PRINCESS KAIULANI is not bad. Why? Because it offers a solid bridge between Disney's princess films and Oprah Winfrey's popular brand of realism. Meaning? The film is best suited for young adults who need an excellent transition from The Princess and the Frog to Precious, from total fantasy to something that at least recognizes the existence of the real. In this respect, Princess Kaiulani is much like Holes, a young-adult film that dealt with the history of American racism and interracial sex. Miscegenation also has a small but not altogether insignificant part in Princess Kaiulani—the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii was the daughter of a Scottish gentleman and a Hawaiian lady.
Much of the film actually takes place in cold and dreary England, the center of the 19th century. The pretty princess (Q'orianka Kilcher) is rushed there immediately after trouble starts brewing in paradise. The princess, who loves to collect shells and stare at the sun-dazzled sea, wants to stay in Hawaii with her people. But certain white men on the island (white men are both the villains and the heroes of that impressive century) want to overthrow the ancient monarchy and replace it with a pro–United States democracy. Soon after the princess arrives in England, she falls in love with a young English gentleman (Barry Pepper). The two ride bikes (handles, pedals, metal), walk on beaches (waves, rocks, foam), and attend parties (the princess scandalizing the upper crust with her brown skin and thickish figure). The romantic scenes in the movie are perfect for young adults—it's not mere hand-holding or all-out fucking, but right in the middle: hardcore making out. The last part of the film concerns the princess's ascension and courageous attempt to save her doomed kingdom.
Before the end of this review, two scenes deserve some digestion. Both happen late in the film and capture the princess's entry into politics (or into the American century, the 20th century). Before returning to Hawaii, Kaiulani makes a stop in the U.S. and meets the press in New York City and the president in Washington, D.C. During both encounters, the princess shows that she is not a barbarian (beach, bare feet, arms waving, flowers flowing, drums beating) but a person who possesses a great amount of culture and charm (elegant dresses, proper manners, spotless English). She is sophisticated, beautiful, and royal. The whole racist world cannot resist her. She is more civilized than the most civilized of the most civilized nations. And this is the film's main flaw: The princess's European cultivation inevitably stands as proof of her and her people's humanity. When confronted by British snobs or American great men, she overcomes them (makes them weak in the knees) with her mastery of their civilization. But this mastery only shows us the greatness of Western culture and nothing about the greatness of Hawaiian culture. In the future, one hopes to see a film that shows us Hawaiian culture and standards of cultivation. The audience for such a movie will be adults.