I've been on a fairy research track recently, mainly going through my "Little Folk" page and trying to fact-check and add citations. That's going to be a long process.
On the way, I came across the book Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland, by Barbara Rieti. It took a while to get a copy through Interlibrary Loan, but I really enjoyed it.
It's Rieti's research, and a lot of the text is from recordings of interviews she had with locals. It's a great look into the folklore of Newfoundland, with meticulous sources and connections to previously recorded folklore.
There are also some interesting points about how folklore starts. It's easy to think of traditional stories as being hundreds of years old, off in some forgotten time, but Rieti mentions some real people, community figures whose oddities passed into local legends. Some of these cases were very recent.
In one case, Rieti was tracking down the source of a tale about a little girl named Lucy Harris who had been stolen away by fairies. To her shock, it turned out that the little girl was not only still alive, but only in her sixties, and rather offended by people bothering her about the story. In reality, she had been lost in the woods for more than a week, unable to move due to hypothermia, and eating snow to survive. Her legs had to be amputated. Rieti calls it "the most embarrassing episode in my fieldwork" but it is really enlightening. She also quotes some of the contemporary news articles, where miscommunications and misquotes are rampant, contributing to the spread of the local legend.
If you're interested in Newfoundland folklore or just how academic research is conducted, check out this book. It was hard for me to find a copy, but it was worth the hassle.
The Greatest Showman is a shiny, sugar-coated musical version of P. T. Barnum’s rise to fame.
I’ve written a couple of times about Charles Stratton, who used the stage name General Tom Thumb. Although there's been a documentary about him and he's been depicted in a few plays or movies about Barnum, this is the first time I've seen his story told onscreen.
Stratton is played by Sam Humphrey, who has skeletal dysplasia and actually stands 4’2”. (The real Stratton was a little over two feet tall when he began performing as a child, and eventually reached 3.25 feet.) Also, Humphrey’s voice is much higher in interviews. In the movie, he’s been dubbed with a different, deeper voice. I did think his face bore a pretty good resemblance to the real Stratton's and I liked his performance overall.
I had a feeling that his role might be little more than a cameo. The movie is about Barnum, not Stratton, after all. However, it turns out that General Tom Thumb is instrumental to the plot at a couple of points.
P. T. Barnum lives in poverty with his wife and two children until he comes up with the idea of opening his own museum. While at the bank seeking a loan, Barnum notices Charles, a sharp-tongued young man only two feet tall. (Here, he’s twenty-two years old, but in real life he was only four when he met Barnum.) Barnum then goes home and notices his daughter’s picture book about Tom Thumb, which gives him the rest of his inspiration. Instead of a museum full of wax figures and stuffed animals, he needs something living. Out to the street he goes, posting advertisements for human “oddities." He also pays a visit to the Stratton home, where he wins Charles over.
Out of the crowd of performers, Charles Stratton and the bearded lady Lettie Lutz have the most lines and the most screen time. (There’s also Zendaya as an acrobat who falls in love with Zac Efron.) The group quickly bonds and comes to see each other as family, as well as rediscover their self-worth and confidence. I would have liked to see more of their performances, but it’s mainly people dancing around with an occasional CGI lion or elephant thrown in.
In reality, when Barnum took five-year-old Stratton on tour through England, his shows consisted of acting, singing, telling jokes, and doing impressions. (Again - five years old.) After a lot of work, Barnum managed to get them an audience with Queen Victoria. This allowed them to come back to America and start advertising with more gusto than ever.
The movie has a brief, creative adaptation of this. After the circus finds success in America, Zac Efron’s character obtains the invitation offscreen, and the whole circus family just bops over the Atlantic to visit the queen. When they have their audience, Queen Victoria specifically mentions having heard of General Tom Thumb. In turn, he manages to make her laugh with an irreverent comment. The visit is a success, and while at court, Barnum meets the opera singer Jenny Lind. This launches the movie into its next act.
I’d recommend this movie if you’re looking for a fun family film with lots of singing and dancing. My mom went with me to the theater and she loved it. Personally I liked the actors and the music. It’s not historically accurate and doesn’t try to be, but I don’t mind that. From the trailers, I expected that it would gloss over the reality in favor of feel-good follow-your-dreams be-yourself Hollywood glitter. It met my expectations there.
