‘Penelope’ is a Happy & Colorful Modern Fairytale Romance


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’ is a Happy & Colorful Modern Fairytale #Romance. A review of the 2006 Penelope movie with Christina Ricci and James McAvoy. #Fairytale Click To Tweet
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. 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 graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


  1. 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!


    1. "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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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. ;)

    1. 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!

  4. 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!

    1. 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. :)

  5. 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.

    1. 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. :)

  6. 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. :-)

    1. 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.

    1. Ditto!

      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. :)

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