Ice Princess

(2005) * 1/2 G
91 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Tim Fywell. Cast: Joan Cusack, Kim Cattrall, Michelle Trachtenberg, Hayden Panettiere, Trevor Blumas.

Well, here it is March already, and 2005 has yet to produce any princess movies for teenage girls. Whoops--spoke too soon. Disney's Ice Princess slaps on the ol' tiara for a few more victory laps. To be fair, despite the title, Ice Princess isn't really a princess movie—it's a sports movie in a "performance" vein. At times, it plays like a junior All About Eve on ice with its rinkside drama.

Michelle Trachtenberg of Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays Casey, a high-school "science geek" on a fast-track to Harvard. In the process of developing a physics project on figure skaters, she discovers her inner figure skater and practically applies her theories. Voila! Instant champion figure skater. I'm guessing actual figure skaters won't take too kindly to Casey's no-sweat success.

Hadley Davis's screenplay also regards two conflicted moms who wind up suspicious of each other: Sex in the City's Kim Cattrall as a strident coach (and stage mom to Hayden Panettiere's smug, then humbled, then reinvigorated skater) and Joan Cusack as Casey's single mother, a fuddy-duddy feminist given to quoting George Sand. Way uncool. When Cattrall's ruthless coach (she harbors a dark secret from Sarajevo) hitches herself to Casey's rising star, Casey must hide her spangly skating costume from her mother. Actually, Casey is an "Ice Cinderella," too poor to pursue her "shot at the regionals."

It's a function of the script's feminist confusion that Casey must definitively choose Harvard or a skating career and that Gen so suddenly shifts motivational gears, presumably to prove that women don't need to go to war with each other like the jealous mothers or the pint-sized competitor who's played for laughs. Parents' dreams clash with kids' dreams, with Gen eventually busting out "You don't know what I want, because you never cared." The dialogue's all pitched at grade-school height, like Cusack's line "You and 'A's are like peanut butter and jelly!" and Cattrall's clunker "One more thing: skate with your heart."

The premise of a high-school physics student reinventing the wheel of figure skating is, of course, outlandish, but it's the little things that'll get to you, like the lack of any interesting or credible plot, characters, or dialogue. Smart but fretful, Trachtenberg's Casey makes a relatable cutie, at least. Little girls who love skating will go gaga; others will nap. Personally, I hope the press notes for Ice Princess will be the only ones this year to include the phrase "hunky zamboni driver," but you just never know.

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