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“The Film that Launched a Thousand Sleepovers”: The Princess Diaries Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

3 min read

By Tia Byer

On Thursday 29th July, Anne Hathaway took to Instagram to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 2001 chick flick The Princess Diaries. Posting a series of throwback pictures, Hathaway’s caption read: “Miracles happen… Happy 20th Birthday to #theprincessdiaries, AKA the films that launched a thousand sleep overs”. The pictures showed Hathaway in her iconic role as Mia Thermopolis and featured notable cast members including Julie Andrews, who portrayed her estranged Grandmother Queen Clarisse Renaldi, Heather Matarazzo, Mandy Moore, Sandra Oh, and the late director Gary Marshall. Set in San Francisco, The Princess Diaries tells the story of unsuspecting and quirky teenager Mia, who learns she is heir to the throne of a small European principality called Genovia. Since its release, the royal-coming-of-age film has continued to charm audiences and has even become a cult classic. In this anniversary piece, I look back at the film’s nostalgia and explain why, after all these years, The Princess Diaries is still so beloved.

The Princess Diaries is perhaps the girliest film of the early 00s. Just imagine all those sleepovers and slumber parties that skyrocketed back in 2006. Imagine how excited those millions of girls from all around the world were – both pre-pubescent and adolescent – as they sat down dressed in their PJs to watch The Princess Diaries for the very first time. They would have been enraptured by Mia Thermopolis and her enchanting fairy-tale. From the dresses to the tiaras, the dancing to the romance – Mia was one lucky girl! Hell, she even had a fire-man pole in her bedroom and an ice-cream machine at school!

The Princess Diaries was Hathaway’s breakthrough performance and cemented her status in Hollywood’s hall of fame. The Disney film was based on Meg Cabot’s 2000 young adult novel of the same name and grossed approximately 165 million USD at the box office. Directed by Pretty Woman’s (1990) Gary Marshall, the modern-day fairy-tale was an international hit. It was even followed by a sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), which starred Chris Pine. But it was the franchise’s original film that gained cult notoriety. Elite Daily deemed the film “an essential part of the childhoods of anyone who grew up in the early 2000s”. And for women’s magazine Allure, The Princess Diariesmost impressive contribution to cinema was Princess Mia’s royal transformation, which “may very well be one of the single greatest makeover movies of our generation”.  

But it was Julie Andrew’s own interpretation of the film’s resonance that really speaks. The award-winning actress attributes the power of Mia’s coming-of-age story to its relatability and the film’s “wonderful heart”. In a 2012 interview with Disney, Andrews spoke about the enduring message of The Princess Diaries, which for her is “about responsibility and obligation and decency and growing up and discovering who you are inside”.  That is why the film was so enticing back in 2001 and, well, now really. Besides the enchantment and fabulously grandiose storyline, The Princess Diaries is really about friendship and integrity. Not many girls can relate to the whole ‘my dad who I barely knew actually turned out to be a prince of a distant kingdom far away’, but we can relate to longing for an absent father figure and feeling so out of place in the world that we even feel a stranger in our own family. And we can definitely all relate to the drama and importance of those adolescent friendships.

The Princess Diaries is a pinnacle of a chick-flick. It has charmed two decades of fans and if The Princess Diaries continued popularity is anything to go by, Princess Mia’s appeal will be sure to prevail for another 20 years and more…


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