Live-Action Princesses

The final entry in my series of different types of princesses is about the ones who are most famous for their portrayals in live-action movies. That means I'm not counting any of Disney's live-action remakes because all of those characters were made famous through old stories and animation. Live-action movies create worlds that feel more grounded and less fantastical than animation. These princesses look like someone you might see walking around on the street, but each has an amazing secret. Somewhere in the world, there is a kingdom that waits patiently for their return.

First up, we have ABC Family Channel's original movie from 2008, titled simply Princess. I have no idea why Disney chose to air this on their channel for family dramas instead of the more age-appropriate Disney Channe. Fortunately, it wound up on Netflix later to build a larger audience. Though there was a lot in the story that went unexplained, such as where the mysterious princess powers came from or why they chose a new girl every few years to wield them, it was still a very entertaining movie. It sought to explore the traits that make princesses beloved and magical without getting into any of the messy historical aspects of the monarchy. In this world, "princess" is a title given to a girl chosen to receive magical healing powers that she uses on faeries, mermaids, and other mythological beings. However, the princess lives on Earth and cannot tell anyone about the existence of these powers or the mythological beings. She needs money to support this cause and takes charitable donations from people who have no idea where their money is going.

The more I think about it, the less this movie actually makes sense. Still, Nora Zehetner's performance of Princess Ithaca was perfect with just the right amount of sweetness and innocence. Her co-star, Kip Pardue, was equally captivating as William, a clueless charmer who accidentally got involved with the magical secret when he tried to court Ithaca. The best thing about Princess would have to be the costumes. Ithaca wears some of the most gorgeous gowns I have ever seen. Many are inspired by various Disney Princesses. In fact, there is a scene where she walks past a little girl's party, and the girls go crazy because they think she is one of the Disney Princesses or something of that nature. The reason she needs to wear these gowns all the time, even during mundane tasks is not explained. Ithaca simply tells William that it is how she has always dressed and leaves it at that. The movie took all of the tropes of being a princess and excluded any historical aspects. Though that may seem like the ground for a princess parody, it takes itself quite seriously.

The most famous live-action Disney Princess would probably be Mia from Disney's 2001 The Princess Diaries. Based on a fun book series by Meg Cabot, Anne Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, a geeky average "every girl" who gets a Cinderella-style makeover when upon learning that she is really the princess of Genovia. The person to tell her this is none other than Julie Andrews, Genovia's queen, which is quite fitting. If anyone was born to play a queen, it's Julie, who had also portrayed a lovely Cinderella in her early years. The Princess Diaries is the perfect princess movie for the live-action format because it is a modern fairy tale with no magic. It was clearly a product of its time, as geeky girls getting makeovers was a hot topic in the late '90s and early 2000s. The 2004 sequel, on the other hand, was far less enjoyable and veered heavily from the books. I hate to be one of those people who says "the book was better," but... well, the books were better. Anyway, the studio appears to be in the early stages of planning a third movie that absolutely nobody asked for. With all these live-action remakes Disney has coming, I don't think anyone was surprised.

Disney Channel has done a handful of princess movies, most notably The Princess Protection Program from 2009, starring two of Disney Channel's "it girls," Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez. Like Princess Ithaca, Princess Rosalinda's two formal gowns are blatantly ripped off from Disney Princesses Belle and Cinderella. If you're going to do a princess movie, go big or go home, I suppose. It's a pretty standard Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) about two teenage girls from different walks of life who can't stand each other at first until one decides to sacrifice herself to save the other's life. Don't worry. Nobody dies. The movie was more about star power than story. I have to say I preferred ABC Family channel's Princess in spite of its shortcomings. Another DCOM of note is Twitches from 2005, starring everyone's favorite twin sisters, Tia and Tamara Mowry, who learn that they are the princesses of the sun and moon from another world. They must find a gateway to their magical land in order to save it. As cheesy and overdone as that story is, I found it and its 2007 sequel to be quite enchanting and fun, a far cry from the more generic Princess Protection Program.

Speaking of princesses from another world, Jonathan Shiff's Australian series, The Elephant Princess came out in 2008, around the same time as Princess. You know him from his work on such famous mermaid shows as H2O: Just Add Water and its spin-off series, Mako Mermaids. The Elephant Princess is about a normal teenager named Alex who learns that she's really the princess of Manjipoor and can teleport there using a magical and sometimes invisible elephant named Anala. Manjipoor is unique because it's more of a middle eastern kingdom than the standard European princess fare. I enjoyed this show thoroughly, though I thought that the second season made too many changes and no longer felt like the same show. This seems to happen a lot with princess shows. Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders suffered the same fate. Even though it has a pretty standard story, I thought the world of Manjipoor was quite unique and enjoy seeing its architecture and customs. Alex came off as too modern of a teenager at times, but I suppose that was the point.

Another live-action princess of note is Maria from The Secret of Moonacre, which also came out in 2008. Between this, The Elephant Princess, Princess, and The Princess Protection Program, I must have missed the memo that 2008 was the Year of the Live-Action Princess. There seemed to be an explosion of them at that time. Anyway, The Secret of Moonacre was a very enjoyable story about a girl who had to live with an abusive family member after her father died, much like Cinderella, before discovering a magical secret that allowed her to end a legendary curse between two families. To be honest, I don't remember much of it from the one time I saw it on Netflix, but I know I enjoyed it enough to check it out again.

There are many other live-action princesses who I'm sure I've missed. Of course, Princess Leia from the Star Wars phenomenon is a notable one. Yet, the princess stories containing makeover and "secret world" themes seem to be the most common. I realize I also left out Giselle from Enchanted, but that's because she's more of an animated princess who rejected her animated world, as I discussed in my "Princess Parodies" post. Live-action princesses are fun to watch because they look like us and usually live in our world. They give us the freedom to imagine that we might secretly be a magical princess too if we could only discover the hidden gateway to our kingdom.


Personally, I would love to see a live-action "Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders" reboot or movie. But I know the fandom spoke loud and clear regarding this. Animation is preferred.
Cupcakedoll said…
I gotta watch some of these...

I watched Princess Protection Program on Netflix, it was pretty cute.

I only saw a few episodes of Elephant Princess, dropping it amnd H2o mostly because of my grouchyness at JMS productions for ignoring my beloved Ocean Girl in favor of... well, anything else. We've all gotta be irrational about something, right?! ^^;

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