Charming `Princess' is a champion on ice

March 18, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Michelle Trachtenberg is charming and believable as can be as Casey Carlyle, a science nerd yearning to be a competitive figure skater in The Ice Princess. But it's the combination of warmth and ferocity generated by dueling authority figures Joan Cusack and Kim Cattrall that makes the film a champ.

Cusack plays Trachtenberg's mom, a teacher and determined feminist who can't see past the skaters' carefully applied makeup and short, frilly little outfits. She wants her daughter to go to Harvard and get a degree in physics, not have millions of eyes staring at her legs.

Her opposite is skating coach Tina Harwood (Cattrall), a one-time champion kicked off the U.S. Olympic team for roughing up a fellow competitor. She sees Casey's potential, but not her drive. Initially, Harwood refuses to believe Casey possesses the fire to really make the grade, but when she's persuaded otherwise, proves invaluably supportive.

True, there's nothing earth-shattering about either the plot or the characters; Ice Princess is nothing if not a series of storytelling standards. But Cattrall and Cusack are such talented actors that they push the movie to a new level, adding complexity to characters that could easily have been one-note.

They're aided by Hadley Davis' screenplay, which refuses to demonize either character, but allows both to express love and concern for Casey without obsessing over it. Both women do what they think is right, but neither is so sure that she refuses to consider other possibilities.

Some impressive photographic wizardry (computer-assisted, no doubt) makes Trachtenberg look like a champion on the ice, even though the routines themselves could have been shot with more energy.

At its core, Ice Princess is pretty standard-issue stuff for Disney, a film stressing the importance of following your own dreams, not those that others have for you. But the fine performances of all three leads rise above the cliches, giving the film a sense of reality that both impresses and inspires.

Ice Princess

Starring Michelle Trachtenberg, Joan Cusack, Kim Cattrall

Directed by Tim Fywell

Released by Walt Disney Pictures

Rated G

Time 92 minutes

Sun Score ***

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