20 Years Ago Today, Mia Thermopolis Learned She Was Princess of Genovia
‘I can’t be a princess, I’m still waiting for normal body parts to arrive!’ – so spoke Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi, Princess of Genovia, 20 years ago today.
Of all the many all-American girl turned princess movies released over the past few decades, The Princess Diaries remains my absolute favourite, and not just because Julie Andrews is an absolute treat as Queen Clarisse.
Despite our heroine living in a refurbished fire station and travelling back and forth to school on a scooter, I always found pre-princess Mia to be kind of relatable, with a young Anne Hathaway expertly channelling a ‘too awkward to breathe’ vibe that I personally recognised all too well.
Mia begins her journey being too uncomfortable to partake in a simple debate class, and ends it delivering a heart-warming if soggy speech before a global press conference, assuring the world that she is indeed willing to take up the crown and all of its heavy responsibilities.
It’s a journey few on Earth can relate to and yet – as someone who isn’t really much of a royalist but has broken a fair few brushes in my time – Mia’s story still compels me.
From Bring It On to Save The Last Dance, the early ’00s was somewhat of a heyday in many ways for female-centred teen films filled with catchy bops and affirmations of self belief. But for us dorkier girls, Princess Mia ruled, or indeed reigned, above all others.
At 15, I was comically bad at PE, and had no clue about kissing, ‘foot popping’ or otherwise. So it really did feel quite refreshing to see Mia klutz-ing about, wrecking historic statues and swooning over the wrong boy before ultimately arising, composed, regal and ready to take on her solemn destiny.
Of course, 20 years on and many young women will no doubt view the fictional – and very formal – Kingdom of Genovia quite differently than previous generations. We also know, thanks to YouTube beauty tutorials, that you should never attempt to brush dry curly hair.
Back in 2001, when we first saw Mia learning to ‘walk, talk, sit, stand, eat, dress, like a princess’, extreme makeover shows were all the rage, and impressionable girls like myself would tune in regularly to see people transformed beneath a surgeon’s knife or dentist’s drill.
Therefore, when Mia’s glasses are duly snapped in half and her thick, frizzy hair ironed stiff-upper-lip straight, I didn’t immediately feel like she had been in anyway compromised or shoved down a path that perhaps didn’t sit comfortably with her conscientious, grungy outsider persona.
Indeed, like many of the pre-teens watching Mia’s impressive eyebrows being sheared away on a 30ft cinema screen, I saw the makeover scene as the unveiling of her best, true self. Much like Queen Clarisse, I looked approvingly upon Mia’s expensive new bag and high heels and thought ‘better’, even as Mia gazed at her strange new reflection with bewilderment rather than excitement.
Mia’s awkward ascension also came at a very particular time for pop culture depictions of the monarchy, where wistful coverage of the recently-deceased Princess Diana blended jarringly with a toxic press obsession with younger members of the British royal family.
At 19 years old, just a few short years older than Mia, Prince William had entered his teen magazine pin-up phase, seen as fair game for tabloid gossipmongers who swooned and simpered over his blonde hair and likeness to his late mother.
This was also around the same time that Prince William met ‘commoner’ and future Duchess Kate Middleton, who was followed relentlessly by paparazzi during her time living as a young, unmarried woman in Chelsea; shamed and scrutinised in a similar fashion to Mia at the beach party.
At 16, Prince Harry was still too young to be tied romantically to any future princesses, but this didn’t stop certain corners of the media from already tagging him as the ‘naughty’ one. Like Mia, he was often portrayed as having a little ‘too much fun’.
Looking back through a 2021 post-‘Megxit’ lens, Princess Mia’s fast-track assimilation to royal life – with her humorous dinner party blunders and tears over letting her grandmother down – feels a little less adorable than it once did.
We are now living in an era where the critically-acclaimed The Crown dares to portray the upper echelons of the British establishment as a place where spirited individuals ‘bend or break’; where spark and freedom of thought is crushed under the dreary weight of duty.
Most notably, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision to step down as senior members of the Royal family – and the subsequent bombshell Oprah interview – has led to serious allegations being made, allegations that hint at a darker side to palace life beneath the glittering chandeliers.
When Meghan said, ‘There was no guidance. Unlike what you see in the movies, there’s no class on how to speak, how to cross your legs, how to be royal. That was not offered to me,’ I wondered if she was here specifically referring to The Princess Diaries, in which Mia’s transformation is tempered by kindness and genuine encouragement on the part of her new Genovian counterparts.
This also comes at a time of renewed interest with the most iconic princess of modern times, Princess Diana, as a complex individual rather than as a hallowed-yet-faded face on your grandma’s teacups.
The divorce-centred biopic Spencer, starring Kristin Stewart, is scheduled for release in September, while the brilliant You’re Wrong About podcast recently delved into the life and legacy of Diana across a number of episodes, discussing her as flesh-and-blood human being rather than the fairy-tale incarnate.
And yet even in these more cynical times, we still love a feelgood fish-out-of-water princess movie, as proven by the popularity of festive Netflix offerings such as The Princess Switch and, of course, The Christmas Prince trilogy.
Now, there are still shades of Mia in the palace newbie characters of Stacy DeNovo (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber Moore (Rose McIver), with Amber sharing Mia’s trademark clumsiness. However, these are very much post-Meghan princesses; women rather than girls, with careers and accomplishments and opinions to offer about how the palace could improve.
It’s hard to imagine Mia, who is very young and naïve in both movies, having the gumption to enter a palace in disguise before unravelling a line of succession mystery, or entering into a baking competition after having just swapped lives with her doppelgänger.
However, no doubt The Princess Diaries 3 – which, fantastically, already exists in script form – would give us a Mia with more agency, a fully-fledged queen who is confident within herself and her role as a royal, while still having the odd relatable ‘mare.
Last time we caught up with Mia in The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement, she was being crowned Queen of Genovia, having abolished the old laws on the need for royal marriages, while sharing declarations of love with Nicholas Deveraux (a young Chris Pine no less). Looking forward to an older, established Queen Mia, it’s interesting to consider where the story might take us next.
I like to think of a 30-something Mia as having developed upon the humanitarian instincts she was already showing as a teen, supporting worthy organisations and making good on her pledge to care about ‘the other seven billion out there’.
I hope that she will develop upon her passion for writing – as explored in greater depth in the book series – and that she’s never too busy to create quirky balloon art with her artist mom, Helen (Caroline Goodall). Will a climbing wall have been installed in Longford Castle under Mia’s reign? I certainly hope so.
Of course, she’ll still be best friends with Lilly Moscovitz (Heather Matarazzo), who will no doubt rail against the stuffier aspects of palace life, while ultimately remaining a supportive presence behind every ball and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Now, as we learned in the second instalment, Mia and Michael (Robert Schwartzman) decided to remain friends at some point after their foot-popping kiss in the embassy garden. However, I like to think she has someone Michael-esque in her life, who would see her even if she was ‘invisible’.
Twenty years on, and there’s still so much to love about The Princess Diaries, from Joe’s (Héctor Elizondo) witty one-liners (‘If it was a hearse, then there would be silence in the back’) to the comfortingly cuddly-looking Fat Louis.
This film marked the first time I heard Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words ‘Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent’, and took them forever to heart. I also still hold out hope that one day someone will deliver me a pizza with a romantic message spelled out with M&Ms.
All hail Queen Mia, and long may she reign!
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