I do mind that it wipes away anything uncomfortable. Rather than exploitation, Barnum’s work is “a celebration of humanity.” Plus, other than lying to get a loan from the bank, Barnum doesn’t do much hoaxing. We see him exaggerating things, such as putting an already tall man on stilts, but we never see him fabricate anything. There are no Fiji mermaids here. There's certainly no Joice Heth (an elderly slave woman whom Barnum advertised as George Washington's 160-year-old "mammy"). So when Barnum talks about wanting to do something ‘real’ for once, or embraces his title as the Prince of Humbug, it’s a little confusing. His performers may be exaggerated, but they’re still genuine.
I would love to see something that delves more into the historical events and lets Barnum be his real, problematic self. I’d especially love to see a movie devoted to Charles Stratton or his wife Lavinia Warren.
Tom Thumb and Thumbelina are closely associated in pop culture, for obvious reasons. They've starred together in two direct-to-video movies. They appear as a couple in Shrek 2. I've also found mistaken statements that General Tom Thumb's wife used the stage name Thumbelina.
It's interesting to see how these crossovers treat the characters. The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina was basically just a retelling of Thumbelina; despite getting first billing, Tom was barely the deuteragonist and bore no resemblance whatsoever to his original fairytale. Tom Thumb Meets Thumbelina seems like it took inspiration from both fairytales, but otherwise just kind of . . . does its own thing.
In a Nutshell, by Susan Price, is a fairly short book published in 1983. It can be a little hard to find in libraries. The main characters, Thumb and Thumbling, are a pair of tiny fairies who anger King Oberon. As punishment, he takes away their powers and gives them to human families. However, the tiny man and woman decide to find each other and get back to Fairyland - which is a tall order for a couple of people only two inches tall.
It's one of the most interesting mashup of thumbling tales I've read.
Though Thumb is (like Tom Thumb) based in England, and his parents use that name once, his adventures of riding in a horse's ear and being used to fetch stolen goods for robbers are all Thumbling. Thumbling, given to a lonely woman in Denmark, is Thumbelina, and the quest and conclusion are strongly based on The Young Giant.
The characters are unlikeable. They're supposed to be unlikeable, as fairies are played up as uncompassionate creatures, but it's still hard to get invested when they act as callous as they do. They only start to come around and grow into better people near the end. One touch I liked was how much we see the danger of their lives; Price does a pretty good job of making it feel like they are constantly threatened. Even their adopted parents could easily harm them, and overpower them by far.
I don't think this book is going to be remembered as a classic or anything like that, but it was an interesting read, and I have it on my bookshelf now.
You don't see thumblings in pop culture that much, so I take an interest whenever anyone does adaptations. I collect dolls, and one of my Christmas presents this year was an Ever After High doll: Nina Thumbell.
Ever After High is a doll franchise by Mattel. The basic concept is that the dolls are all the children of fairytale characters. One day, they're all supposed to live out the fairytales like their parents before them, but some of them rebel against this idea.
As you may have already guessed, Nina is the daughter of Thumbelina. No, the doll is not thumb-sized. This character can magically grow and shrink. More on that later.
I have mixed feelings on her fashion sense. I like how her skirt resembles a tulip, but the plaid shirt is kind of weird, and my mom remarked that her vine boots looked like green silly string. Seeing the doll in person, the color combo is growing on me. I also like that the face molds are now more unique and expressive, although in other areas the new dolls lack the small details that appeared with older dolls. (For instance, the box doesn't include a doll stand as the older ones did, and Nina lacks the earrings that she wears in promo art.)
I will say she is very fun to pose.
Unlike the other dolls, Nina's box does not include a diary, but has only a small card bearing a brief description.
The lack of a diary was the one thing that really disappointed me when I opened the box.
Nina does appear as a cheerleader in the diary of another character, Faybelle Thorn, and in one of the tie-in books, Fairy's Got Talent by Suzanne Selfors (2015). She isn't really fleshed out there, but seems mainly cautious and fearful and tends to go with the flow. This contrasts with her fearless characterization in other media.
