You gotta love a good ole’ fashioned fairy tale!
Despite centuries of far-fetched stories involving glass shoes that don’t shatter when you run down a flight of stairs and women who can sleep for a hundred years and not age a day (if only!), audiences still love to be swept off their feet with tales of romance, villainy, and happily ever after.
Today’s fairy tales are a twisted version of these Grimm stories, complete with cynicism, satire, sarcasm, and tongue-in-cheek delivery — like the Shrek films but with real actors.
Penelope (2006) and Enchanted (2007) duke it out one fairy-tale stereotype at a time but both ask the question: What makes a true princess?
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Enchanted was a smashing success at the box office ($340 plus million) and exploded onto the DVD scene ($40 million) with a ton of fairy dust. Starring Amy Adams as the perfect princess-to-be, Patrick Dempsey, the would-be hero, James Marsden, as the gallant prince, with direction from animator Kevin Lima, and written by Bill Kelly, there certainly was enough star power and studio money to guarantee wide theatrical distribution and a fantastic marketing campaign.
The story was modern and cartoonish, capitalizing on both types of Disney fans, as it followed the fairyland maiden Giselle (Adams) after she is quite literally thrown into modern day by an evil witch/step-mother/Queen (Susan Sarandon). The clumsy princess bride stumbles upon Robert (Dempsey) and his daughter who opt to assist the fair lady in her quest to get home. The Prince, hearing of the witch’s plot, follows his true love to Times Square and arrogantly (yet, charmingly) saunters through New York City to rescue her.
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The Defending Champion
Penelope was a little known movie that did little known figures at the box office ($20 million). Despite having a stellar cast, Christina Ricci as Penelope and James McAvoy as Max, her would-be suitor, the film, directed by Mark Palansky and written by Leslie Caveny (and produced by Reese Witherspoon, who sports a supporting role), did little more in DVD sales ($10 million, so far).
It tells the tale of a pig-faced girl, complete with snout and pig ears (Ricci) who must find true love for her family curse to be broken. Her overbearing and loudmouthed mother, played wonderfully by Catherine O’Hara, hires a matchmaker to get the job done and only succeeds in humiliating Penelope with one blind dateafteranother (oh, if only they were blind!), as the suitors run screaming from the house, crash through windows, sign gag orders, and have nervous breakdowns. Will the down-and-out Max be able to break the curse?
Enchanted is blessed with an excellent cast, sweeping musical numbers, and outstanding performances, particularly that of Amy Adams, who displays enough energy to power Time Square. The script has a marvelous twist to the typical damsel-in-distress ending so prevalent in fairy tales, but in spite of all those things, lacks intelligent dialogue, witty banter, or stylized direction. The exposition seemed rushed, the shots were sometimes choppy, the characters were flat, and Patrick Dempsey’s hair looked different in almost every frame. The entire movie seemed to be reaching for a depth of meaning, and perhaps even brushes against it, but falls short of being anything more than a cute fairy tale.
On the other hand, Penelope manages to deliver an actual moral message (*gasp!*) in addition to having rich artistic direction, a unique costume design, witty dialogue, and layered dramatic performances. Audiences could easily get lost in watching Ricci’s incredibly expressive eyes and McAvoy’s intricate facial expressions (be still my heart!). But, Penelope also loses some of its youngest viewers by capitalizing on scrolling newspaper headlines as an exposition tool and sorely neglects Reese Witherspoon’s supporting role.
Despite its flaws, and due to its superior layers and marvelous script, Penelope keeps the title! While both movies end with a happily ever after, one leaves you with a sense of personal satisfaction and with an immediate desire to view it again! Yes, it’s definitely Penelope by a snout!