“Princess Protection Program” is as light as a summer breeze on the Louisiana bayou — the perfect vehicle to further showcase Disney’s newest franchise stars, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. A fairy-tale story of an imperiled princess and the tomboy who befriends her, the pic should be a hit with the channel’s target audience — it’s even touched by the Jonas Brothers, who co-wrote one of the pic’s signature songs, “Two Worlds Collide,” with Lovato.
It’s been a while since Disney has had two promising young stars so equally matched in charm and appeal to promote at the same time. While this original adventure/comedy doesn’t stray far from the usual promotional model — look cute, cut a few singles for Radio Disney, include some kind of fashion show sequence — writer Annie DeYoung ultimately throws in a nice message for young girls about self-esteem.
Carter Mason (Gomez) works the bait shop in her small hometown of Lake Monroe, Louisiana, while Dad (Tom Verica) works special ops for a secret agency known simply as the PPP. Turns out the world’s royal families created the Princess Protection Program in order to safeguard their own from myriad threats, the most current being a political coup on the island of Costa Luna.
Said island’s princess, Rosalinda Marie Montoya Fiore (Lovato), must go into hiding until the danger can be eliminated and she can finally be crowned queen. After a quick haircut and wardrobe change, “Rosie” is thrown into life on the Bayou under the protection of Agent Manson. It’s not exactly a perfect fit. Princesses, secret or not, don’t simply blend into typical teenage life.
DeYoung’s story has the usual teenage subplots about mean girls, misplaced affections and typical high-school horrors, although director Allison Liddi-Brown deftly picks on up some smaller emotional moments. Carter’s longing for a mother long gone and Rosie’s inherent desire to help others lends a good deal of poignancy. It’s a cute running gag that a polite teenager who respects her elders would stand out so terribly in a typical high school. Even better is when the young girls who get to know Rosie, especially Carter, benefit from her philanthropic influences.
As the story picks up, the two girls learn to work together to foil the villains’ plans.
Sure, it’s fantasy: Costa Luna looks a lot like Beverly Hills, the mean girls of Lake Monroe are far more threatening than the dictator trying to take over Costa Luna, and prison or work farms are the worst that could happen in a political coup. Still, taken exactly for what it is, this “Program” works.