She is allied with the Rebels, the faction thats want to throw off their destinies, rather than the Royals, who want to follow in their parents' footsteps. She really only gets a spotlight once, in her webisode Thumb-believable. The other characters shrink down to her size so that she can give them a tour of Ever After High as she sees it. There are some pretty fun scenes where they climb through the walls and enter Nina's room, which appears to be inside a locker. She loves exploring and has a pet cat.
Her profile page on the Ever After High website provides more information on her personality.
What does that mean?
In this aspect, Nina is like the "animal" characters (like the Cheshire Cat's and White Rabbit's daughters) who can turn into human form. These are characters that are marketed as dolls - not, notably, the Three Little Pigs or the Billygoats Gruff. A proportional Nina doll would be a tiny speck, not really a great doll to play with.
However, her power kind of breaks the story. It's hard to see how the challenges Thumbelina faces would be challenges if she could shoot up to five foot three at any time.
One person on a fan wiki suggested this was because of Nina's fairy heritage from her father, which I thought that was clever.
Because her fairytale's about people trying to force her into marriage
A short joke, but also suggests a side of her that hasn't been seen yet.
Because she's a flower fairy.
Another short joke.
And that's about all there is to know about Nina Thumbell at this point. Unfortunately, considering the direction Ever After High has been going recently, I'm concerned that we may not see much more of its characters, including Nina. I'd love to see more books featuring her.
I went to see Moana on Thanksgiving and enjoyed it very much, even though I wasn't expecting it to be particularly good. One thing I was particularly delighted with was that Disney finally used something that wasn't straight European, Grimm or Andersen. I don't think they've used mythology since Hercules, either.
In some ways it felt like a return to the princess musical formula, and in others it was a departure. The animation was beautiful and realistic.
It was also, like their recent adaptations such as Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, more inspired by the tales than a straight retelling.
(Some of the following may be spoilers.)
They reference Maui being thrown into the ocean by his mother Taranga and raised by the gods, raising the islands from the sea, raising the sky, and catching the sun (which is very similar to other stories I've written about). The story of him stealing the heart from the island goddess is reminiscent of the Maori tale where he tries to steal immortality for humans from the goddess Hine-nui-te-pō and dies in the attempt.
They left out Maui's multiple brothers, whose number varies by version, but all of whom are also named Maui.
He was apparently a miraculous birth. He was born premature and unformed, or miscarried. Some sources say he was miscarried or aborted. The result is that his mother threw him into the ocean, but there the seaweed wrapped around him to save him. A god found him and raised him. Maui eventually returned to his mother, proved his identity, and his family accepted him. There are many different versions. Edward Tregear's Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary lists quite a few of them.
Overall, I'd recommend this one. Disney's been making some good movies, but none of their films have wowed me like this for a while now.
Fairy Tale: A True Story is available on Netflix now. It’s based on the story of the Cottingley Fairies, which I’m fascinated by, so I gave it a watch, skipping through some scenes because it was late. I enjoyed it more than I expected.
It is indeed based on a true story. Starting in 1917, two cousins in Cottingley, England, named Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, produced photographs of themselves with what appeared to be real, live fairies.
It’s strange to think that these photographs convinced so many. Even with the camera quality, their gnomes and sprites look flat and sharp-edged, like paper cutouts . . . which, of course, they were. Elsie’s father picked up on this, but somehow the “proof” of real fairies became huge news. This was mainly thanks to one of their most prominent champions, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, the creator of Sherlock Holmes was totally on board with it.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that Frances and Elsie admitted that it had all been faked. The delicate, dancing figures were copied from picture books onto cardboard and supported with hatpins. They still maintained, however, that they had really seen fairies.
The film, which came out in 1997, wholly embraces the idea of the real live fairies. They are constantly flittering around. However, this makes the film somewhat disturbing on another note, because so much of it is about faith and belief in things unseen, in a higher power. It opens with a performance of Peter Pan, with the lead character crying, "Clap if you believe in fairies!" The audience of children applauds and cheers. One character is having a crisis of faith and searching for hope after her son's death; characters talk about belief again and again. And then it all turns out to be real. Yay!! But the “true story” it’s based on was a hoax. The filmmakers most definitely knew that it was a hoax. The end result is that the film feels like a mockery.
