Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday at the Movies: ABC Family's "Princess"

It's time for Monday at the Movies! As promised, here's my review of ABC Family's Princess.

I apologize for how many times this post had to be edited--I had some html issues! Anyway, Princess is a 2008 ABC Family original film for TV. It is not very well-known, save for those who saw it when it aired or happened upon the dvd while online or elsewhere. My introduction to this film came from a friend who let me borrow it. My only other recollection of it is from people online talking about how it was a "cheap ripoff of Enchanted." So I set out myself to watch the movie and see how horrible it really was.

Big surprise: This movie is nothing like Enchanted. And nothing about it came off as cheap or bad.


The main character is a fairytale-esque princess who talks to animals and falls in love with a regular Joe--that is the only remote similarity to Enchanted in the entirety of the film. The alterations its story makes to the standard "princess" mythology far remove it from Disney stereotypes filled with beautiful maids dreaming of true love. In fact, in Princess's mythology, the heroine doesn't even believe in true love. Care to know more? Here are some spoilers, fair warning:

Princess is the story of a washed up novelist named William who can't seem to get a break. While freeloading off his internet-made-rich college buddy, he winds up being invited to a charity dinner ball hosted by the elusive Princess Ithaca. Ithaca is a local mystery--a beautiful but rarely seen woman who dresses like a princess from a fairytale and only appears outside her castle-like home once a year to hold a ball that raises funds for endangered species. Intrigued, William agrees to attend. When he sees Ithaca for the first time, it's as if he is led toward her by a spell. When Ithaca auctions off a chance to have a dinner date inside her castle, William makes the spur of the moment decision to bet his life savings. He wins the date and a dance with Ithaca, but Ithaca suspects he is more than he seems. She believes William is her Searcher--the mystic man who can find the next princess and bring her to the castle to learn her magic gift.
You see, legendary creatures like nymphs, mermaids, unicorns, beasts and pixies exist. Their species are in danger of dying out completely because they are feared and misunderstood. Only one magical being has the power to help these creatures--the Princess. She is the only human blessed with the power to communicate with them. She lives a life of chaste solitude, dedicated to her mighty task and cared for by an old female caretaker. She doesn't have time for marriage or princes because an entire world depends on her. No men are allowed inside her world--except for the Searcher. Ithaca brings William into her life as a Searcher who will find the next princess before her 25th birthday when her powers expire. William, having fallen in love with Ithaca, plays along but soon realizes the gravity of the situation. Together they must find a street kid named Calliope and bring her to the castle within a week or the fate of every fairytale creature is doomed and the balance of our own fragile world will be destroyed.

"Is it true?"
"Is what true?"
"Do you have a room covered in diamonds, and hundreds of dresses, and millions of dollars and magic wands?"
"I..I'm afraid I don't have any of those things."

The storyline is the first hint that this movie is nothing like Enchanted. First of all, the plot is overwhelmingly dark and serious. Don't get me wrong, it has its moments of laughter and romance (which are great), but overall it's driven by a sense of urgency which gives it an almost thriller quality. Second of all, its highly original twist on the standard princess mythology helps it stand out from all the other live-action princess stories. Here are the unique characteristics of Princess's princesses:
1. Princesses are orphans: The princess has no family (or stepfamily) and lives as an orphan until she is discovered by a Searcher. Her only family is her "mother," that is, the retired Princess who came before her that guides her in using her gift, and the old crone who is her mentor. Very different from your patriarchal fairytale tradition with its missing mothers and evil stepmothers.

Ithaca crowns the new princess, her symbolic daughter Calliope, as her guardian Nana watches on.

2. Princesses understand the outside world,but are not part of it: In Enchanted, Giselle is the perfect social creature--despite being totally lost, she makes friends easily and everyone seems to fall under her spell. Ithaca has no such luck--she is socially awkward and while she is extremely intelligent in the ways of the world, she is not socially adept because she is always needed at the castle to care for the creatures. When she ventures into the real world, she actually disappoints a little girl when she fails to live up to Disney expectations.
3. Princesses understand advanced medical procedures: Birthing pixie babies, cooking specialized meals for recovering mermaids and unicorns, and using a vast knowledge of psychology and veterinary surgeon skills are all daily job requirements for Ithaca. A princess in this movie needs a freaking PhD--good thing she's surrounded by centuries old nymphs to teach her their healing powers.
4. Princesses aren't princesses forever: A princess keeps her position until age 25 when the next princess must be found and brought to the castle to awaken her powers. The previous princess then becomes that princess' mentor and guide, her "mother" as Ithaca puts it. It is a never-ending cycle of women, not the linear destiny of one.
And most shocking of all...
5. Princesses don't experience love: At least they're not supposed to--Ithaca and William help break this when they find each other, but before the princess was kept shut out from the dangerous world of man. Men are not to be trusted because of their cruel, dishonest ways. The princess lives in a matriarchal wonderland where she is accountable only to her older, female teachers. She has her every need met (well, except for romance) and isn't cultured to even want a prince (she certainly doesn't need one). Ithaca is almost a love atheist, asking William how he can believe in true love when he's never seen it happen. It is this aspect of Princess which leads me to doubt it even glanced at Enchanted. Giselle's whole world revolves around finding Prince Charming, Ithaca's around finding her female successor.

So now that you know more about the story, here are the breakdown as to why I think any fantasy film lover would love this movie:

Writing 4/5: This movie was very original and a welcome twist to the standard fairytale. There could have been more action and less suspense in some scenes, but it carried well regardless. I had a biff with a few loose ends (particularly about the nature of the Searcher and how involved he is in the Princess's world), but not enough to make me disappointed.

Visuals 5/5: ABC family pulled out all the stops with this one. Fallen was another ABC series that got similar attention to fx. The overall aesthetic quality is stunning--reminiscent of a Pre-Raphaelite painting in some scenes. It reminded me a great deal of The Tenth Kingdom's special effects and art design. Ithaca's dream prophecies are especially well executed.

An example of a garden scene. Also, baby deer so cute omg.

Costumes 5/5: The costume designer for this movie did a phenomenal job with Ithaca's many fabulous outfits, as well as the other character's wardrobes. Calliope and the other street kids looked like..well, a bunch of ragged and dirty homeless kids. It was very realistic--it never felt like a cartoon or out of place.

One of Ithaca's more casual dresses, with a Neo-Medieval aesthetic.

Music/Score 3/5: The movie was very good about having music where music was necessary. When songs were played, they didn't distract from the action. The score was rich and very fairytale feeling without being cheesy or over the top, but it wasn't one I'd buy the CD for.

Acting 4/5: I will hand it to ABC family--they know a good actor when they see one. The only character I felt was forced at times was William's college buddy who--granted--is supposed to be an annoying prick in the story. Nora and Kip had great chemistry, and she played a wonderfully multi-dimensional princess.

Total Score: 21 out of 25

Final Comments:
If you have the chance to rent, buy, or borrow this film, do. ABC Family really shined with this one and I had a delightful time watching it. I loved it so much I made new lj icons from it. Princess really does take the fairytale standard and mix it up. I especially enjoyed how the princess gains her power from another princess, something I rarely see. William was a delightful reluctant hero and totally proves that a self-proclaimed "frog" can be the best kind of prince in the end. It's refreshing to see the "prince" place himself in the princess's world versus the princess conforming to his. The underlying theme of love bringing two worlds together was beautifully realized as well. As for those who still claim this movie rips off Enchanted (which I still love,btw)....well, sticks and stones.

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