penelope movie

‘Penelope’ is a Happy & Colorful Modern Fairytale Romance

September 9, 2013 33 Comments

There are some things, like this Penelope movie, that slip under moviegoers notice. These are the movies that might be ordinary in the storytelling, but are extraordinary in imagination.

Penelope (2006) Film Review

Young Penelope Wilhern is the product of the curse on her father’s family name. One that stipulates the first born Wilhern daughter will be born with the face of a pig. This after her great (insert several more generations in the family tree) grandfather ruins the reputation of a serving girl, which brings a curse on their family name. Generations pass and only sons are born to the heirs of the Wilhern fortune, until Penelope comes along. Only true love by one of her own kind will break the curse. This then leads to an endless string of would-be suitors who scream their way out the front door at the mere glimpse of Penelope. This eventually gives 20-something Penelope (Christian Ricci) the courage to break free from the prison her mother (Catherine O’ Hara) keeps her in.

First, there is one more suitor. Enter Max Campion (James McAvoy), a down-on-his-luck blue blood who stays. He doesn’t run like the countless before them, and Penelope establishes a connection with him through the protective barrier of a mirror separating them. Only there’s a catch, Max isn’t who he needs to be and Penelope isn’t who she wants to be.

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A rarity like this charming fable don’t often get big budget treatment which means little or no promotion. This cute film was done in 2006, but was continually delayed for its market. Fortunately, it did play at a theater within a reasonable travelling distance and I can still remember watching the colorful story unfold on the big screen. A film that a recent rewatch elects a different perspective. While my younger self probably liked the fairy tale elements, I am not sure that I would have been “open” to how quirky the movie is whereas my adult heart adores the sass, plus the film has a great deal more to impart on a willing participant than a typical Disney-esque bubble of joy.

It’s no stretch to say Penelope is a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast minus all classic indicators of the story (a red rose or a selfless sacrifice). The similarities are still bold enough for anyone to catch allowing the script to retain some originality by being its own modern fable. To be honest, I don’t think that the story is brilliantly clever; however it’s in the details that really makes the movie shine. 

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penelope movie

From the first moment we glimpse Penelope’s room to her wondrous (a-la Rapunzel style) introduction to the world, the creative minds behind the camera being their a-game to this set. Everything is magical. All of the fabulous, whimsical markers envelop the viewer in a sense of first heartbreak and warm magic. There are bright colors, bubbles, mismatched costumes and a sense of awe that threads through the entire film.

Let’s put names to the people who bring these characters to life. I’m surprised at how well everyone works together. From Richard E. Grant to Simon Woods (Pride & Prejudice), Burn Gorman (hello, Guppy!) and Reese Witherspoon, the cast sparkles. Reese (working as a co-star and producer) adds spunk (plus a cute would-be romance). Surprisingly Christina Ricci adds more personality and depth to Penelope’s character than one might expect, and then there is McAvoy. He’s not a typical leading man however he and Ricci have good chemistry. Not the fireworks sort, but something that goes deeper; their screen time together is magic.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment is the lesson Penelope leaves us with. It encourages us to think, and hopefully reminds us that beauty fades, and conditional love damages. Nearly all of the characters learn something and as a result, each of them offer and accept unconditional love. Knowing that, it’s hard not to fall in love with Penelope, a story about more than second chances.  

‘Penelope’ is a Happy & Colorful Modern Fairytale #Romance. A review of the 2006 Penelope movie with Christina Ricci and James McAvoy. #Fairytale Click To Tweet

(Disclosure: this post does contain affiliate links; if you buy anything through these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you to anyone who makes a purchase through these links. Read the disclosure page for details.)

You can digitally rent or own Penelope movie through Amazon Video or purchase the film on DVD.


‘Penelope’ is a Happy & Colorful Modern Fairytale Romance. A review of the 2006 Penelope movie with Christina Ricci and James McAvoy. Text © Rissi JC

CONTENT: There is some minor profanities and at least one veiled sexual innuendo. There’s some drinking and gambling. The film deals in thematic elements [and a suicide off-screen as well as a brief suggestion to commit suicide] and conditional love. Penelope movie rates PG.

About Rissi JC

amateur photog. #bookblogger. downton abbey. inspys. internet-photo-shy. writer. the aspiration is to someday write professionally. a girl can dream, right?

Rissi JC

amateur photog. #bookblogger. downton abbey. inspys. internet-photo-shy. writer. the aspiration is to someday write professionally. a girl can dream, right?

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  • Kristin September 9, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    I love this movie to pieces. It's my favorite modern film (not including period dramas…yes, I have all my favorites divided up in categories :). I love the story, the characters, and the humor. And I want Penelope's room and clothes. The romance is so sweet, and the message of the movie is great. The quirkiness, the settings and cinematography, the fairytale-ness and fantastical elements of it all really appeal to me. Basically I just love everything about this film. :) Every time I watch it, it inspires me in so many different ways. It's a shame more people don't know about it!


    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 7:51 PM

      "YES!" times two to everything you said here, Kristin.

      This movie is adorable and a keeper. It's got class and isn't afraid to be different at the same time. Its greatest joy (for me) is the gorgeous chemistry between McAvoy and Ricci. Neither one are really the first names we consider for a fairytale-esue story, however they play these roles with ease and seem very comfortable doing so. Basically, I just cannot say enough good about the film – and after a LONG time not rewatching it, I was blissfully reminded just HOW good it was. :)

      It IS a shame more people aren't familiar with Penelope. It's a rare gem.

