Our story begins once upon a time in Paris, but I’m not sure why.
This tale is from Denmark but is set in France. Anyway, we take a sickening swoop through totally abandoned bad-CGI Paris under a grossly pink sky. Jaquimo the Swallow addresses the viewer and we get to my number one beef with this movie – the designs. All of the animals are very goofy and cutesified and cartoonish, while the humans are fairly realistic. Thumbelina’s animal cast does require a lot of anthropomorphizing, but I just don’t like the designs they went with.
Jaquimo narrates the beginning with the old woman and the good witch, which would have been KIND OF NICE TO SEE FOR OURSELVES. We enter the story through a book, which seems a very Disney-cartoon-ish thing to do. But the live-action Tom Thumb did it too, I guess.
I did not enjoy the first song, but there is one interesting moment (Thumbelina falling into a pie) that was not taken from Andersen but is clearly a nod to older Thumbling tradition. (Many of the early references to Tom Thumb specifically talk about him falling into a pudding.)
The next song establishes very little, other than the fact that Thumbelina is thumb-sized. (This differs from the original tale, where she would be more accurately named Halfathumbelina.)
Anyway, they tell us her size multiple times. And I don’t think anyone will forget her name. But other than that? Uh…
“Thumbelina, She’s a funny little squirt/ Thumbelina, Tiny angel in a skirt/ Thumbelina, She’s mending and baking, pretending, she’s making things up”
What does that TELL US? She’s unusual…okay… and she’s…imaginative?
There are some little touches with the old woman that are really interesting. Like the unused baby cradle in her house, and the fact that she’s toying with her heart-shaped locket when she and Thumbelina talk about love and happily-ever-afters. Also, Thumbelina is much more high-pitched and breathy and giggly than Ariel, though you can tell it’s Jodi Benson.
With the farm animals, we run once again into the animators’ design choices.
That does not look like a dog. Dog legs do not work like that. Dogs are not balding unless they have a bad case of mange. Dogs do not have moustaches.
And, again, I really do like how well the human characters are animated. I like Thumbelina’s long flippy ponytail, but not the weird tufts around her face. We get to Soon, which is my favorite song out of this movie, partly because Jodi Benson is a pro. Everybody talks about Let Me Be Your Wings but that one just feels trite and tired to me.
Cornelius arrives on his bumblebee. That bumblebee is HUGE. Just for comparison, Thumbelina and Cornelius are maybe 2 inches high, and he looks like a horse compared to them. Also, meet the world’s only somewhat realistic-looking animal. I guess riding a talking anthropomorphic bumblebee like a motorcycle would have been too weird.
Cutesy bug children pop up apropos of nothing and give them a flower chain for no reason. Are they obsessive fans of Cornelius who follow him around hoping to throw flowers?
I’m not a huge fan of Cornelius’ bowl haircut. Or his outfit. Or his personality, really. He and Thumbelina are both pretty shallow. I remember my main impression of this movie as a teenager was that Cornelius was near-indistinguishable from the Toad and Mole – same motivation and everything, he was just better-looking. Of course, the Toad and Mole are clearly villains and do some awful things, but ultimately there’s not much to Cornelius rather than “wants to marry Thumbelina.”
Anyway they go on a romantic flight, soaring romantically over a creek and floating romantically around a pumpkin… I mean, it’s a pumpkin. It’s an odd mix of “cutesy and campy” and “feels like they were trying to go for stirring and majestic, but didn’t quite make it.”
They go home and promise to see each other again, with a vague sort-of proposal. Thumbelina gives Cornelius the necklace – of forget-me-nots. This is actually kind of brilliant. Forget-me-nots are perfectly sized for these guys, but also there’s an old superstition that a girl giving a guy forget-me-nots would be followed by bad fortune. Sure enough, Thumbelina goes to sleep in her walnut shell, but is suddenly kidnapped by a toad! And here I ask: They couldn’t have had the kidnapping scene focus on Thumbelina trying to escape, rather than a comic relief side character cartoonishly attempting to rescue her?
It’s hard for me to put into words how much I dislike the toad characters.
And now we get Jaquimo, and with him the film’s absolute worst plothole. Many people have commented on it. Why doesn’t he just fly Thumbelina away from the waterfall? Why doesn’t he fly her back to her house? What’s a jitterbug and why are they here?
Yes, the jitterbugs. Let’s get more cutesy. “ARE YOU WEALLLLLY GONNA MARRY THE FAIWY PWINCE?!” Actually, I’m not sure what these things are, since they superficially resemble various bugs and insects – ladybugs and butterflies and things – but are, in a few cases, so cartoonish that they’re barely recognizable as insects. And then there’s the can-can-dancing birds. (Note: this song got stuck in my head for quite some time after watching this movie.)
