Penny is a shy little girl, but also rather gutsy and brave, especially when she stood up to Medusa's crocodiles and Medusa herself while held at gunpoint. She desires to go back to the orphanage so that she can be adopted and have a family but is very insecure and fearful about not being liked by any of the families.
Penny has short blonde hair in pigtails with purple hairbands, black eyes, and fair skin. She wears a white polo shirt, purple overall dress, lavender tights, and brown Mary Jane shoes during the day, white underwear, a yellow nightgown at night, and when she's adopted, she wears a pink hooded winter coat, light pink scarf, light pink mittens, and dark pink snow galoshes over her regular clothes.
Role in the film
Little is known about Penny's backstory. However, it's known that she was left at Morningside Orphanage in New York City when she was still young. Since then, she had desperately sought adoption. One afternoon, Rufus, the orphanage's elderly cat, saw her sitting sadly at her bedside at the orphanage, and asked her what was wrong. Penny denied any problem, but when Rufus urged her, she then told him in person that it was adoption day at the orphanage, and that a man and woman looked at her, but adopted a little redheaded girl instead. A heartbroken Penny believes that the redhead was more beautiful than herself. Rufus comforts the girl and tells her to have faith through the poem, "Faith is a Bluebird." Penny feels better and shows her appreciation by giving Rufus some gingersnap cookies (the same two extra ones she had taken for lunch, which she was not supposed to do). Penny then hugs and pets Rufus and carries him downstairs for supper.
Soon after that, the evil treasure huntress Madame Medusa needs a child to fetch a certain diamond hidden within a hole too narrow for adults to fit down. She thus kidnaps Penny to fetch the diamond for her; Rufus says that Medusa offered to give Penny a ride in her car. For weeks afterward, the police searched for the girl but had no success in finding her and eventually gave up the search, believing that she must have run away.
As mentioned by Ellie Mae and Medusa, Penny tried to escape several times. Every time Penny attempts to escape, she's caught by Medusa's crocodiles, Brutus and Nero.
When a message in a bottle from Penny finally arrives in New York Harbor, some hobo mice discover it and send it to the Rescue Aid Society of mice. Miss Bianca and her co-agent Bernard read the message and soon find out that Penny's being held in Devil's Bayou. The two mice set out in search of the girl to rescue her.
With the help of Orville, the albatross, the mice soon arrive at the bayou. Meanwhile, Penny attempts another escape, but she is recaptured again by Brutus and Nero. She shows no fear of the two, even going so far as to threaten Nero should he get her teddy bear wet. Brutus carries Penny upside down by the bottom of her underwear when they came back to the riverboat. Mr. Snoops taunts Penny for her failed escape. Penny bravely orders Brutus to put her down while swinging her arms at him. Brutus smugly drops her to the floor where she lands on her head. For holding upside down and dropping her like that, she calls him a "freaky little dragon." Mr. Snoops scolds Penny for running away and threatens to feed Teddy to Brutus and Nero if she doesn't behave, but Penny retorts that he's too scared of the crocodiles to do so. Mr. Snoops sends Penny to her room for sassing him.
Later in the night, Penny's called in by Medusa after putting her nightgown on. Medusa tells her that she's willing to let bygones be bygones if she can find the Devil's Eye. Penny tells her that she's trying her best and asks Medusa if she'll take her back to Morningside Orphanage as she promised. Medusa then asks why she would want to leave, and Penny tells her that if she doesn't go back, she'll never be adopted. Medusa then says that no one would want "a homely little girl like her." This brings Penny to tears (one of which she pours on her teddy to make it look like he's crying). With her spirit shattered, Penny then goes up to the deck of the boat and looks out to the bayou, still in tears. While the song "Someone's Waiting For You" plays, Penny looks out to the night sky where she sees a mother deer and her son eating and a star glowing brightly. This sight puts a smile on Penny's face, signifying that she should keep her hopes as bright as the star. She goes back to her room and prays that someone finds her bottle because "running away isn't working" then starts to cry again. By this time, Bernard and Miss Bianca have arrived, perched on Penny's pillow. They talk to Penny in person for the first time and explain why they're there. Penny's delighted to hear they found her bottle, then asks if they brought the police with them. The mice tell her if they work together and have faith, things'll turn out right; just as Rufus told her in the orphanage. Penny and the mice come up with a plan to escape: they'll trap Brutus and Nero in the old elevator (which resembles a cage), distract Medusa by setting off Mr. Snoop's fireworks in her bedroom and then steal her swamp mobile to run away.
