In today’s society, it is not surprising that many young girls are insecure with their appearances. After all, when the magazines that serve as the pre-teen Bibles include articles on how to look like this celebrity or that celebrity, it is not surprising when CNN airs a story about how a 12-year-old girl would eat paper for dinner so she could look good in a bathing suit. People should learn to accept themselves as they are, flaws included, and what better way to send this message to young girls than through a modern fairytale with a stale plot, in which the attractive title character is ridiculed because of her looks?
After sitting on the shelves for two years, audiences are finally brought “Penelope,” a “Once upon a time…” tale that has been told too many times. The movie opens with Penelope (Christina Ricci) telling of a curse placed upon her wealthy family long ago, in which the first girl born into the family would bear the face of a pig. The only way to break the curse would be for one of her own kind (another blue blood) to accept her as she is. For generations, this curse was never recognized, as any babies that came into the family were male – and then there was Penelope.
Audiences are led to believe that she must be hideous – after all, her mother (Catherine O’Hara) keeps her locked in the house, afraid of the public’s reception of her. It is a major disappointment, however, when Penelope’s face is first revealed: it is only Christina Ricci, pretty as always, with a prosthetic snout slapped on where her nose should be. The potential husbands lined up by her obsessive mother jump out a window at the “horrendous” sight of Penelope, only deepening her self-hatred that has already been instilled by her mother.
It is not until the Prince Charming of this fairytale comes along, an aristocrat named Max (James McAvoy), that Penelope finally finds a connection. Max is not who he seems to be, however; he has been hired by a tabloid reporter, Lemon, to take a picture of the face that was described to him to be that of a monster. Audiences soon learn that Max is a good guy, and cannot use Penelope as a pay day. His life has been changed; besides, he spent a good few hours with her in total – whose life wouldn’t be changed by that?
Fed up with life in general, Penelope runs away to an unidentified city, in which half of the residents seem to be American, while the other half seem to be British. Here she is befriended by Annie (Reese Witherspoon), whose character seems almost pointless to the movie; Witherspoon’s presence is simply there to capture a larger audience.
The movie does include a few unexpected plot twists, but its ending is a little too sugary sweet; the dialogue includes an explicit explanation of the moral of the story, as if the audience is too dense to figure it out. And while the moral, which echoes that of “Beauty and the Beast,” is a good one, it is plain to see that these fairytales should be left to Disney from now on.