The Princess Diaries is a modern-day Cinderella tale, with few redeeming features. On the plus side, Julie Andrews supplies some classy professionalism and the busy musical soundtrack includes new songs by The Backstreet Boys, Hanson, Aaron Carter, and BBMak. Undemanding children may even enjoy some of the attempts at humor, although most of the plotting and situations are trite.

In Gina Wendkos' screenplay, based on Meg Cabot's novel, Mia (Anne Hathaway) tries to fit in at her preppy San Francisco high school, but she and her best friend, Lilly (Heather Matarazzo), are generally viewed as nerdy outcasts. Then Mia learns from her bohemian artist mother, Helen (Caroline Goodall), that her late father, who she never really knew, was prince of the small European principality Genovia, and that Mia's fraternal grandmother, Clarisse (Julie Andrews), is queen.

Clarisse has just landed in San Francisco in order to spend time with Mia and convince her to return to Genovia as princess. After the shock of the news sinks in, Mia struggles to decide whether she should assume the duties of royalty and leave her home or decline the invitation and remain an American high-school student. In the meantime, media hounds find out about Clarisse's visit and make Mia's life difficult, particularly at school around her classmates. Mia attracts new friends, including the dreamy Josh (Erik Von Detten), but for all the wrong reasons. In the end, Mia publicly announces her intentions to become princess and she chooses a much nicer young man as boyfriend (Robert Schwartzman).

Disney is advertising The Princess Diaries as being from the director of Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride, but one also must remember that Garry Marshall also helmed Exit to Eden. From the choppy, sloppy direction to the excessive post production sound work, the film makes the similar She's All That seem positively stylish by comparison.

As a result, the actors falter. Newcomer Anne Hathaway looks lost in her role, particularly since she is much too pretty from the start to play an ugly duckling. (Her transformation scenes are obviously not very dramatic.) Hector Elizondo (a Marshall regular) virtually phones in his security guard role, and most of the other supporting players give exaggerated, sitcom-style performances. (Sandra Oh as the high-school vice principal is particularly awful.) As mentioned, only Julie Andrews survives, mainly because her part calls for a dose of regal theatricality. Yet, even here, Marshall muffs an opportunity to have Andrews toy with her Eliza Doolittle mystique.

One audience segment that will surely approve The Princess Diaries is royalty itself, as the film declares that being royal is the same as being kind and altruistic. Did we mention this was a fairy tale?

--Eric Monder