Monday, January 7, 2013

Thumbelina (1994) - This Animated Movie Soars through Paris

"Thumbelina" Courtesy of Don Bluth via Broadway 

Thumbelina 1994
"Thumbelina" (1994).
Don Bluth's "Thumbelina" (1994), from his studio Don Bluth Entertainment, is a terrific treat for children. The "Thumbelina" animation is top-notch, matching anything from Disney at the time, but the real draw is the score by Barry Manilow, who also sings over the end credits. Remaining fairly true to the original fairy tale, "Thumbelina" is a wonderful treat full of dazzling colors, expressive characters who move in very life-like fashion, and a romantic lead who should captivate most children.

Thumbelina 1994

"Thumbelina" is not an animated film for adults, like so many later Disney/Pixar efforts, which gives it a charming focus that makes many adults keep it as a treasured childhood memory and which, no doubt, understandably clouds their present-day judgment about "Thumbelina." Whether you like it or not, though, will depend on how you feel about all the modern showbiz elements, which for some will elevate this to classic status, while others might get turned off in a hurry at this exercise in showbiz introspection.

Emerging from the rose Thumbelina 1994
The way the petals unfold is magical.
Thumbelina is the child of a lonely woman in medieval Paris who only wanted a child to love. A good and sympathetic witch gave her a barleycorn to plant, revealing Thumbelina in its petals (it sure looks like a rose, though). There is only one catch: Thumbelina arrives no bigger than a person's thumb. Thumbelina grows up - well, she arrives fully grown, so there's really no growing to be done - to be a lovely girl with flowing red/blonde hair on her mother's farm, and wants a man of her own, but there is nobody around her size. Or is there? Her mother comforts her with stories of tiny fairies who treasure girls like Thumbelina.

In her mama's hand Thumbelina 1994
Hi, mama!
Thumbelina goes to bed and dreams of having someone to love, singing and dancing to show her feelings. Prince Cornelius of the Fairies notices her as he is flying by and pops in to visit. They spend the evening together, flying about on Cornelius' bumblebee, and both fall in love. At night's end, Cornelius returns Thumbelina to her bedroom and promises to return after clearing things with his parents.

Cornelius Thumbelina Thumbelina 1994
Cornelius and his steed.
Unfortunately, thuggish Grundel the Toad also notices Thumbelina that night and falls for her, telling his mother, Mrs. Toad, of his feelings. She kidnaps Thumbelina despite the best efforts of Thumbelina's dog, Hero. Cornelius returns, looking for his love, but Hero lets him know what happened. Mrs. Toad, meanwhile, who is a Spanish performer reminiscent of Carmen Miranda or, well, Charo (Charo actually voices the character), has taken Thumbelina to her lily pad and intends to have Thumbelina join the family singing group, "Singers de Espana," after Thumbelina, of course, marries her son.

Thumbelina toads Thumbelina 1994
I just want to sing and dance!
Thumbelina, naturally, is not too happy with this generous plan (although she joins in a nice Spanish song and dance with the Toads and does quite a nice job of it), and, after Mrs. Toad leaves, Thumbelina cries out for help. Jacquimo, a swallow (sort of a Maurice Chevalier type) who also serves as the story's narrator, hears Thumbelina and rescues her, telling Thumbelina to follow her heart home. Cornelius, meanwhile, asks his parents to delay the imminent winter frost to help his search, but they can only do that temporarily. Cornelius and Grundel then both set out separately to find Thumbelina.

Beetle talking to Thumbelina Thumbelina 1994
They put him next to "sleazy" in the Dictionary.
Thumbelina is captured on her way home by Berkeley Beetle (sort of a crazed Jiminy Cricket), who also loves Thumbelina and makes her perform at the Beetle Ball. Unfortunately, she does not fit in with the beetles and is kicked out for being "too ugly." This discourages her, but Jacquimo tells her that all she needs is Cornelius' love. Jacquimo, meanwhile, is injured by a fox who he asks for help, but Grundel has better luck, getting advice from Beetle to use Cornelius to help him track Thumbelina down. Grundel, though, has a better idea and simply strong-arms Beetle himself to help find Thumbelina.

Beetle dancing with Thumbelina Thumbelina 1994
Is that a cane you're holding, or are you just glad to see me?
It starts to snow, and Jacquimo falls into a honey pot after asking a bear for help, making him unable to fly. Cornelius also has trouble with the frost, falling from his bumblebee into a pond, where he is frozen solid. Beetle finds Cornelius in the ice and takes him to Grundel. Thumbelina has to find shelter from the storm in a shoe, where she is welcomed by Miss Fieldmouse, who tells her incorrectly that Cornelius died in the ice, but that she has a nice suitor in mind. Heartbroken, Thumbelina agrees to go and sing for Mr. Mole, who immediately falls in love with her and seeks her hand in marriage.

Mrs. Toad and Thumbelina 1994
Mrs. Toad actually is kind of cool ¡ Ay Caramba!
Thumbelina finds Jacquimo and tells him she might as well marry Mr. Mole, even though Thumbelina does not love him, because she is alone in a hostile world. Jacquimo flies off to see what he can do, and a marriage ceremony is set up for Mr. Mole and Thumbelina. Both Cornelius, thawed by three young jitterbugs befriended earlier by Thumbelina, and Grundel shows up, and there is a mad chase through the underground mole tunnels.

