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Princess Caraboo

Princess Caraboo is a sweet-natured fable that comes under the heading of good, old-fashioned movie making — a pleasurable diversion made for lighthearted family entertainment. This film about mistaken identity is reminiscent of the movie Sommersby, which was itself a twist on Daniel Vigne's mysterious-stranger drama The Return of Martin Guerre. Set in England in 1817, Princess Caraboo stars Phoebe Cates as the exotic stranger Caraboo who appears from nowhere and finds herself delivered into the hands of the well-to-do Lady Worrall (Wendy Hughes) and her husband (Jim Broadbent). The Worralls are intrigued by this bizarrely dressed, spirited woman and welcome her into their home — Mrs. Worrall for reasons of kindness and Mr. Worrall for reasons of potential profit. Unable to understand Caraboo's strange speech, the Worralls surmise (with the help of an eccentric scholar wonderfully played by a bumbling John Lithgow) that Caraboo is a princess from the East Indies. They weave a story for her involving pirate ships and slave trading and an overboard escape where she swam to safety on the English shore. The Princess never claims anything about herself — speaking only in a strange gibberish — but her manner and bearing suggest a royal upbringing. Soon Caraboo is the talk of the town and the foppish upper-class members vie for her time and attention. Only the local journalist Gutch (Stephen Rea) smells a rat and begins an investigation into the Princess's background. What he finds steers the film through a series of entertaining plot twists and surprises. By the end, everything is tied up in a neat little package and everyone ends up where they belong — exactly as any good fairy tale should conclude. Princess Caraboo is an amusing satire on the pretensions of the aristocracy, as well as the universal appeal of intrigue and fantasy — as Gutch ultimately notes, "people believe what they want to believe." Cates is perfect as the beautiful Princess with an attitude, and Rea is fine in a role softer than he usually plays. Included in the cast is Kevin Kline in a very funny turn as the Worrall's overly dressed and condescending manservant (who responds, when asked if he is the butler, "Regrettably, yes.") Also of note is the wonderfully lush score by Richard Hartley. Columbia TriStar's DVD release offers a full-frame transfer (1.33:1), and the vivid colors of the costumes, the opulent surroundings, and the rich English countryside are beautifully rendered. Dolby 2.0 Surround. Talent files, theatrical trailers. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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