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Pretty Woman redux 

Marshall revisits familiar themes with Princess Diaries

It's superficial and formulaic. It's got mass appeal. It's a bad example to young women struggling with their own physical and emotional inadequacies. All true, but The Princess Diaries delivers such refreshing escapism that even a die-hard feminist will be guilty of a smile.

Combining elements from past films, director Garry Marshall has created a Pretty Woman for the teen set. Although no prostitutes, drug dealers or thigh-high leather boots can be found in this G-rated film, we again find a girl undergoing a physical and emotional metamorphosis when given money, expensive dinners and, in this case, a tiara.

The princess is a gangly, awkward, average girl named Mia (Anne Hathaway). What makes Mia lovable is that for almost a third of the film she wears no makeup, is ignored by the cutest guy at school, fantasizes about being popular, wears a retainer and contradicts the Hollywood standard by lacking confidence and couture style. It's easy to relate to her daily teenage toils as she struggles to understand her eccentric mother (Caroline Goodall), feels ugly and unnoticed and suffers major teenage humiliation after throwing up during a debate.

All that changes when Mia learns she is princess of Genovia, (a fictitious country somewhere between France and Spain). She reacts typically: "I'm no princess, I'm still waiting for normal body parts to arrive." Her estranged grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi of Genovia (Julie Andrews), arrives, bearing the news of her nobility. It's revealed that her royal roots were kept secret so she could have a normal life. Now that the Genovian crown needs a successor, the queen needs a princess. Immediately the Queen takes over Mia's life, bestowing her with a stretch-limousine complete with personal bodyguard Josef (Hector Elizondo) and instruction on the ways of royalty.

Andrews is in fine form as the queen, toting an elegantly regal handkerchief and thick "Genovian" accent while conducting Mia's "Princess Lessons." These include learning how to sit, wave, walk, dance and behave under scrutiny. Mia's lessons are the most superficial part of the film, reaffirming the societal standard that looks are everything. Reshaping Mia's eyebrows, changing her walk and posture and giving her contact lenses, she becomes suited to rule a country. That said, the lessons humorously mask the reality of the situation -- that in order to be a proper princess Mia needs a total makeover. Despite her fancy new hair-do, though, Mia never loses sight of her true friends, the ones that "saw her when she was invisible."

Pop-princess Mandy Moore plays the most popular girl at school, using her blond hair, clear skin and cheerleading uniform to her advantage. She is the girl everyone envies in high school and the audience cheers when Mia gracefully steals Moore's shining spotlight -- and boyfriend.

While Marshall's formulaic Cinderella story presents about as much content as a spool of cotton candy, the movie's sugar-coated appeal, stereotypical characters and fantasy-land plot succeed in providing a charming alternative to a ho-hum teenage reality.

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