"The Queen is coming."
Disney live-action films, before the onslaught of live-action remakes that now plague the studio... it was never really a sector the company was making much profit from compared to its animated films and theme parks. They definitely had successes with films like 'Mary Poppins' or franchises like 'Herbie' or 'The Shaggy Dog', but most served as light family entertainment. The 80s saw Disney try a little harder with their live-action department with films like 'Tron', 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids' and 'Return to Oz', but while all have nostalgia for many, nothing was sticking compared to other studios' blockbusters at the time. The 90s saw sports movies take a rise, with both 'The Mighty Ducks' and 'Cool Runnings' being big pulls for the studio as well as cult classics like 'Newsies', 'Hocus Pocus' and 'The Santa Clause'. Then - dun dun dun - the remakes: '101 Dalmatians', 'Flubber' and 'The Parent Trap' all became box office gold at the time. As we have spoken about before, the 2000s was a huge turning point for the studio across the board, with hand-drawn animation being phased out, Pixar's star rising, and the live-action department started to skew towards adults with the success of 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' in 2003. But we touched on the unsung heroes of the company in our 'High School Musical' piece - the tweens. While most of that success can be attributed to the Disney Channel, the 2001 masterpiece 'The Princess Diaries' also played a huge part in keeping the studio afloat at the time.
'The Princess Diaries' first debuted as a book series in October 2000. Years earlier, as Meg Cabot was developing the books, producers reached out to attain the rights, and Disney was looking for something to skew their live-action films towards family-friendly content. This was 1998, the book wouldn't see the market for another two years, and Cabot at the time had been rejected by many publishers. As soon as Disney had the rights, she of course had no issue selling the book. In August 1999, the film was greenlit with singer Whitney Houston producing through her production company, BrownHouse Productions. Gary Marshall was also attached to direct the project; he was brought on to create mass appeal and remove the stigma around live-action films for little girls after his successes with 'Pretty Woman' and 'Runaway Bride'. While not working closely together, Cabot was always consulted about changes and loved the final product, stating it helped boost sales of her books and she wouldn't have been as successful without it. While there were big changes, like changing the location from New York to San Francisco and toning down some of the political edge the book had, the film perfectly captures the essence of the book and with entries Mia refers to as the "movie made about her life."
One of the reasons 'The Princess Diaries' experienced such huge success is because of its cast. Not only was it Julie Andrews' first Disney film since 'Mary Poppins' 37 years prior, but her first acting role in over a decade. It's also one of her only live-action roles in the 21st century, with Andrews semi-retiring from acting in part due to her losing her singing voice, although the film's sequel would feature Andrews singing on film for one of the last times ever. She has appeared in 'Shrek 2', 'Despicable Me', was the narrator in 'Enchanted' and *checks notes* played a leviathan in 'Aquaman'. But even though the role was expanded in order to secure Andrews, it doesn't take away from the true star, Anne Hathaway, in her breakout role. While many actresses were frontrunners, including Liv Tyler and Christy Carlson Romano, Hathaway claimed the part on her first audition alone - in part thanks to her comedic timing, but also because she was the only one to possess the grace and authority for the final speech in the film. Marshall also found her reminiscent of Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman', but what really spoke to many audiences was how realistic she was as Mia Thermopolis. A lot of slip-ups - like her actually falling in the scene on the bleaches - were kept in the film, adding to why so many latched onto the film. The film is rounded out with Marshall staple Hector Elizondo along with Heather Matarazzo as Mia's best friend Lilly, singer Mandy Moore in her first live-action acting role, Sandra Oh and Larry Miller.
One of the reasons 'The Princess Diaries' experienced such huge success is because of its cast. Not only was it Julie Andrews' first Disney film since 'Mary Poppins' 37 years prior, but her first acting role in over a decade. But it doesn't take away from the true star, Anne Hathaway, in her breakout role.
The film was destined to be a box office bomb due to its G-rating and the stigma that surrounds that rating that is still very present today. It opened in third place at the box office, earning US$23.2 million across the United States, beating the estimated US$13 million predicted. It also was the second-highest-grossing opening weekend for a G-rated title right behind 1996's '101 Dalmatians'. It was the only G-rated film of the 2001 blockbuster season, and that has been cited as attributing to its success, coupled with the fact the film's marketing leant more into the comedy aspect as opposed to targeting family-friendly audiences. It grossed US$165.3 million worldwide, coming in 27th for the year - which is noteworthy not just because its rating, but also that the lead was a newcomer.
Its success ushered in a sequel three years later, 'The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement', and a third film is under development at Disney, with a script written and both Andrews and Hathaway returning. Due to its success, the film also brought with it a new genre to sweep the teens in the early 2000s: modern fairytales. It saw 'A Cinderella Story' and its sequels (one of which, for some reason, came out this year), 'What a Girl Wants', 'Ever After' and Hathaway's own 'Ella Enchanted', which was released the same year as the second 'Princess Diaries'.
'The Princess Diaries' stands the test of time as one of those teen movies that, since its release, has become almost a rite of passage. It's comforting and something we all crawl back to - it's a royal delight.