Penelope – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Once upon a time, there was a very wealthy family, the Wilherns. The father of this family had an affair with a servant woman, resulting in a child. The father ignored the servant woman and child, pretending nothing ever happened. The servant woman’s mother, outraged, placed a curse on the family. The next baby girl to be born into the family would be born with the nose of a pig, so that the family will know the scorn and isolation that her family has learned. The only way to break the curse is for a man to fall in love with her as she is, and marry her. Generations pass and the curse is forgotten until twenty five years ago, when the Wilherns gave birth to a bouncing baby girl named Penelope (Christina Ricci), who just happened to have a nose like a pig.

After a greedy tabloid reporter, Lemon (Peter Dinklage) stalks the family to snap a picture of the infant, the Wilherns committed the ultimate act of desperation: they faked their daughter’s death so that she could grow up in the safety of their house, away from the taunts of other children and their parents. Penelope grows up having to entertain herself and develops a strong knowledge of music, literature, and the arts. When she gets to be of marrying age, her mother (Catherine O’Hara) endlessly parades men in to meet her daughter, and they inevitably leave. When a case of mistaken identity crushes Penelope’s hopes of finding a husband and breaking the curse, she flees her house into the world she doesn’t know. Penelope makes friends and gains confidence in herself, and like all good fairy tales, the curse is broken in the end. Of course there are several more twists and turns in the story that I won’t reveal at this time. You’ve got to watch the movie for all the fun.

And fun it is indeed. Disney seems to have taken every fairy tale in existence and adapted it into an animated film. The story of Penelope is a finely crafted, old-fashioned fairy tale with a modern edge. It has all of the elements of an old-fashioned fairy tale: a witch, a curse, a love story, but with a modern twist: this time the woman is the Beast and the man is the Beauty. A man is a very visual creature. Getting over the appearance of a woman he has just met, having to see past her looks in order to fall in love with her, is no easy task. I’m not saying that men are shallow by any means. It’s just how they’re wired. Penelope is a fascinating character. She’s the ultimate role model for teenage girls who are insecure with themselves. She gets depressed and is disappointed by everyone’s reaction to her, but she is still ultimately happy with who she is.

The cast in this movie is superb. It’s been fun watching Christina Ricci grow up, hasn’t it? From little Wednesday Addams to Casper to Black Snake Moan, she adds her own quirky flavor to everything she does. She plays the title role of Penelope perfectly. She’s completely believable and enchanting. Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone, Beetlejuice, Best in Show) shines in everything she does. She’s delightful as the neurotic perfectionist nightmare of a mother. Richard E. Grant (Withnail and I, Gosford Park) plays Penelope’s father, and while upstaged by Catherine O’Hara’s character, he still manages to show a quiet tenderness towards his daughter. Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Elf) as Lemon the money grubbing paparazzi is superb as well. He was born for roles like this and the one he played in Underdog. James McAvoy (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Atonement, Wanted) is quickly becoming the next big thing and is popping up everywhere. I was giddy when I saw him! I had forgotten he was the love interest. He’s got a charm about him that is never annoying. He was the perfect choice for this role. Not to be left out is Reese Witherspoon. Every single trailer I saw for this film had the scene with her and Penelope. Reese is not in this film for very long at all. She was the producer of this film and loved it so much, she just had to be in it.

Adding to the appeal of the film is the gorgeous cinematography. The sets, the costumes, the entire world that Penelope lives in is beautiful with rich vibrant colors. It all seems fantastical and other-worldly and helps ease us into believing this fairy tale.

Even though Penelope is a fresh fairy tale, it’s difficult to figure out a target audience for it. I’d like to think that since it’s a fairy tale, that it would be easiest to market to children. But there are several slower parts throughout the middle of the story that loses their attention, and some of the situations are a little more adult. With the more adult situations, I suppose it could be geared towards adults. But it’s a fairy tale, and a new one at that. I know that I’m in the minority of grown-ups infatuated with fairy tales, hence the poor box office results. This is very unfortunate as the film is very creative and deserves a stronger audience.

Penelope will hopefully evolve to cult status as more and more people like me begin to discover it on DVD. This fairy tale with a twist gives the genre new life, opening it to new creative interpretations.

This DVD release is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and boasts both widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film. It is equipped with Dolby Digital surround sound, which allows for Joby Talbot’s, who composed original music for Arctic Tale, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the BBC show The League of Gentlemen, magical score to shine. This is a high quality transfer.

There is a short Making of Featurette with some great snippets of information from the cast, director and screenwriter, but that’s about it for extras.

Oh wait. There is one more. Fangirls rejoice: there is an exclusive look at the fall theatrical release of Twilight, the movie based on the vampire love story book that is incredibly popular with teenage girls. If you’ve not heard about this yet, it just might benefit you to pick up a copy of the book and get in on the phenomenon. I’ll be picking up a copy this weekend to see what it’s all about.

Penelope is a charming fairy tale with a twist. I love the modern take of it all, from the visuals like the setting and the clothing, to the turning of the gender tables. I love Penelope’s heart and determination not to let her situation get her down. This will be one to watch over and over.

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Summit Entertainment presents Penelope. Directed by Mark Palansky. Starring Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O’Hara, Reese Witherspoon. Written by Leslie Caveny. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: July 15, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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