As the seemingly unnecessary sequel to a middling film directed by Garry Marshall, the sitcom veteran responsible for Runaway Bride and The Other Sister, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement benefits from extremely modest expectations. For it to be anything but painfully arbitrary would count as an accomplishment, so the fact that it's superficially entertaining qualifies as a minor triumph.
As the film opens, gawky American turned refined princess Anne Hathaway faces a crisis. To succeed her grandmother (Julie Andrews) as queen, Hathaway must marry within 30 days; otherwise, she must cede the throne to Chris Pine, the handsome nephew of scheming usurper John Rhys-Davies. Boxed into a corner, Hathaway reluctantly agrees to marry a well-born English bloke who's reasonably attractive and fairly nice, but never quite handsome or charming enough to actually get the girl. Pine, on the other hand, does stoke Hathaway's fires, even though his uncle's attempts to unseat her seemingly doom their relationship.
Andrews enjoys a particularly sweet moment late in the film, when she sings at Hathaway's royal slumber party. Andrews hasn't sung publicly since a disastrous 1997 throat surgery, and the scene has enormous resonance, both because of the musical-comedy legend's lovely voice, and because of the iconic nature of her return to onscreen singing. That makes it all the more perverse when her transcendent solo showcase inexplicably gives way to a listless duet with sassy former Cosby kid Raven (a.k.a. Raven-Symone). It's a jarring moment of almost unfathomable misjudgment, yet the film somehow recovers.
Marshall helped turn Julia Roberts into a superstar with Pretty Woman, and in Hathaway, he's found a young actress with Roberts' homegrown radiance, endearing gawkiness, and guileless charm. The saving grace of the original Princess Diaries, Hathaway carries the sequel with similar aplomb, and she gets assistance from a high-spirited and affectionately drawn supporting cast, particularly Andrews, Rhys-Davies, and Marshall regular Hector Elizondo. It all amounts to a significant and surprising improvement on the wholly unoriginal original.