Like the title character, this film has been hidden from the public eye for far too long. How can a film that boasts a cast of Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O’Hara, and Reese Witherspoon (working double time as a co-star and producer) fly so far under the radar? As with anything in Hollywood, there are surely in-depth explanations involving production companies, contracts and test audiences, but Penelope, for all its lack of fanfare, is a joyful little spark of a movie that’s better than you would expect from such a low-key release.

Here’s the story: a girl (Penelope) suffers the punishment of an ancient family curse when she’s born with a pig snout for a nose. Her mother and father attempt to hide her away from society, seeking appropriately wealthy suitors for her, and trying to break the curse. But at a mere glance they all run screaming from the mansion (often from the second floor). Eventually the plot thickens and Penelope wanders out into the world to find herself and the true meaning of acceptance. In other words, it’s a happy, family film with a solidly moving message.

At the helm of his first feature, director Mark Palansky has the eye of a less-ambitious (or maybe just more soft-hearted) Guillermo del Toro. The scenery pops and the sets are exquisite while even the costumes are bright and memorable. And all without detracting from the story. The fantastical aspects of the script are played up with a low-key assurance that lets the movie’s 90 minutes flow by enjoyably. The tale can get a bit uneven at times, often wavering between dark comedy and more typical family fare, but the line Penelope walks to its final message is straight enough to keep viewers invested.

I didn’t walk away with a new outlook on life or profess my love for all things swine-y, but Penelope is original enough and full of enough heart to provide a lovely evening for anyone who’s looking for something slightly outside of the mainstream.

Zach’s Rating: B-
Perfect For: A family-friendly (not just kid-friendly) fantasy film
Stay Away if: You’re looking for high drama

To purchase Penelope, visit Amazon

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