Once upon a time, Hallmark Channel had nearly monopolized the genre of kitschy Christmas movies. But with the rise of online streaming, Netflix has begun to usurp its throne. The movies remain wholly the same: a woman, discontented with her life, meets a man who shows her the true magic of Christmas, and she falls in love with him. There are variations of this formula — sometimes the protagonist stays in her hometown, sometimes she leaves for a new country, sometimes it ends with a proposal or a confession of love — but the overall premise stays the same.
While most Hallmark holiday movies are self-contained, Netflix has the advantage of being easily rewatchable, and they have the funds to produce sequels of their Christmas movies. Netflix has now completed two holiday trilogies: “A Christmas Prince” and “The Princess Switch,” both of which fall under the subgenre of “Royal Christmas.”. The first trilogy was completed in 2019, but “The Princess Switch” recently wrapped up with its third installment, “The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star,” which was released this November.
“The Princess Switch” series follows Chicago baker Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens), along with her best friend and assistant Kevin (Nick Sagar) and his daughter Olivia (Mia Lloyd). They travel to the fictional country Belgravia for a Christmas baking competition. Stacy discovers that she looks identical to the Belgravian prince’s fiancee, Lady Margaret of Montenaro (also Vanessa Hudgens), who only wishes to spend two days as a normal person before being married to the prince, Edward (Sam Palladio). Stacy agrees to switch places with Margaret in a Parent Trap-esque situation, complete with a hair-cutting scene and secret handshake montage. During the brief period of role-switching, Margaret falls in love with Kevin, and Stacy falls in love with Prince Edward. Within a year, Stacy is the princess of Belgravia. The subsequent movies follow similar premises.
The second installment introduces Margaret’s cousin Fiona (Vanessa Hudgens, again!), and includes the coronation of Margaret as queen of Montenaro — and more importantly, her marriage to Kevin.
The third movie follows Fiona, instead of an equal mix of Stacy and Margaret like the previous movies had done. During a vaguely international Christmas festival, a fictitious artifact loaned by the Vatican called the Star of Peace is stolen by Fiona’s ex. She enlists the help of another ex-boyfriend to help retrieve it, falling back in love with him and reconciling with her estranged mother.
Typically, Christmas movies have flat and one-dimensional characters, in order for the viewer to be able to easily project themself onto the protagonists. Yet, “The Princess Switch” series has distinct characters — after all, the viewer has to be able to discern which role Vanessa Hudgens is playing in that moment. These three movies are enjoyable for what they are, but are much more entertaining when you critically examine all of the characters, who are truly horrible people.
Fiona is an obvious one. She is the main antagonist of the second movie and kidnaps Stacy to try to take the government of Montenaro’s money for her own good, but the other two Vanessa Hudgens characters are equally terrible. In the first movie, they each kiss people while disguised as the other, and Stacy continually lies to her husband throughout the series, even when there seems to be little reason to. Margaret leads Kevin on while she is taking Stacy’s place, and once they switch back, all of the men involved simply forgive them for their trickery.
These movies are certainly enjoyable, and they mark a change in the Christmas movie genre. Having released two holiday trilogies, Netflix has quickly become viewers’ main source for Christmas films. The online streaming giant possesses the power to shift the genre, and it already has. With a heist and mystery-centered plot that is rarely found in standard Christmas movies, the third “The Princess Switch” movie is remarkably different from the previous two. These movies also accommodate multiple protagonists, whereas other holiday movies usually center around one protagonist, one love interest, and side characters with no backstories.
Most notably, Netflix has left one specific, distinct mark on the genre: the rise of royalty-themed movies. While the Hallmark Channel only aired one or two such films, there are now a dozen of them on Netflix included in the platform’s most anticipated premieres each year. These movies are even more similar to each other than typical Christmas rom-coms: an American woman travels to a vaguely European nation, where everyone has English accents, and falls in love with the prince. And it doesn’t seem like they will be stopping anytime soon. “The Princess Switch” movies are entertaining in themselves, but more so, they cement Netflix as the Christmas movie genre’s newest leader.