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Vanessa Hudgens' Netflix movies define Christmas in ways that Santa Claus cannot

I should have known that Vanessa Hudgens was destined to make a lasting impact on the holiday movie scene ever since her iconic character Gabriella Montez was introduced to the “High School Musical” trilogy at a New Years’ party. I now know that any time a character of hers finds snow or hot chocolate, we are in for a wonderfully cheesy movie. Or two. Or three.

Most of Gen Z, including myself, grew up watching Hudgens in the “High School Musical” movies — whether you saw the films once and heard the soundtrack classics every so often (most people), or sat in the front row when the movies premiered in theaters and still have all the songs memorized (me). Recently, Hudgens has made a name for herself in another film trilogy, this time in Netflix’s Christmas cinematic universe. 

“The Princess Switch” (2018), “The Princess Switch: Switched Again” (2020), and “The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star” (2021) make up the core of Hudgens’ Christmas movies. This trilogy tells the story of a pastry chef named Stacy who discovers she is a sharp lookalike to Lady Margaret, a duchess and queen-to-be of a fictional European nation, while at a baking competition in a different European country that is just as vague.

Between Stacy falling in love with Lady Margaret’s fiancé — who happens to be a prince — and Lady Margaret falling in love with Stacy’s business partner in the first movie, to Lady Margaret’s evil cousin Fiona trying to steal the throne from Margaret during her coronation in the second movie, to the three women banding together to track down the thief who stole the prized Christmas relic given to now-Queen Margaret’s kingdom by the Vatican (?!) in the third movie, there is a lot to follow — especially since the three leading women are all played by Hudgens.

If you remember Lindsay Lohan acting as two characters in “The Parent Trap” (1998), then you can think of Hudgens’ work in “The Princess Switch” trilogy in the same way. But instead of playing identical twins separated at birth like Lohan, Hudgens portrays doppelgängers: a baker from Chicago and a vaguely European duchess — in addition to the duchess’s villainous cousin in the series’ latter two films.

The twisted storyline might seem comically absurd to you, but the “Princess Switch” movies have managed to captivate audiences for several Christmas seasons in a row — otherwise, there would not be three of them. The trilogy makes people want to find coherence in all the drama, love triangles, and mistaken identities, whether they consider it “good cinema” or not.

According to Hudgens in an interview, these movies have a charm that “fills our hearts with love and empathy and dreams and all the feels you want for the holiday season.” 

Essentially, “The Princess Switch” movies are the holiday feel-good films we did not know we needed. And I could not agree more: laughing at a wonderfully cheesy movie with an all-too-convenient storyline does make me feel good, especially when it ends with a happily ever after.

 Not to be forgotten is “The Knight Before Christmas” (2019) — notice the pun, please and thanks — to cap off Hudgens’ Christmas film repertoire thus far. Through her work as the producer and lead actress, Hudgens tells the story of Brooke Winters, a high school teacher (alluding back to her “HSM” roots), falling in love with Sir Cole, a fourteenth-century squire that has time-traveled to present day, whom she meets after hitting him with her car. No, I am not kidding about any of that. 

The doctors in the ER declare that Cole has amnesia after the accident, and Brooke for some reason invites Cole — a complete stranger — to stay in her guest room while he recovers. Cole stays in Brooke’s small town because an old crone back in the fourteenth century sent him there to complete an unclear quest before Christmas Eve in order to achieve his knighthood — hence the title of the movie. And of course, the quest is finally completed once Cole and Brooke kiss under the mistletoe for the first time. Holiday movie magic at its finest.

Very few things are better than a love story that is far too good to be true, set in a small-town during the holidays, and paired with some good old fashioned time travel — and “The Knight Before Christmas” proves exactly that. I am ready to argue with anyone who dares to disagree. 

Did I just recount four Christmas rom coms from the past four years? Yes, most definitely. I would say Hudgens has found her new niche, and everyone embracing the commercial, modernized holiday — at any time of the year — is better off because of it.

There is a certain type of magic in the air during the holiday season that makes the unbelievable seem more reasonable — such as the laughably unrealistic plots to Hudgens’ Christmas movies and the fact that Santa can visit so many houses in one night. During Christmas time, it somehow all makes sense — once you understand it is best not to ask any questions at all. 

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