The holidays are almost here, which means the latest onslaught of Netflix Christmas movies are out on the streaming service. Some are original and some are sequels, but most are, quite frankly, ridiculous. There is no lack of films that come out every year full of empty plotlines and overused Christmas themes.
A film I watched last week was “The Princess Switch: Switched Again,” the sequel to “The Princess Switch” starring Vanessa Hudgens. In the original film, Hudgens plays two characters — a baker and a duchess. They are doppelgangers and switch lives, allowing them to fall in love with the man meant for the other, forging lasting romances.
The first movie was fun, if a little stereotypical and cliche. It’s a good guilty pleasure Christmas movie with a “Parent Trap” style plotline. About the sequel, Dennis Harvey wrote in Variety, “Though inevitably the formula wears a little thinner in spots this time, it’s a frothy fantasy that should satisfy viewers’ itch for confectionary-looking Christmas fluff.”
The swapping effect worked in the first film, but the sequel introduces Hudgens as another character — a fallen British aristocrat. Multiple switches and hijinks occur, but it takes time for the film to get off the ground and fully engage the audience.
Brett White wrote in Decider, “The first half hour plays out with the same slow, low-level palace—well, intrigue is too generous a word—that bogged down the Christmas Prince sequels. It’s so thoroughly average that I completely forgot that princess switching was what The Princess Switch was all about.”
It takes too long for the switch to occur, and I got lost in the weak attempts at political drama. It’s a Netflix Christmas movie, not “The West Wing.” The film tries too hard to make the audience care about the monarchal crisis of a barely explored onscreen fictional country. No one really cares about that when they watch “The Princess Switch: Switched Again.” They want a fluffy holiday rom-com, and this film takes far too long to get there, trapped in the vague, mushy political landscape of Montenaro.
“The Princess Switch” also fails to address the crux of these movies. Why are there so many women who look the exact same? Even their romantic interests can’t tell them apart after the switch. “At this point, this franchise really needs to address where these Hudgens clones are coming from. Are they part of a government experiment? Is this an Orphan Black situation? The people demand answers,” Johnny Brayson wrote in Bustle.
The existence of three doppelgangers, one not blood-related to the others, is nearly impossible. Viewers have to suspend their disbelief to enjoy this movie, which the first “Princess Switch” manages to pull off. The second loses it in bringing a third character played by Hudgens. “The Princess Switch: Switched Again” has some of the Christmas magic of the first movie, but as with most sequels, it falters and adds an unnecessary layer of absurdity.
Why does Netflix keep releasing these movies? First, there was the “The Christmas Prince” films, and then came “The Princess Switch” movies. Netflix even released another Hudgens-led rom-com, “The Knight Before Christmas.” There are countless Netflix-made Christmas movies that are of Hallmark Channel quality, meaning they are vapid, bland and rife with overused plotlines and tropes.
This makes me wonder what happened to the classic Christmas movies like “Love Actually.” Those were romantic Christmas movies that were unique, star-studded and full of drama, comedy and romance. They made the audience get invested and fall in love.
“The Princess Switch” franchise falls short of these standards. The characters feel one-dimensional, the love stories feel constructed instead of natural and the plot is overly simplistic. It fails as a romance, as a comedy and as a Christmas film in general. The Christmas magic is there, but it feels childish. I understand that the innocent vibe of this film is there to make it family-friendly, but there is a balance between wholesome and infantile that “The Princess Switch” just doesn’t get right.
The lack of quality Christmas movies produced by Netflix makes me yearn for the years when movies like “The Holiday” came out in theatres to mark the start of the holiday season. While the Netflix and Hallmark movies offer a feel-good, guilty pleasure experience, they fall short of fulfilling the desire for more serious, well-made and well-acted films.