Among the questions that kids hate hearing are gems such as "When are you going to clean your room?" "Is your homework done yet?" and "Are you going to eat your brussel sprouts/lima beans/Fill in Your Vegetable of Choice Here? One of the more vexing, however, is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Younger kids usually have a quick answer for that, but teenagers are often stumped. That's because they're confused by their parents' advice, what they think they should be, and what they want to be, elements that usually don't line up in perfect agreement.
That said, options are better for girls nowadays, especially compared to the past where most young ones would either answer that they wanted to be a "mommy" or a "princess." The latter, of course, stemmed from popular fiction of the time that demonstrated that the "ugly ducklings" of old could -- with the help of a fairy godmother or similar magical device -- grow up into beautiful princesses and thus snag themselves a prince.
One of the great purveyors of such material was Disney, a creative entity that still pushes the princess angle, albeit with a modified structure and outcome. Their latest such offering is "Ice Princess." No, it's not an Icelandic spin on the classic "Cinderella" tale, but rather the story of a teen who must choose between following her dreams or those of her mother.
In fact, that's a consistent theme throughout this mediocre effort where demanding parents put way too much pressure on their kids to succeed. It's a common thread with which most kids can identify and one that obviously clashes with the opposite advice many kids get from the same parental units about following and pursuing one's dream.
Most every film is about a character overcoming any number and type of obstacles to achieve their goal, and such a setup is designed to make viewers root for them to succeed. I'm sure that will be the case with young female viewers who will identify with or at least want Casey Carlyle to get what she wants and be happy in the process. For everyone else, however, this tale of perseverance and determination is about as flat, uneventful and boring as you can imagine.
As directed by Tim Fywell ("I Capture the Castle") from a script by Hadley Davis (TV's "Scrubs" and "Dawson's Creek"), the film puts a very loose and updated spin on the Cinderella story. The evil stepmother and step-sisters have been replaced by a feminist mom who sees no value in ice skating, an ice skating coach who will do anything to make sure her daughter wins, and some competitive skaters who initially look down on our heroine. And the fairy godmother doesn't come with a magic wand and involve pumpkins and mice. Instead, it's knowledge of physics and computer programs that suddenly allow the science geek to turn into a competitive skater overnight.
The fantasy element is obviously rather subdued and this is mostly supposed to be a realistic coming of age dramedy, but the effort needs a healthy suspension of disbelief to work. That's particularly true in that thrust of science equals immediate success on the ice, as well as the sudden and unexpected transformation of the mean rival to best friend - played by Hayden Panettiere ("Racing Stripes," "Raising Helen").
Some parents may also have a problem with the message sent by having the protagonist dropping her academic career in favor of pursuing an athletic one. While there's nothing wrong with going after one's dreams, I'm not so sure it's the right message to send in today's world of financially and socially rewarded athletes over obscure academic types. I'm guessing the argument will be that it's just a fantasy, but I'm not so sure that cuts it here.
Potential influential messages aside, the film's biggest problem is that for a tale of overcoming the odds and obstacles to achieve one's dream, it's a rather blasé journey getting there. Michelle Trachtenberg ("Eurotrip," TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") creates a likable character, but she's otherwise as bland as the script, direction and pacing. If I'm going to be rooting for some character on the screen to succeed, I want them to be dynamic in some fashion to grab my interest and get me wrapped up in their story and quest. Sadly, that doesn't occur here.
The portrayal of the parents isn't much better. Most are lumped together into the "I'm working my butt off for you so you better succeed" variety and come off as nothing but a collective cliché. The mother played by Kim Cattrall ("'Crossroads," "15 Minutes") is one of them, but her part is a bit more fleshed out due to being one of the main players. She's a single coach who's hard on her daughter to succeed so that she (the mom) can vicariously live through her offspring's success after her own failure at doing the same in the past. It's all far too stereotypical and Cattrall -- who's bucking her "Sex and City" persona to appear in this G-rated film -- appears too neutered in portraying the part.
On the other hand, there's the single feminist mom played by Joan Cusack ("Raising Helen," "School of Rock") who's just as demanding but only because she wants her daughter to avoid the same mistakes she made and thus get more out of her life than she did or has so far. The part is less cliché than the others, but the character isn't likable or entirely realistic, and her actions are mostly predictable.
Interestingly enough, males figures are mostly absent from the film, save for a token overbearing father and a young love interest for the protagonist in a bit that feels artificially tacked on to give the offering a young romance angle. Not surprisingly, it's just as bland as the rest of the film, although a scene where the guy drives the rink's Zamboni machine to the girl's pond has to rank up there with one of filmdom's goofier moments.
Perhaps if I were a female tween or a big fan of ice skating, I might have had a different reaction to the film (especially since champion Michelle Kwan shows up as a tournament announcer and sports some va-va-voom cleavage). Even so, the ice skating bits -- be they in practice or in competition -- just aren't terribly exciting, whether from a story or choreography standpoint.
Despite the popularity of the sport, there haven't been that many films about it, and I was hoping that perhaps this one would do something novel, fun or at least entertaining with the subject matter. Alas, rather than being sharp as new blades or as fast and slick as newly smoothed iced, this is the equivalent of watching a skater on dull blades traversing a partially melted and slushy surface. It goes through the motions, but it isn't terribly enjoyable to watch.