‘The Princess Switch 3’: A festive flop


Via 20th Century Studios

Margaret (Vanessa Hudgens) and Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens) discuss their plan to recover the Star of Saint Nicholas. After the Star is stolen from its museum display, the two royals must recruit their scheming cousin Fiona (Vanessa Hudgens) to get it back.

Move over, Frosty the Snowman. Watching three different Vanessa Hudgenses simultaneously kiss three different love interests is the new cinematic Christmas tradition.
Although I’ve never watched the first two installments of “The Princess Switch” franchise, Netflix’s “The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star” showed potential as a fun holiday romp. Once I’d done some quick Wikipedia research on the first two movies, I was all ready to bask in some Christmas magic. Unfortunately, though I was intrigued by the intricacies of the Princess Switch universe, the constant clichés and lack of coherent character development thwarted the deep emotional impact I’d been hoping for.
It’s impossible to understand the movie without being able to distinguish between the lookalike main characters, all played by “High School Musical” actress Vanessa Hudgens. There’s Margaret, a sensible and high-born queen; Stacy, an American baker-turned-princess of a neighboring country and Fiona, Margaret’s scheming cousin with coy catchphrases like “spicy” and “meow.” Like its predecessors, the movie’s plot is driven by the main characters’ identical looks and the constant barrage of new situations in which they need to impersonate one another.
Set in the fictional, vaguely European-sounding country of Montenaro, “The Princess Switch 3” opens with the arrival of the Star of Peace, a sacred Christian relic once owned by Saint Nicholas, to be displayed in a museum. Of course, almost immediately, the Star is stolen.
To set the stage for Fiona’s redemption arc, Stacy and Margaret inexplicably recruit her to help solve the case. Oh, and at this time, Fiona is doing community service in a convent for kidnapping Stacy in a previous movie in a bungled attempt to take Margaret’s throne. This is just one example of the mind-boggling incompetence of Margarent and Stacy as monarchs that distracts from the main story — they trust their kidnapper more than their own country’s police force. Also, community service for kidnapping? Maybe Margaret is right to mistrust Montenaro’s justice system.
As for the main plotline, any sense of mystery dissolves less than a quarter of the way into the movie as a private contractor (who is also Fiona’s love interest) deduces the identity of the thief. Its initial fast pace grinds to a halt as the rest of the movie centers on Fiona’s exploits as she leads the effort to get the Star back in a totally unnecessary heist involving laser mazes and rooftop escapes.
Fiona’s abrasive voice and evil scheming from the last movie don’t correspond well to her new sympathetic arc, so she’s given a backstory in which an earnest child actress portrays a young Fiona being neglected by her mother. Given that this is glossed over for the vast majority of the otherwise lighthearted movie, it’s jarring whenever it’s glancingly brought up, and it just seems half-baked.
On the topic of redeemability, it’s pretty hard for me to root for anyone in the movie. Although Fiona is virtually the only character with an actual purpose, her portrayal is off-putting. Margaret and Stacy don’t seem to do much of anything for most of the movie except impersonate Fiona and cheerily talk about Christmas, which says a lot about their characters. As monarchs, you’d think they’d be out and about interacting with community leaders and government officials, but they seem to have little sense of social consciousness in their royal bubble. Perhaps this is the true intrigue of “The Princess Switch 3.” Could a revolution in Montenaro be on the horizon?
To Hudgens’s credit, she does a decent job of making the different versions of herself seem like distinct people. Plus, given the complete irrelevance of the male leads in the storyline, the movie somehow makes it easier to tell the identical Vanessa Hudgenses apart than it does their love interests. Not that that’s a bad thing — the focus on Hudgens playing three different people is what makes the movie novel, and I doubt that more relationship subplots would add any meaningful intrigue.
Don’t be put off — despite its shortcomings, “The Princess Switch 3” is proof that a movie doesn’t have to be a visual and storytelling masterpiece to be entertaining. Plus, it’s versatile in its appeal. You can analyze the questionable character choices and laugh at the ridiculous plot, or simply appreciate it as it’s meant to be appreciated: a cheery but emotionally empty bundle of Christmas spirit.