Growing up there were a few films I watched over and over, and no matter how many times I saw them I never seemed to get sick of them. Two of these films were The Princess Diaries (2001) and the sequel film The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004). Both films center around a young girl named Mia Thermopolis who finds out that she is the heir to the throne of Genovia, a small European kingdom.
In The Princess Diaries Mia is awkward and clumsy with frizzy, uncontrollable hair and glasses. Due to this she is unpopular and is frequently mocked for these things at school by the popular kids. On Mia’s 16th birthday her grandmother, whom she has never met, comes to visit and tells her that her deceased father was the Crown Prince of Genovia, meaning her grandmother is Queen Clarisse Renaldi. Her grandmother then reveals that Mia is the heir to the throne and next in line to rule since her father has passed away. All of this comes as a shock to Mia and she resists the idea of her being a princess at all, because while not completely happy with her life, she is comfortable and loves being “invisible” because it is one of the things that she is best at. Despite her contempt, her mother convinces her to attend “princess lessons” by her grandmother until the Genovian Independence Day Ball where she has to decide whether she will actually ascend the throne or not. The rest of the film follows her learning how to be a princess and dealing with issues with how it affects her life, ultimately concluding with her deciding to ascend the throne.
In The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement it is five years later and Mia has just graduated college and arrives in Genovia where she is to learn the duties of a queen by being by her grandmother’s side while waiting for her to step down as Queen. Shortly after her 21st birthday, the parliament decides that she has one month to find a husband or she can not become Queen. On top of this a scheming parliament member is trying to get his nephew, Nicholas, to take the throne and devises a plan to have Nicholas woo Mia so that she will not find a husband by the end of the month. The rest of the film follows Mia dealing with getting engaged to a man she barely knows and avoiding Nicholas and his uncle’s sabotages, all while figuring out how to be a Queen. The film ends with Mia calling off her wedding and convincing parliament that she does not have to have a husband to rule, ending with Mia becoming Queen as a single woman.
While watching these movies as a child I did not put much thought into the underlying messages of them. After re-watching them I realize how much the framework of Feminist Criticism outlined by Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory plays into the movies. Feminist Criticism is examining the representations of women, women inequality, and what “feminine” means within different types of media. Since Mia is a young woman and the films both focus on her becoming a “princess” and a “queen”, which are major feminine roles in society, the films say a lot under this framework.
In The Princess Diaries a good portion of the movie is Queen Clarisse, Mia’s grandmother, giving Mia “princess” lessons. She evaluates and criticizes everything about Mia’s appearance (hair, skin, clothes, etc.). She tells her how to walk, stand, and sit like a “princess”. In Beginning Theory Barry states that how women are seen in media “was felt to be one of the most important forms of ‘socialisation’, since it provided the role models which indicated to women, and men, what constituted acceptable versions of the ‘feminine’ and legitimate feminine goals and aspirations” (Barry 85). Most young girls at some point dream of becoming a princess and they get the idea of what a princess is supposed to look and act like from the stories they read and watch. At 0:36:50 into the movie Mia is given a makeover that turned her curly hair straight, gave her new clothes, fixed her eyebrows, and forced her to wear contacts instead of glasses. She was not seen as even remotely a princess until after this makeover. The popular people at her school and boys that used to make fun of her even started to notice her. In addition to this, I re-watched the movie with a friend, whom has very curly hair, and while we were discussing how Mia was a role model to us when we were young, she told me that she remembers when she first saw the makeover scene and as a young girl it made her think that she should straighten her hair as well. In this way the movie set the “feminine goals and aspirations” to be how Mia looked after the makeover.
In contrast from the first movie, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is basically all about gender inequality. In Beginning Theory Barry mentions how in 19th century stories there was a focus “on the heroine’s choice of marriage partner, which will decide her ultimate social position and exclusively determine her happiness and fulfillment in life, or her lack of these” (Barry 85). This movie was made in the 21st century, yet this quote represents the movie perfectly. The first half of the movie is about Mia finding a husband, which will “decide her ultimate social position and determine her happiness” because it enables her to still become Queen. Although, she is not happy at all marrying someone she does not love. Towards the end of the movie, at 1:34:00 there is the scene where Mia refuses to go through with the marriage and makes a speech about how she should not have to marry a man in order to rule Genovia. She asks for the members of the parliament to envision their daughters having to marry someone they do not love in order to rule. This results in them granting her the right to ascend the throne by herself and then Mia proposes a movement to change the law for future generations. This shows how women do not need a marriage partner or a man in order to determine their social position or happiness.
In conclusion the second film ends with Mia proving that she is a strong, independent Queen who don’t need no man, and makes up for the poor “feminine goals and aspirations” message of the first movie.