That said, we never actually see the girls take a photo. And in one of the final scenes of the movie, juxtaposed with two other cases revealing hoaxes, a reporter discovers the paper fairies on their hatpins, in exactly the poses from the photo. However, the scene then turns around, and the supernatural takes back over. A ghost appears and frightens him away. The movie later ends with fairies filling the family's house and even the skeptical father finally being convinced.
Perhaps the filmmakers were trying to portray the girls in the most positive light. Frances and Elsie always said, even after confessing to the hoax, that they really had seen fairies. Still, I don’t think it’s right to market this to children as "A True Story," with taglines like "Believe!" because it cheapens the truth. It's like saying "You can believe in this thing! Well, in this case, the proof turned out to be a bald-faced lie, but you should still believe in the thing because it's a happy thing that brings you joy!"
And the fairies feel like a marketing ploy.
That's right - there were books and a doll line. "Fairies of Cottingley Glen." But at least it was well-researched.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist who by all accounts wanted to believe. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an alcoholic who suffered from epilepsy and depression, and spent the latter part of his life in a mental institution. While there, he filled sketchbooks with elaborate, fantastical artwork of elves and fairies. The movie touches briefly on this and it makes Doyle's motivations much more understandable.
There was one scene that I actually stopped and rewound because the girls are walking through the woods calling the names of the fairies, and they’re all names from real folklore. A cast list reveals the names of even more fairies.
I've read about the Cottingley Fairies before, on the Internet and in The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World, by Mary Losure. This book is written for children, but is a great read and incredibly well-researched. However, like the movie, it still clings to the idea that the girls really did see fairies, and they faked the photos because . . . um . . . they saw fairies.
Back to the movie. There’s beautiful scenery, the effects have aged surprisingly well, and I found myself enjoying it overall. Still, I was still bothered by that whole faith/fakery complex, and also the feeling that the fairies were real so that the moviemakers could sell toys. I would have much preferred to see the movie simply reveal that yes, the fairies were faked, and leave it at that, with maybe a faint hint at real supernatural events rather than full-blown "FAIRIES ARE REAL AND THEY'RE IN YOUR HOUSE." Even better, it'd be nice to see the girls actually taking the photos.
(I must say, I never expected to see Dame Habetrot or the Shellycoat marketed as cute, big-eyed Barbies with fluorescent hair. The Shellycoat!)
Other titles: The Princess and the Magic Mirror, Meñique y el espejo mágico (original)
This movie not technically a thumbling story. It’s a thumbling story insofar as Le Petit Poucet is. Here, Meñique, or Tom Little, is extremely short, about half the height of anyone else. It comes from the fairytale “Meñique,” published by Jose Martí in La edad de oro in 1889. Since then, it has become something of a cultural touchstone in Cuba. A very small peasant boy finds magical tools, defeats a troll, and marries a princess. Basic stuff.
It’s actually Martí’s translation of a tale called “Poucinet,” published in French in 1864. And that tale was based on a Finnish story. I haven’t found the original, but it seems to be a mashup of “Boots and his Brothers” and “Boots Who Made the Princess Say 'That’s a Story.”
This movie was Cuba’s first ever full-length CG animated movie, and they had to basically make it up as they went, because they didn’t have access to other countries’ technology. That cuts this movie a little slack, but not enough, because it is just plain bad by any standard you try to hold it to. I wonder if they just jumped into too much too soon.
On to the story. It takes place in this really weird fairytale world that sometimes has highly advanced technology.
It begins with some landscapes and music that are actually pretty nice. Then we see the city at night, where a thief clad in a skin-tight purple outfit is crossing rooftops, stealing gold and distributing it to poor families Robin Hood-style. Anyway, when she flees from some guards, she drops a compact mirror into a peasant’s cart.
The peasant—Tom Little’s brother, Peter—travels home and we see a little of the odd fairytale kingdom, which is home to fairies, a sea monster, a fire-breathing dragon, giant spiders, and so on. The pacing so far is very slow. (Is that Don Quixote?)
The cart approaches a tiny house in the middle of a desert. We learn via infodump/guy shouting at a portrait that the three brothers are destitute after their father’s death, and Paul blames Tom for convincing their father not to sell the farm when it was still worth money. We see that Tom is walking around on mechanical stilts, singing and tending the farm with the help of cute little animals.
