Blessed are those young girls (and boys) who were closing in on puberty during the reign of Princess Mia Thermopolis: Princess for the masses. It was 15 years ago now when Disney adapted this charming movie from Meg Cabot’s books, giving us the most relatable Disney princess and teenager to grace our screens. With perfect casting choices including Dame Julie freaking Andrews, Sandra Oh as Vice Principal Gupta, Hector Elizondo, Anne Hathaway’s cinematic debut—plus the musical stylings of Mandy Moore—it is no wonder this movie provides buckets of ’00s nostalgia and has transcended into the Disney vault of classics.
Mia’s mass appeal is found in her relatability—apart from the whole “secretly a princess of a small European nation subplot”—the bigger message of her story is discovering and learning to be yourself is especially hard when you are reluctant to embark on the journey.
Mia begins the film embracing invisibility. She gets through her school day largely unnoticed by the wider student body. It makes her life easier and we get the sense we have been introduced to a young girl who reluctantly inhabits her own body, and has not learned to proudly be herself yet. That is why it is such a relief to see Mia with her best friend Lily, and participating in hobbies like rock climbing, because the audience gets a sneak peek at what Mia is like when she is not afraid of being observed. Part of Mia’s lack of confidence stems from social insecurities which anyone who has ever been to high school can relate to. Mia’s crippling lack of self-confidence is especially demonstrated through her fear of public speaking. While this is not a popular pastime, not many people can/will admit to throwing up during their high school debate and running away propelled by fear.
No other series of scenes strikes the chord of teenage angst more than Mia’s dorky encounters. Whether it be her first introduction to her grandmother as she clumsily attends tea in the garden, giving herself an almighty brain freeze at a state dinner, crashing her car into a San Francisco tram or bashing her gym teacher in the head with a softball bat. It is almost like watching a baby giraffe learn how to walk—Mia gets the concept of being a socialised member of society, it is simply the execution which lets her down.
The movie extends beyond the depiction of typical high school experiences and cleverly canvasses the intimate complications of learning to be a better version of yourself. I am sure we all cringe when we think back on the younger, high school versions of ourselves, and that is because we had not learned to be the best versions of ourselves yet. And there is no way Mia is perfect at the beginning of the film. While obviously a very nice girl, Mia is selfish. After finding out she is a princess she becomes incredibly focused on herself (who can blame her) as she attempts to navigate this previously unknown territory of her identity. However, this means her closest friends Lily and Michael get let down, and, quite frankly, ditched.
At some point we have all been guilty of letting down the people we know are going to forgive us. This is usually because we have become too caught up in our own worlds and failed to recognise needs that exist beyond the scope of our own. In Mia’s case, she was too caught up in the wonderland that was her hypothetical relationship with Josh Bryant: high school hottie and sole embodiment of everything wrong with teenage boys. Idealising someone so they become a concept, or a romantic future, rather than a human being is a common downfall of many young girls. We have all fallen for the wrong guy. Usually while the right, nice guy stands heartbroken on the sidelines unable to take his love sick eyes off you. Luckily for Mia, she pulls herself together and realises what is important. Not popularity, good hair or charm, but a best friend who saw you when you were invisible.
Interestingly, Mia’s idealisation of Josh Bryant did not have so much to do with him, but the idealisation of what romance looks like. Mia had a fixation on having her first “real” kiss, but instead of a fairy tale, Mia experiences a really bad night out. We can relate to this because we have all had at least one night out when things would have been infinitely better if we had stayed at home because nothing remotely worth experiencing occurred. Mia’s night out at the beach party with her high school ends in tears when Josh’s true intentions come to light and the media snaps pictures of her getting changed.
Still, Mia does fully learn the lesson that being in tune with yourself requires brave choices until she is in the process of running away from home. Luckily, she stumbles upon a letter from her father. He tells her that “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” Only then does Mia start to appreciate people are not born fearless, they simply learn fear is not a trump card. It should not stop you from living your life and being yourself. In her ultimatum moment, Mia decides to overcome her fear of being a princess and herself—because after all, they are one in the same. Sometimes it is in those ultimatum moments we become the versions of ourselves we are meant to be, the better versions. We meet the true Mia for the first time at the end of the film when she proudly steps forth to claim her title as Princess.
Mia reminds us that most of the time when we are being held back, we are usually doing to to ourselves. Mia’s journey of self-discovery and improvement happens because she is motivated to no longer live in fear. Mia is the Princess we all need because she is the princess inside all of us waiting to come out.