I Reread The Princess Diaries After Revisiting the Movie

I have kind of a strange relationship with The Princess Diaries. I saw the Disney movie when it came out in 2001 and more or less forgot about it for at least five years until I had several hours to kill at Barnes & Nobles one day and read the a handful of the books by Meg Cabot. So, unlike many fans of the series, I didn't get into the books as a result of the movie or vice versa. I simply happened upon them at different times because I was bored and looking for entertainment. Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against The Princess Diaries. It just isn't one of my favorite live-action princess movies. It wasn't until at least another five years after I read the books that I saw the movie again, so there had been too much time between viewings for me to properly compare the two mediums even though I knew Disney had changed a lot of the source material. I decided to remedy that yesterday and by rereading the first book shortly after another viewing of the film on Netflix. Here's what I learned.

Book Mia and movie Mia seem to live in parallel alternate realities where everything is the same, but inverted. Book Mia lives on the east coast in New York City, while movie Mia lives on the west coast in San Francisco. Book Mia sees her dad on a fairly regular basis and wishes she saw a lot less of her "grandmére," who is basically a clone of Virginia's grandmother from The Tenth Kingdom. Conversely, movie Mia has a dead father who we know nothing about and didn't meet her grandmother until she was in high school, when she found out it was Julie Andrews, who also happens to be a queen. Book Mia is blonde. Movie Mia is a brunette. Book Mia is an immature 14-year-old, while movie Mia is a relatively mature 15-year old. Book Mia is a strict vegetarian, and movie Mia introduces her grandmother to corn dogs. Are any of these differences better or worse? Not really. They just set the Disney movie aside as its own thing, and honestly, the changes work well for the mediums they were associated with.

One thing that surprised me when I read Meg Cabot's book again was how juvenile it was. It's classified as young adult, but reading it made me feel like I was back in elementary or middle school. The books are written like actual diaries from the perspective of a 14-year-old who thinks and acts more like a 12-year-old. The first book came out in the year 2000 and might be a product of its time. Kids are growing up a lot faster today, which is why we have shows about incredibly mature 13-year-olds like Andi Mack. (By the way, you should totally watch Andi Mack if you haven't already because it's amazing). Mia's best friend Lilly was pretty similar in both the book and the movie as a new age "social justice warrior," which is something that became even more common among her age group in subsequent years, so in that respect, the books were right on track. I guess Disney thought that Lilly's militant progressiveness was too much when combined with Mia's militant vegetarianism because they left her dietary preferences out of the movie entirely, even though it removed a major scene in the book where she proves that the vapid hottie Josh doesn't know her at all when he ordered meat for her, replacing it with his inability to make her foot "pop" due to kissing her in a place where her ankles got all tangled in wires.

Overall, I think that most of the changes Disney made in order to convert The Princess Diaries into a movie work in its favor. The diary format of the book resulted in an episodic and disjointed story that only made sense from Mia's perspective. Disney decided to forgo that format entirely and write the movie as a fluid three-act screenplay with pristine pacing and a grander climax, which makes sense because it wasn't supposed to be a series like the books were. In fact, I might even say that this movie has some of the best pacing I've ever seen in a live-action Disney movie. It builds the story at a comfortable pace and gets all the right points across at all the right times. Sadly, they had to go and ruin their own fairy tale ending they created in which the girl who thought she never got noticed finally noticed the boy who saw her even when she was invisible with The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Disney has done a lot of awful things with their sequels, but this one particularly rubbed me the wrong way. Mia blows off her fairy tale romance with Michael in one quick voice-over and proceeds to sneak off with a douchebag whose family is after her crown, but it's supposed to be okay because he's "different." The Nostalgia Critic has a pretty good review of this movie on his YouTube channel, so I won't go into too much detail about it. However, I would like to point out that Meg Cabot's series does conclude with Mia marrying her first love, Michael, after a long and fruitful relationship, so the Disney universe isn't even parallel anymore.

The Princess Diaries is mainly a product of its time. "Cinderella" style makeover movies were very popular in the early 2000s, so Disney decided to cash in on the newest book they could find that resembled one. I do recall Meg Cabot's writing for Mia getting a little more sophisticated in the later books, but I don't think there's very much substance for a modern-day millennial to take away from them. I will say that Anne Hathaway was the perfect actress for the role of Mia Thermopolis. The movie kick-started her successful acting career, and rightfully so. She brought just the right amount of depth and innocence to the character without coming off as overly whiny like in the books. I thoroughly enjoyed her performance every time I watched the movie. It was also imperative for Disney to rewrite the role of Mia's grandmother for Julie Andrews, which they did, because no one could ever buy Julie Andrews as obnoxious and overbearing after the roles they've seen her do in the past. There have been whispers of a Princess Diaries 3, but we can only hope that the project gets canceled before they further demean the fairy tale ending of the original movie.


Anonymous said…
Ahhhh I can't believe it didn't follow the book as I never read the book I can't be too judgmental but this opens my eyes to everything about this movie and book.
Rhino Reader said…
I love this post comparing the book to the movie. I recently posted a blog post reviewing Princess Diaries as well. I noticed many differences between the book and the movie as well, although I didn't point them all out. This post was a great idea!

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