Arts, Media, and Entertainment

The Princess Diaries

"The biggest surprise of the weekend," announced an Internet webzine last week, was how well The Princess Diaries did at the box office. On its opening weekend, the film landed in third place nationwide, just behind Rush Hour II and Planet of the Apes. But the real surprise was that anyone was surprised that this film was a hit. After all, Hollywood has known for years that G-rated movies are what Americans really want -- and will pay to see. In The Princess Diaries we find a klutsy, 15-year-old California girl named Mia, whose chief problems in life are getting picked on at school and keeping her breakfast down when she has to give a speech. But her problems are about to get much, much worse. Her estranged European grandmother, played by Julie Andrews, has just arrived. Over a nice cup of tea, she informs Mia that her late father, whom she'd never met, was the crown prince of a tiny country named Genovia. Mia, her grandmother announces, is now the heir to the throne. Heir to a throne? Mia can't even manage algebra, never mind a whole country. But if she abdicates, the family will lose its claim to the monarchy. So Mia's grandmother offers to give her princess lessons while she decides if she wants to take on princess-hood full time. What follows is one amusing disaster after another. But along the way, our young heroine learns a lot more than which fork to use and how to walk gracefully. She learns the importance of loyalty to friends and how to cope with jealous classmates. Mia truly grows up when she learns to look beyond her own wishes to the needs and feelings of others. I have to hand it to the Disney Company: They managed to pull off this film without handing us a treacly mess fit only for indiscriminating 5-year-olds. I only hope the company will remember the long lines at the box office when they decide what films to make next year -- but I'm not counting on it. As film critic Michael Medved writes in his book, Hollywood Vs. America, one of the most enduring Tinseltown myths is "that Hollywood gives us sleaze and violence only because we demand it." But if you analyze the box-office profits, he says, you find an "unmistakable public preference for family-oriented material." One study showed that films rated G or PG are nearly five times more likely to place among the year's box- office leaders than an R-rated blood bath. G-rated films register "the highest returns of all." By contrast, R-rated films are bottom dwellers on the earnings charts. What this shows is that filmmakers are not responding to some primitive blood lust in the American people. Instead, says Medved, Hollywood is "following [its] own warped conceptions of artistic integrity." Well, occasionally the need to make a profit trumps this twisted vision, and Hollywood gives us what we want: wholesome, well-made, family entertainment. I can't remember the last time I was able to say what I'm about to say: Take the whole family to see the Disney film, The Princess Diaries. It's an amusing coming-of-age story that celebrates, not twisted visions, but the things that really matter in life. For further reference: Medved, Michael. Hollywood vs. America. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.


Chuck Colson


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