a christmas miracle

Nothing Says Happy Holidays Like Another Vanessa Hudgens Movie on Netflix

Photo: Mark Mainz/NETFLIX © 2021

Huge news: The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star — starring Vanessa Hudgens, Vanessa Hudgens, and Vanessa Hudgens — is out, just in time for the holidays. This time, instead of adding a new look-alike, they’ve added a new genre. In addition to the expected rom-com elements, our three Vanessa Hudgenses are faced with solving a mysterious crime.

Stacy from Chicago (who is now the princess of Belgravia) and Lady Margaret (who is now the queen of Montenaro) are co-chairing an international Christmas festival. In honor of the occasion, the Vatican has loaned them the star of peace, “a priceless relic that once belonged to Saint Nicholas himself!”

Two major things happen early on: (1) Stacy pronounces “huge” like “yuge,” definitive proof she is from Chicago; and (2) Santa’s special tree-topper is almost immediately stolen. The police are useless at figuring out what happened, so it’s up to the Vanessas. They enlist cousin Fiona, who is currently mid-community-service sentence because she kidnapped Stacy and tried to steal Margaret’s throne in the second movie, to help them solve the crime.

The third movie in the Princess Switch franchise truly does have it all: comedy, romance, mystery, a troubled mother-daughter relationship, reconciliations and healthier communications, and most importantly: Vanessa Hudgens.

PS3 is the third Princess Switch film (following, of course, Princess Switch and The Princess Switch: Switched Again) and Netflix’s fourth Hudgens-helmed holiday film. This woman’s shy smile has been fueling onscreen romances since her HSM days, and her new chapter as Netflix’s holiday-cheer ambassador is one I hope never ends. I love watching her unsuccessfully tackle variations of an English accent. She does it with such panache, such joy. She’s comfortable in her skin. It’s a Vanessa I haven’t seen since what I consider to be the height of her career, the music video for “Come Back to Me.”

Vanessa is at her best when she’s being what some would call “basic” and what I would call “fun.” In the intro to “Come Back to Me,” an unidentified man tells us we need to get ready to hear the unbelievable, indescribable Vanessa Hudgens (Baby V!), and honestly … that introduction still stands. She’s not here to prove that she can be a serious actor like some of her former Disney Channel colleagues. It’s clear she can — she was the highlight of Fox’s 2019 televised rendition of Rent as Maureen, and she has an upcoming role in another big-name movie musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tick, Tick … BOOM!. She simply doesn’t need to, because she is incredibly, innately charming and she has range.

Few actors can so earnestly commit to whatever one-dimensional character is thrown their way. What the movie lacks in character development, stakes, and basic logic, Vanessa more than makes up for in genuine zeal. She’s giving us the polar opposite of Kristen Stewart’s performance as Bella in Twilight — rather than Stewart’s thinly veiled contempt (admirable in its own right), Hudgens’s approach is full-throated enthusiasm that accepts the project for exactly what it is. Instead of leaning on irony, Vanessa opts for camp. Is she in on the joke? I truly couldn’t say. Having viewed every single Vanessa Hudgens holiday film, however, I can say with certainty that she’s having a great time.

Even though Netflix’s Vanessa vehicles are recent, I can always count on them for a healthy dose of nostalgia. Watching her relatively uncomplicated characters play out equal parts bizarre and predictable story lines takes me back in time, and the added familiarity of corny holiday movie tropes truly makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. And watching them is so much fun! I believe that as the audience, we should approach the viewing experience the same way Vanessa approaches her roles: with generosity, and without taking ourselves too seriously.

If you need an introduction to the growing Vanessa Hudgens holiday catalogue, I must insist that you begin with The Knight Before Christmas, the only non–Princess Switch one thus far, in which a 14th-century wannabe knight named Sir Cole — I repeat, Sir Cole! Fourteenth century! — is transported to Ohio, where a local science teacher played by our dear Hudge helps him complete a quest assigned to him by a woman he literally refers to as “Old Crone.” If that sentence doesn’t bring you unbridled joy, then I guess we’re just different. Josh Whitehouse, the knight in question, is the only co-star in the whole bunch who truly matches her energy, bringing a fierce commitment to his role that allows the duo to reach unmatched levels of unhinged. The assuredness with which Sir Cole delivers the line, “Legend has it, the one who finds the bean gets to make a wish,” re: something called yuletide bread, is forever burned into my brain.

It is my greatest hope that Vanessa continues to make Christmas movies for the next several years, eventually producing an assortment so huge that “Vanessa Hudgens holiday film” becomes its own subgenre. I want to see a big-city Vanessa Hudgens get stranded in a small town due to a blizzard, where she meets a handsome stranger. I want to see her struggle to accept her lifelong best friend’s holiday engagement to someone who isn’t her. And I can only imagine the twists and turns she will bring to a single sadgirl’s New Year’s Eve misadventures. Embrace absurdity. Long live the Vanessa Hudgens holiday-movie machine.

Nothing Says Happy Holidays Like a Vanessa Hudgens Movie