come-true moments to keep the less cynical kids (not to mention the less cynical adults) happily distracted.
As the unexpectedly royal lead, Anne Hathaway manages just the right blend of early teen attitude and sweet little girl befuddlement. Starting out with milk-bottle glasses and a Hair Bear Bunch barnet, her transformation into teen princess is pleasantly predictable in a Why-Miss-Jones-You're-Gorgeous! kind of way. She's no Kirsten Dunst or Christina Ricci, but Hathaway still has more than enough charm to out-thesp your average Dawson's Creek graduate.
Of course, it might have been interesting to see what Heather Matarazzo (Welcome To The Dollhouse) could have done with the part, but at least she gets to turn in a sparky turn as Mia's anti-establishment mate, who's worried that Mia's newfound fame will mean they can't be friends anymore.
In the hands of another director, it could easily have dissolved into a syrupy mess, but Pretty Woman helmer Garry Marshall's played this game before. Giving the telegraphed plot just enough spin to keep it fun, he balances the film perfectly, cutting between the kids' antics and the superb adult cast.
Marshall's pet scene-stealer Hector Elizondo (the hotel manager in Pretty Woman) effortlessly supplies charm and wit as the Genovian Embassy's chauffeur/security chief, but it's Julie Andrews who really shines. Simply regal, this is the kind of graceful, intelligent star performance that only actors with 40-years' experience seem able to turn out these days. It's time casting directors started calling her up more often.
A fairy tale adventure with a heart of gold, it hasn't got quite enough spark to set the box office alight, but is still an enjoyable Disney romp. If you're looking for a Pretty Woman Jr to keep the pre-teens happy, you could do a lot, lot worse.