  • Charity September 9, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    I love this movie. It's so terribly sweet.

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 7:52 PM

      DITTO! I was reminded just HOW MUCH I loved the film when finally re-watching it. <3

  • Rosie Wilson September 9, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    I love this movie!! This is a forever favorite. Glad you like this one too! :D

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 7:53 PM

      *High Five*

      For me as well, Rosie – the movie is magical in an usual (special) way. Love that. :)

  • Lianne September 9, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    I love this movie, it's sweet and cute and just wonderful =) And James MacAvoy was <3

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 7:54 PM

      McAvoy and Ricci share FAB chemistry in the movie. And I think that was one of its best assets. Happy you are a fan also, Lianne! :)

  • Hannah Barta September 9, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    I watched this sometime last year, I think, and I liked it, but I also disliked it. I think I remember thinking some of it was cheesy. But James MacAvoy and Christina Ricci's chemistry was incredible.

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 7:57 PM

      That chemistry is quite possibly Penelope's greatest strength, Hannah – it was so full of, well, joy! :)

      Sorry the film didn't "click" for you (I know that feeling!) – glad you shared your thoughts.

  • Katy September 9, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    Great review! This is one of my favorite movies. I love the story but also the set and costuming – truly wonderful!

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 7:58 PM

      Ditto! It's one of my very faves also, Katy. Wish it hadn't taken me so long for a rewatch. :)

      Thanks for reading!

  • Maria September 9, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    I've seen Penelope several times and love it!!!

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 7:58 PM

      *High Five*

      Right there with you, Maria. :)

  • Lizzie September 10, 2013 at 1:22 AM

    I was going to say something about how much I love this movie… not to copy everyone else or anything. It's such a cute story! And I have a huge soft spot for James McAvoy and those eyes of his. ;)

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 8:07 PM

      Hooray – another fan! :) Love all the like this one is getting in this comment thread, Lizzie – so never apologize for similar commenting. It sure is a keeper.

      James isn't an actor I follow closely, however, this is likely one of his best roles. It's just… a gem!

  • Juju at Tales of September 10, 2013 at 1:43 AM

    This is one of my favorite movies. I love love love it.

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 8:07 PM

      Yes! I second this, Juju. :)

  • Evelyn September 10, 2013 at 3:00 AM

    I heard about this one from a friend! Knowing that you, and my friend, liked it makes me want to watch it now. And I love the beauty and beast story (who doesn't?) so I at least have that going for me!

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 8:09 PM

      The movie is a bit quirky, Evelyn, however the lesson, sets and acting are marvelous – and the quirkiness only adds to the appeal.

      Hope you enjoy the film if you see it – let us know what you thought. :)

  • KatySue Pillsbury September 10, 2013 at 3:36 AM

    I love this movie, it' one of my faves! A large part of this love is devoted to Penelope's Uh-Mazing wardrobe!!

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 8:10 PM

      Too true, Katysue. Everything about the movie sparkles. :)

  • Jack September 10, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    I love this movie, I have been trying to watch it again as I have only seen it once a few years ago. It was so much fun and such a sweet romance. I keep hoping they will put it on Netflix for me.

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 8:11 PM

      Huh, this one isn't on Netflix!? That's very uncool. Hope you can find it, Jack (perhaps check Amazon's rental program, too). It's certainly worth a rewatch. :)

  • Gwendolyn Gage September 10, 2013 at 4:45 PM

    I remember this! Such a cute movie. Rissi, I nominated you for the book lover's Liebster Award over at my blog. No pressure to participate, if you'd rather not. I love your thoughtful reviews and wanted to give you a shout-out. :-)

    • Rissi September 10, 2013 at 8:13 PM

      It IS cute, Gwendolyn. Glad you enjoyed the movie too – I know sometimes quirkiness can be "off-putting" but in this case, it only "adds to" the effect. :)

      Oh, thanks a million for the Liebster! I am honored and grateful. THANK YOU, Gwendolyn! I appreciate you reading and the comments; it always means a lot.

  • Miss Littlefield September 11, 2013 at 7:44 PM

    I loved this movie! There were so many good lessons about accepting yourself and the power of standing up for yourself. Plus the magical quality was really charming. I love movies that mix the real world with the magical world without being too obvious. Plus that kiss at the end is enchanting!

    ~Miss Littlefield

    • Rissi September 11, 2013 at 8:42 PM


      This movie is a keeper (to put it mildly) and I cannot believe it took me so long to re-watch! There's a lot of poignant messages and the little, whimsical details in the movie are priceless. :)

      Thanks bunches for the comments and blog follow today, Miss Littlefield. Appreciate both – you are most welcome and I hope you enjoyed your visit. :)

  • Fayehope September 12, 2013 at 4:18 AM

    Adorable movie. So sweet and fun.

    • Rissi September 14, 2013 at 12:14 AM

      Very! :)

  • […] (PG) You can rent or own No Reservations digitally on Amazon Video or find on DVD. 16. Penelope A wonderfully imaginative film, this has Beauty and the Beast vibes that oddly enough blends in […]

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