Tom tries to cheer everyone up, saying that they’ll soon have luck with the farm. Suddenly crops sprout from the field. Hurray! … wut? Then a cloud of bugs flies in and devours the whole thing in seconds. What? What just happened?
Apparently this is a plague that’s forcing them to move on, but that was still a bizarre turn of events.
Back to the city, where the greedy King is taking a bath in gold coins (which msut be painful). His advisor and nephew – my notes read “who I thought was a woman but may not be”– accompanies him everywhere. When the King’s daughter, Princess Denise, asks for money for some new outfits, the king lies that he’s too low on funds. The conversation turns to her future husband. Her mother gave her a “soulmate mirror” that she wants to use; however, the king secretly doesn’t plan to let the princess choose her own husband.
In her room, the princess has a 2D-animated daydream of meeting her knight in shining armor and saving him with a hang glider. However, upon looking for her mirror, she realizes to her horror that it’s missing.
Of course, we already know that it’s at Tom’s house. When he’s moping outside that night, he finds it and it begins to speak in an incredibly annoying squeaky voice peppered with French phrases. I can’t stress how annoying this thing is. It shows him a hologram of the princess, his true love (how convenient that it ended up with him).
Meanwhile, the king’s nephew is approached by a green-skinned, broom-riding witch. It turns out she’s his mother, the king’s sister-in-law, who’s returned from the dead with new powers. (I sense some backstory here, but we don’t really get much.) They come up with a plan to steal the king’s gold and have the nephew marry the princess (who is his cousin, just to be clear).
The witch happens to have a “cutting-edge magic wand, the last of its kind” (oxymoron?). She uses it to make a tree grow to a huge size and surround the castle, with a sound effect which I’m pretty sure comes from iMovie.
The king calls for woodcutters to cut down the massive tree, but any cuts they make instantly grow back. It has surrounded the whole palace and instantly regenerates from any cut. Apparently the court has begun using beer and wine for showers because their well is also blocked by a stone. The advisor plants the idea that the king should offer the princess’ hand in marriage in exchange for cutting down the tree.
With their farm doomed, Peter and Paul are heading off to the city. Turns out Tom has snuck along in their wagon. They come across a town just in time to hear the royal decree that the person who cuts down the tree will get the princess’ hand in marriage. Tom recognizes her picture and is awestruck. Shortly afterwards, with his brothers encouraging him in order to get rid of him, he follows a melody up a hill into an enchanted forest. And then a rapping axe appears.
Here, my notes read “It is still rapping. I think I’m in pain.”
After a brief altercation, Tom frees the axe from a tree and sweet-talks/reverse psychologies it into coming along to cut down the tree. When he holds the handle, the axe flies him away Marvel Thor-style to meet the next tool, a shy, deaf pickaxe. Their next stop is at a singing fountain, which accompanies Tom as a really freaky-looking nut.
The purple-clad thief is out and about again. So the king is being stolen from by his nephew and his daughter both at once. He’s greedy and all, but you know. Meanwhile, the witch spots her. “My wicked instinct tells me that I must follow that little thief.”
The thief sees Peter and Paul racing along in their cart—they’ve just encountered a giant and are fleeing. At an inn, they are surprised to encounter Tom. He declares that he knows how to open the well and cut down the tree, to much mockery. Many great woodsmen have already failed—we even see the Grim Reaper standing in line with his scythe.
The thief, who recognizes Peter as the peasant whose cart she dropped her compact mirror in, enters their room to look for it and accidentally awakens them. Tom chases after her with his flying pickaxe. The witch realizes that Tom has the magical objects and starts throwing spells at him. Her wand still makes iMovie sound effects. With the situation drastically changed, the thief helps fight off the witch, and the two heroes both end up riding away on the broom. The two end up on a tower and Tom grabs her, because she may have helped him, but she also broke into his room. She protests that she was just looking for her compact mirror. Tom claims he hasn’t seen it (although he has, really). However, the compact appears from Tom’s pocket and shows them that Peter was the one who stole that money.