Thumbelina making friends Thumbelina 1994
Like Snow White, Thumbelina is friends with all the little creatures like these jitterbugs.
Thumbelina finds her way to the surface, where Jacquimo finds her and flies Thumbelina to the Vale of the Fairies which he has been able to locate. It is covered in ice, but Thumbelina's singing thaws the snow, and they just have to wait and see if Cornelius was able to escape from Grundel.

Thumbelina and Cornelius Thumbelina 1994
They fall in love after one song
Several things strike the viewer about "Thumbelina" early on: the animation is simply dazzlingly gorgeous, with the unfolding of the rose to reveal Thumbelina being a stunning, iconic shot; the singing and dancing is pure Broadway, with no filter; and there is absolutely no doubt from the opening sequences how the story will end. All sorts of razzle-dazzle are thrown in, with multiple plot twists and a parade of eccentric characters.

Thumbelina 1994

In a way, it almost starts to resemble Disney's classic "Alice in Wonderland," though it has a more "real world" focus. "Thumbelina" also shows a few similarities to "Peter Pan," as Cornelius resembles nothing so much as a male Tinker Bell. Don Bluth clearly likes to borrow from the best.

Miss Fieldmouse Thumbelina 1994
Miss Fieldmouse is kind of hammy.
You couldn't ask for a better voice cast. Jodi Benson, who is Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" and its two sequels, voices Thumbelina with an innocence that at times grates against her character's sudden changes of mind and knowing attitude while dancing. Gino Conforti does Jacquimo with a heavy French accent which really isn't all that necessary since, despite the fact the story supposedly is set in Paris, everyone else speaks in straight American tones, well, except for Charo and her clan, who are Spanish.

DVD box Thumbelina 1994
The DVD artwork has that classic look.
Which is not to belittle Charo, who does a fantastic job. Charo basically voices herself, with little pretense of being some fancy character, and Carol Channing of all people really stands out as Miss Fieldmouse, showing she can still carry a tune with the best of them. Gilbert Gottfried as Berkeley Beetle, well, Gilbert is who he is, and you either like his nasally, out-there act or you don't, and there is a lot of it (too much for most people, probably) to like or dislike in this film. He certainly makes an impression.

Cornelius holding Thumbelina's hand Thumbelina 1994
Thumbelina and Cornelius chastely holding hands.
The other voice actors are pleasant enough, Kenneth Mars also stops by from his role of King Triton in "The Little Mermaid" to voice Cornelius' father, while Gary Imhoff is blandly inoffensive (and his character pretty darn ineffectual) as Cornelius. Charo, Carol Channing, Barry Manilow - that list of veterans should give you a good idea where this film has its roots buried.

Cornelius in ice Thumbelina 1994
I hate it when this happens to me.
Since this clearly is aimed at children, there is no point at listing all the reasons why an adult might start to lose interest in this about halfway through, once Thumbelina's parade of adventures with different, obviously unworthy, forest creatures as suitors begin. Even for children above a certain age, it might get confusing, with a succession of show-stopping tunes that, well, stop the show and interrupt the flow. In terms of the musical style, it is a cross between Manilow's jazzy "Copacabana" and Broadway's version of "Beauty and the Beast," with a few random '80s pop song touches thrown in for good measure.

Thumbelina wedding Thumbelina 1994
Is her hair supposed to be red like Ariel? Or blonde like Cinderella? It keeps changing.
Thumbelina also is at times difficult to understand. She clearly loves to sing and dance, and in fact, is so good at it that one wonders where she studied advanced theater techniques. She has a fine time kicking up her feet with Mrs. Toad, Beetle and the others, pulling off elaborate cabaret numbers whenever the mood strikes. However, when she isn't hoofing it, Thumbelina suddenly reverts to being a helpless little girl, determined to find someone to marry and fast. Naturally, everyone falls in love with her, which is every girl's fantasy, so little girls especially should like "Thumbelina." But why does Thumbelina's hair keep changing color?

Cornelius Thumbelina 1994
Now Cornelius is definitely a redhead.
A modern attitude on a classic fairy tale character is interesting, but it also makes Thumbelina's contrariness seem odd as if she is wrestling with both her inner "Hans Christian Andersen" and modern flightiness. If Thumbelina really is so in love with Cornelius, why is she getting up there and loving it up with her dancing and her varied suitors and all that? There is nothing wrong with having fun, but one minute Thumbelina is pining for her true love Cornelius, the next Thumbelina is about to get married to someone else, and Thumbelina's mindset just seems awfully fluid (one might be unkind and say "trampy") for a fairy tale character.

Cornelius and Thumbelina Thumbelina 1994
Now here they both are red-heads.
"Thumbelina" is a wonderful tale if you appreciate the Broadway-style singing and the numerous wild characters. It can be a struggle to take it all in during one sitting, though, and that's coming from someone who really appreciates the music. A little judicious editing would have improved "Thumbelina" tremendously, along with a title character who did a little less singing and a little more thinking. It pains me to say anything negative about this sweet story for little children, and "Thumbelina" indeed is a wonderful, gorgeous film, so let's leave it at that. Best for very young children who will watch and listen to it while playing with their toys while not caring about the overly intricate plot twists and gaudy characterizations. They will absorb it all, and then someday rhapsodize about "Thumbelina" and how they don't make great animation like that anymore when they hit their forties.

Thumbelina 1994


1 comment:

  1. does anybody knows the coloring/movie pc game for this? I have 3 y/o twins in my house and that would be awesome if i can get that game i used to play as a kid.