Should I watch ‘The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star’? Here’s what to know

Entertainment

The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (L-R). Vanessa Hudgens as Princess Stacy, Vanessa Hudgens as Fiona, Vanessa Hudgens as Queen Margaret in The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star. Cr. Mark Mainz/NETFLIX © 2021

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Vanessa Hudgens may have first came to fame through the “High School Musical” trilogy, but the actress may be better known lately for another trilogy: “The Princess Switch.”

Over a full decade after her debut in “High School Musical,” Hudgens starred in the 2018 holiday film “The Princess Switch,” playing two characters in her first Netflix original movie. Hudgens took on the roles of Stacy, a baker from Chicago, and Margaret, the fiancé of the prince from the fictional country of Belgravia, where Stacy has traveled to compete in a baking competition. When the pair meets, they are stunned by their similar appearances. Tired of the attention a future-princess receives, Margaret sees an opportunity for momentary peace in Stacy and suggests the pair switch lives Parent Trap style. While Stacy is hesitant, she eventually agrees.

After leaving her royal duties behind, Margaret realizes that not only does she enjoy living a normal life, but she has also developed feelings for Kevin, Stacy’s friend and coworker. Stacy finds herself falling for Margaret’s fiancé, Prince Edward. After a touch-and-go baking competition, the women’s identities are revealed, and Kevin and Prince Edward declare they have also fallen in love with the opposite woman they thought they were spending time with the past two days. The last scene, set a year later, shows Stacy and Prince Edward’s wedding with Margaret and Kevin appearing as a couple, dropping hints they also intend to get married.

After its premiere on Netflix, the movie quickly garnered the love of holiday movie fanatics, now boasting over 25,000 ratings on IMDB where it has six out of 10 stars. Reviews feature words and phrases such as “cheesy and bad in just the right way” and “sappy but lovable.” The success led Netflix to release a sequel, “The Princess Switch: Switched Again,” which came out last year. The second movie received a reviewer rating of 5.4 on IMBD, and though its actual rating was less than a full point lower than its predecessor, “The Princess Switch: Switched Again” brought in only 9,000 ratings, less than half the IMBD reviews of the first movie, with multiple reviewers citing a chaotic plot and lackluster dialogue as downfalls of the film. Words like “unnecessary” and “disappointing” populate the reviews, and much of the positive commentary features titles such as “Cute but terrible acting” and “Cheese but so much fun.”

Despite the tepid reaction to the sequel, Netflix has released a third installment of the series, “The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star.” But with a history of waning reviews, should fans even bother watching the third film in the franchise, a movie one reviewer even begged not to happen?

What went wrong?

Many of the reviews of the original “The Princess Switch” cite that the expectations of the genre play into their enjoyment of the movie.

“If you know anything about Hallmark movies,” one reviewer wrote, “this is one of them so adjust your expectations. If you’re not expecting an Oscar-worthy performance….then you most definitely shall find it quite enchanting and may find oneself rather surprisingly delighted.”

“Just exactly what it promised” read the title of another reviewer, who compared the film’s plot to those employed by famous writers of the past. “Mark Twain did it, Shakespeare did it over and over again, now Netflix takes it over. An impossible premise. An improbable ending. But that is all known to audience before it begins, so, based on those expectations an audience gets exactly what was promised.”

And the reviewers are right: “The Princess Switch” features the classic “The Prince and the Pauper” dynamic reimagined as a modern Christmas romance, showing snowball fights between unlikely lovers and all the tinsel and trees one could ask for with Santa making frequent appearances- all classic Hallmark Christmas movie tropes. That’s what made the movie likable, or even just tolerable: the expectations it fulfilled. But the second movie takes a turn, featuring a third, less canonical character in Fiona.

Fiona, also played by Hudgens, is Lady Margaret’s outlandish cousin with expensive taste and a dwindling inheritance who, only a day before Margaret’s coronation as Queen of Montenaro, attempts to kidnap and switch with the duchess to indefinitely fund her lavish lifestyle. But while attempting the scheme, it veers off course as it is revealed she kidnapped Stacy and not Margaret, who had switched with the baker-turned-Princess of Belgravia in order to reconnect with Kevin (Stacy’s friend-turned-Margaret’s ex-boyfriend) after their relationship ended six months prior. With only moments to spare, the pair and their supporting characters eventually stop Fiona. The film ends with Lady Margaret becoming Queen Margaret and marrying Kevin, and Princess Stacy stays as happy as ever with Prince Edward while Fiona is sent to a convent to perform over 1,000 hours of community service.

When fans weighed in on the second movie, reviews indicated they were off-put by the transition from the classic holiday cheesiness of the first movie to the villain-led plot of the sequel.

“It was just so painful to watch how a nice Christmas movie (part 1) becoming this awful plastic parody of one,” a reviewer wrote.

“The addition of this cousin undercuts the original movie’s concept,” another said.

Most positive reviews of the sequel pointed to the cheesy acting and dialogue and the reappearance(s) of Hudgens in a holiday movie, but even the higher ratings and reviews indicated lukewarm thoughts. “Well it’s bad but not that bad” read a title whose author gave the film a six.

One of the longer reviews titled “An overcomplicated mess” had this to say: “For the most part, or should I say the parts without the new character, the movie is nearly as charming and fun as the first one… (Fiona) is the type of character that just doesn’t fit a film like this.”

Is the third movie worth watching?

Whether or not you will enjoy the “The Princess Switch: Romancing the Star” depends heavily on what you liked or disliked about the sequel. The newest installment features even less of Stacy and Margaret and much more of Fiona. The plot does contain small remnants of the first movie, primarily in the dazzling Christmas decorations, but it mostly focuses on Fiona and her “origin story.”

In this latest installment, Stacy and Margaret have planned an international Christmas festival, for which the Vatican has graciously lent them the “Star of Peace”, a fictional artifact rumored to have belonged to St. Nicholas. When the precious item goes missing, the pair contacts Fiona in hopes she can connect them to players in the black market who may have information about the star. Throughout the movie, Fiona encounters people from her past, and flashbacks reveal why she prefers jetting off to Capri to building meaningful relationships, and when she calls on the help of an old friend, she realizes she may be able to love and be loved after all through their complicated romance.

But this storyline, which may seem like a breath of fresh air to those yearning for a return to cheesy holiday romance, is undermined by the film’s attempt to incorporate markers of heist movies, complete with unexplained technology and the missing star. The group even has to navigate laser beams guarding the artifact. The heist elements along with the focus on Fiona’s “origin story” create even more space between the trilogy and traditional conceptions of the holiday movie genre, reminding watchers of the second movie’s failure to reach similar expectations.

But lovers of Hudgens and her ostentatious character Fiona will find the journey into her backstory sets up a happy ending for the third doppelganger, and perhaps even those who disliked the second film’s departure from holiday rom-com drama will enjoy the winding path to Fiona’s happily-ever-after.

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