Inside the church, they talk more. Tom explains that his soulmate is the princess. When told that the princess is vain and self-centered, he says her eyes are intelligent and kind like the thief’s. Oooh, love is in the air.
But the thief says that she thinks the princess will want to marry a prince and she can’t picture her with Tom. She’s acting fairly mean as she pokes fun at Tom, asking how they would kiss on their wedding day. Tom tries to demonstrate, and she smacks him.
In the morning, Peter and Paul try to tag-team the tree. It almost works but then the tree turns them into puppets. They end up in the stocks and condemned to harsh punishments. I don’t know why. We didn’t see this happen with anyone else.
Tom arrives to try his luck, and everyone laughs. The guards are about to drag him away when the princess asks the king to have mercy. With the magical tools, Tom manages to shrink the tree to its former size, replace the well with an elaborate fountain, and fill it with clean water. The King announces that Tom will marry the princess in one week; however, the princess doesn’t seem impressed
Meanwhile, Tom’s brothers have teamed up with the advisor and the witch. We learn the witch can’t step on a shadow or she’ll be sent back to the “world of darkness.” They plan to tunnel under the castle to the king’s treasury, and plot to send Tom to his death by making him fight the giant. (Remember the giant?) The witch sends the princess an enchanted peach to eat.
Tom wakes to find his brothers weeping by his bed, apparently asking for forgiveness, but they were actually replacing his magical objects with fakes. The magical objects themselves are pressed into service in the task of tunneling under the castle, and believe that Tom has betrayed them. I don’t know why.
Tom goes to visit the princess, who—surprise!—is under an enchantment, has greenish skin and is acting cruel. She demands that he capture the giant to be her servant. As Tom leaves, she kisses the advisor. Fortunately, the magic mirror awakens her from the curse, and she faints.
Out in the woods, Tom approaches the giant’s home. He’s angry with the princess, and realizes that “it’s her I’m in love with!”, apparently referring to the thief. Just then, the giant named Talos arrives, and Tom realizes that his tools are missing. He’ll have to talk his way out of this one. Back at the castle, Princess Denise is woken by the mirror and realizes that she has sent Tom off to his doom.
At the giant’s house, Tom and the giant are having an eating contest. This is meant to prove whether Tom is honest, so naturally, he wins by cheating, pretending to eat while actually hiding the food in a bag. Then he claims that he’s full and wants to empty out his stomach a little, and cuts the bag open. The terrified giant agrees to do what he wants and they become firm friends, united by the bond of mutual trust and honesty. Woo.
“We’ll teach the king’s petulant daughter a lesson,” Tom claims.
The witch’s evil plot to steal the king’s gold (as opposed to the princess’s good plot to steal the king’s gold) is going well. Tom’s brothers laugh gleefully at thought of Tom’s painful death. The tools overhear this and escape through the tunnels; the nut creates a flood that washes all of the gold into the tunnels.
Still thinking that Tom is in danger, and knowing that he’ll blame her, the princess changes into her thief outfit. The mirror singsongs, “The princess loves Tom, the princess loves Tom,” showing off its great sense of priorities.
The advisor sends the guards after the thief. She’s cornered until the giant arrives with Tom just in time. The king thanks Tom for capturing the thief and names him a Duke, but Tom turns it down and announces that he has fallen in love with the (surprised) thief.
The thief explains that the princess was bewitched and the king is hoarding a fortune. She slips up and calls the king “Father,” prompting Tom to pull off her mask and realize that it really is her.
Suddenly, the witch reappears and turns the king into a baby. She sends Tom, the princess and the baby king into a cave filled with lava, and pursues them as a dragon. They keep zapping to new dangerous places, where she becomes different monsters. Back at the castle, after much prompting, the giant manages to destroy her wand, which brings the group back to reality. The witch stumbles into a shadow and is sucked back into the underworld, taking her son with her.
Cut to the church, where Tom and the princess are being married, with all of the characters in the congregation. The princess once more mocks Tom’s small stature (are we really supposed to like her?), but then backs down the steps so that they’re at the same height. The movie ends as they kiss.
The CGI is bad, but as said before, that can be excused. The stilted wooden dialogue and ugly, unappealing character designs are harder to get past.
