Julie Andrews on princesses, Disney and a new 'Mary Poppins' film
Have you purchased a gift for the tiara wearer in your life? Don't worry, there's still time. The Walt Disney Co. and Target are introducing National Princess Week April 22-28. Like Secretary's Day and Grandparents Day, National Princess Week is designed to move merchandise -- with it comes a 10th anniversary Blu-ray release of “The Princess Diaries” and “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” starring Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway, as well as an array of pink-hued products.
But the week also provides a timely excuse to ponder the deeper questions of princessdom with the help of Andrews, 76. The star of "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" coauthored with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, “The Very Fairy Princess” children’s book series, and she'll appear at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday, April 22, with her latest title, “The Very Fairy Princess: Here Comes the Flower Girl!”
Andrews spoke with 24 Frames about the princess phase, Walt Disney's affection for fairies and plans for a movie about the making of "Mary Poppins."
Some parents are bewildered when their daughters -- whom they may hope will grow up to be doctors or lawyers -- go through a princess phase. What would you say to them?
There has been a lot of discussion among child development people about the significance of imaginative play when it comes to a child's social and cognitive development. There may be a strong connection between a make-believe a child allows and their later success in life. They always come out of it. For me it’s part of loving books, getting lost in books, playing princesses, playing whatever you feel like. They usually play nurses and doctors and everything else. Princesses are usually for the little ones, I think.
Have princesses changed?
There’s a lot more to princesses these days. Their civic duties alone. Look at Kate [Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge], the new lovely princess we have in Britain right now. I think she's probably extremely hard-working and has an enormous amount of responsibility speaking for the royal family and doing her royal duties and going out to her charities. It’s a very busy and hard life.
You've been associated with a lot of fictional royalty -- you played Queen Guenevere in "Camelot," Queen Clarisse Renaldi in "The Princess Diaries" and you were the narrator in "Enchanted." Why do you think you're so often cast as a royal?
Nothing at all about my background. I come from a family that worked very hard in Vaudeville. It’s a product of some of the things I’ve been lucky enough to work on. Things like "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music," they were such successful movies and the values in them were quite wonderful, and people assume that in some way I must be associated with wealth, which is very, very far from the truth.
There's a movie in the works, "Saving Mr. Banks," about the making of "Mary Poppins," starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. What do you think of that casting?
I had not heard that. How fascinating. Yes, I can see that that would be great. I certainly was in the thick of it. It’ll be interesting to see what they tell and how they tell it. Disney had that little twinkle in his eye, and he was hugely smart and a little fatherly in some ways. I think Hanks would be wonderful in that.
I'd heard that the book's author, P.L. Travers, could be quite difficult.
She called me about three days after I had given birth to my daughter. And suddenly in the hospital they said, "P.L. Travers is on the line." I got on the line and she said, "Well, talk to me." I said "Well, uh, I’m feeling a little weary right now. I had a baby three days ago." She said, “Well, you’re far too pretty, you’ve got the nose for it, but you’re far too pretty. We ended up fairly friendly, and we exchanged letters for a little bit while the film was going on. But I do believe she thought she could tell Mr. Disney exactly what needed to be done, and he, I believe, put her very kindly and lovingly in her place.
Disney relied heavily on princesses in his company, starting with Snow White.
Cinderella, Pocahontas, the Little Mermaid…
Why do you think those characters fit in with what Disney was trying to do?
A lot of it had to do with animation, which is to do with children reading books and loving fairy tales. He took a lot of gambles with the live action. But originally I do believe that the fairy stories were what he probably felt would best represent animation in a way.
What’s the difference between a princess and a fairy?
The very fairy princess means that she’s got magical powers. Our little girl believes that anything is possible and you just have to let your sparkle out. Whatever she’s doing, it usually is extremely daunting and she’s put in her place to start with, but by the end of her story she triumphs. Also, princesses don’t usually have wands or wings. Fairies do.
Good point. There were no wings or wands at the royal wedding … some of those hats, though …
Yes, you could have imagined the wings and wands.
— Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Julie Andrews and Hector Elizondo in "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement." Credit: Disney.