I have to question some of the set pieces here. Why is there a random book lying there in the mud? Does this area have a really bad littering problem?
The Beetle arrives, being yet another more distinctly non-insectoid insect. Actually, the beetles just look like blue humans with wings. Interesting design choice with making the antennae into a moustache, but still.
0/10 on the voice talent, Berkeley. (Who allowed Gilbert Gottfried to sing? Was he really paid for this?)
-2/10 on the costuming, Berkeley. You wanted her to spin around, why did you put her in that easily-dismantled outfit?
Anyway, Thumbelina gets thrown out by the beetles and IMMEDIATELY DESPAIRS, but Jaquimo gives her a pep talk and they part ways, with Jaquimo planning to go to Fairyland. However, winter is coming and the search seems fruitless so far. It bears noting that autumn just started two days ago, and we’re already moving on into blizzards. Jaquimo reacts with mild surprise and dismay to the GIANT THORN STICKING COMPLETELY THROUGH HIS WING
Meanwhile Cornelius gets frozen, later to be found by the Beetle and Toad. (The Toad has torn off the Beetle’s wings, which was pretty horrifying to me, but the Beetle keeps saying “Give them back.” What is he going to do with them? Can he reattach his limbs?)
Alone in the snow, Thumbelina finds a conveniently abandoned shoe and sock. This place really does have a littering problem!
We cut back briefly to Thumbelina’s mother, who sings her own version of “Soon.” Personally, it doesn’t feel very emotional to me. I would have focused on the voice acting in this scene, rather than the sad-looking ugly animals.
Thumbelina wakes up with Mrs. Fieldmouse, who tells her with impeccable tact that Cornelius is dead. Immediately, they visit the Mole and Mrs. Fieldmouse starts working on getting Thumbelina to marry him. She, of course, uses song and dance to convince her. Here I have a question: Why does Thumbelina keep switching between looking annoyed and dancing along to the song? I notice it here in Marry the Mole, I noticed it earlier in the toads’ song…
Anyway, our heroine finds and saves Jaquimo, who has finally noticed that having a thorn in his wing is kind of painful. Displaying his gloriously one-track mind, he flies off to the Vale of the Fairies to find Cornelius, leaving her alone again. (I’ve written about the implications of this elsewhere.) Anyway, the Toad and Beetle abandon their Cornelius-sicle. The baby Jitterbugs find it and, unlike literally everyone else, decide that he must still be alive inside there. How do they know that? And how does that work?
They light a tiny fire under the ice cube, which somehow melts without dripping onto it and putting it out immediately.
Meanwhile Thumbelina is mooning her way up the aisle surrounded by visions of her lost love, probably confusing the guests. Fortunately, she decides to leave and charges off, avoiding the Toad as well. Toad, Mole and wedding party give chase, but are blocked by a revived Cornelius. We don’t get to see him wake up or anything, he’s just there. He whips his sword back and forth. The Toad grabs a club. The fight begins.
And we promptly discover that Cornelius is useless in a fight, as he gets knocked over and then apparently forgets he can fly.
Okay, anyway, Thumbelina gets out and meets Jaquimo, who flies her to the Vale of the Fairies. Thumbelina is a Gloomy Gus, but sings and her voice somehow, for some reason, causes spring to arrive. (Winter lasted maybe a few days. The timeline’s unclear.) Cornelius returns, they’re happy, they kiss, Thumbelina gets wings. This is never fully explained - except by Jaquimo’s theme song - “ Your dreams will fly on magICal wings when you follow your heart.” They get married and ride away through the rainbows on their giant monster bumblebee. The end.
I half-like this movie. It’s grown on me over time, actually. I’m not pleased with the design choices, or Jaquimo’s extreme obnoxiousness. It’s also weird how Don Bluth is mimicking the Disney formula, while Disney’s contemporary heroines were becoming proactive and spunky, Thumbelina primarily reacts to the things happening around her. Other people put forth the effort to rescue her, while she despairs or flat-out faints. It’s not until the end that she finally stands up for herself and walks out of her wedding without any help at all, which is admittedly a pretty good scene.
And as far as playing with the source material goes, Bluth’s attempts at improving on the source material sometimes create gaping new plot holes. (See Jaquimo.) And while Bluth ties together some things that the original fairytale left hanging, he also leaves many questions unanswered (like how Thumbelina can suddenly bring back spring).
(Originally posted on Tumblr.)
This website is based on my research into folklore.