The next morning, Medusa and Mr. Snoops drag Penny to the underground cave (aka the black hole) to make her search for the diamond again. Penny says she won't do it because Teddy doesn't like going down there (most likely referring to herself, too). Medusa grabs Teddy out of her arms and holds him hostage. Penny tries to grab him back, but Medusa pushes Penny up against the cave's wall and orders her to look for the diamond, or she'll never see Teddy again. Penny immediately climbs into the bucket, and Mr. Snoops lowers her down. Luckily, Bernard and Miss Bianca hide in her dress pocket to help her. Once they hit the bottom, Penny tells the mice it used to be a pirate's cave by showing them a pirate's skeleton with a sword. She also shows them the hole where the tide comes in and admits she's afraid to go over there. Bernard and Miss Bianca investigate while Penny holds the lantern for them on the other side. They find the Devil's Eye trapped in a human skull but can't get it out because it's too big. Soon the cave starts to fill up with water, and Penny begs Medusa to pull her back up, but Medusa refuses until she gets the diamond. Penny grabs a pirate sword and successfully uses it to pry open the skull's mouth to get the Devil's Eye. Penny saves Bernard and Miss Bianca from drowning in a whirlpool, climbs back into the bucket, and is pulled out. Medusa and Mr. Snoops argue over the Devil's Eye while Brutus carries Penny to the riverboat upside down by her underwear again. Again, Penny orders Brutus to put her down, but Brutus ignores her that time and continues carrying her back.
Medusa intends to take the diamond for herself and threatens to shoot Penny and Snoops if they follow her. However, thanks to Ellie Mae and the rest of the swamp gang, Penny makes it to the swamp mobile with Teddy and the Devil's Eye. According to the plan, the swamp gang set off the fireworks and trap Brutus and Nero according to plan while Penny starts the vehicle. Penny manages to speed away with everyone in tow despite some resistance from Medusa.
After making it back to New York, Penny turns the Devil's Eye over to the Smithsonian Institute. The news covers not only this but Penny being adopted by her new mother and father soon after. As Bernard and Bianca watch the broadcast, Penny happily waves and greets them from the TV, much to the bewilderment of the reporter.
- Originally, the Disney animators were considering using the story of Bernard and Miss Bianca setting out to rescue an old poet from a prison in Norway, which was taken from Margery Sharp's first novel. This idea was scrapped, however, since the poet lacked personality. It was then that Penny was created, instead.
- Penny herself was inspired by Patience, the orphan girl in Margery Sharp's 2nd novel Miss Bianca. Patience, too, is centered on the theme of a diamond, in her case, many, which she is forced to polish every day. Patience is also key to the book's heartwarming atmosphere.
- Originally, the 1988 film, Oliver & Company was to have starred Penny, now living with her new adoptive parents. However, due to concerns that the story wasn't convincing enough, a similar girl Jenny was created in her place. Coincidentally, The Rescuers itself was originally to have been connected to One Hundred and One Dalmatians with Cruella De Vil playing the role of Penny's captor instead of Madame Medusa.
- Dana Laurita, Pamelyn Ferdin and Melissa Gilbert were all considered to voice Penny.
- Promotional photos document the existence of a face character version of Penny at the Magic Kingdom when the film was first released.
- The book belonging to Penny that Bernard and Bianca found in Medusa's Pawn Shop reads on the cover First Grade Reader. This implies that Penny may be six or seven years old.
- Penny's looks and personality are based on her voice actress Michelle Stacy.
- In the Italian dub, Penny is voiced by a boy by the name of Davide Lepore.