Also, scenes end abruptly with no conclusion, leaving them feeling unfinished. They always end with a fading out effect that often doesn’t seem appropriate to the mood. In one case, I almost missed a significant plot point because it was on screen for half a second before it started to fade out.
There’s also a recurring problem with the female characters. The princess, witch and background characters are often so ridiculously big-busted and wasp-waisted that she makes Barbies look realistic. Their clothes are very tight or low-cut and some of them appear to be wearing bodypaint rather than actual clothing.
There are quite a few references, like a scene where the Grim Reaper is in line to cut down the tree, and I think Don Quixote pops up at one point. There is a truly surprising line from the hatchet about “volunteer work for the Hobbits of the Shire.”
There were quite a few plot points that were baffling at first or just plain baffling, like Peter and Paul being thrown into the stocks with no prior explanation. Some of it can be blamed on the dub. At one point, Tom scoffs, “A giant as a servant? I’d rather make a jar of juice with half an orange.”
This seems to be a reference or pun that was lost in translation—the magic mirror is apparently the Magic Mirror of Half an Orange, or something like that.
It also dabbles in off-color humor, like a fountain with babies urinating, and a gag with a dog and a tree.
One of the most offputting things, however, is the characters. The princess is called “petulant” and she really is. They were trying to create a character who seemed shallow and selfish at first glance but was really kind and noble, but they keep taking steps back into shallow and selfish. Her teasing of Tom comes off as just plain nasty, and she frequently sounds like a bratty teenager, not particularly appealing. Tom himself can also be rather unappealing with his dishonesty.
In conclusion, this . . . just is not a good movie. The CGI, the character designs, the storytelling, the acting—nothing is redeemable. It seems to have gotten a fairly good reception in Cuba, Spain and Venezuela, apparently being nominated for an Goya award, but its main interest is as a point of trivia.
I’ve read some pretty thorough reviews of this movie, to the point where I questioned whether to review it myself. But I started watching it, and hoo boy. First of all, I have to say, the animation is technically superior to Tom Thumb Meets Thumbelina, but this is still one weird-looking and ugly movie.
The voiceover explains how a man from a circus discovered a kingdom of tiny people, and stole two small children. This seems badly thought out. I’m not sure how you would take care of a baby that small. I guess people raise baby bats and things like that. But how come he never went back? It’s too profitable to forget about. I need more information, movie.
Years later, Thumbelina’s now a young woman. She’s grown up in this guy’s circus and we see her prepare for and perform a show in which she does acrobatics alongside a trained monkey and mouse. I’m questioning how everyone seated in the audience can really have a good view of a mouse and a six-inch-tall girl performing from that distance. (I think the ringmaster mentions that she’s six inches tall, which is not exactly thumb- or mouse-sized, but we’ll also see later scenes where she is definitely finger-sized, i.e. no more than three inches tall. Continuity is not this movie’s strong suit. In the first scene, Thumbelina switches from nightgown to day clothes to a different nightgown.)
A note: this movie is set in modern times. The show features a King Kong pastiche complete with skyscraper and plane. Anyway, it’s a fairly good success. Thumbelina returns to her dollhouse and we get a pretty good song from her. Not because of the lyrics, though. “My heart breaks into two or maybe three”?? It does remind me of the song in Don Bluth’s Thumbelina. It’s about wanting to find love and ends with her at a window.
Now, at last, we meet Tom, who is fixing a car. He lives with an old man named Ben and three extremely ugly dogs. The two talk about the night he found Tom, and the conversation soon turns sad, as Ben sends Tom out into the world to find his own path. “I’m old and dying. LEAVE. And find love, okay, but leave.” What about the dogs, though? Is he going to send them off on quests of self-discovery too?
Meanwhile, the ringmaster nails Thumbelina’s dollhouse shut and leaves it in the dark under a blanket, on the animal cart. And, 15 minutes into the movie, the animals start talking. I think this is something that should have been introduced earlier. Thumbelina might too, as she seems surprised. Did she know that animals could talk?
Anyway, she KICKS DOWN THE DOOR – you go, girl – and manages to rappel, jump and bounce to freedom. We soon see her seated by a stream, where she briefly encounters a horribly badly drawn frog.
Little does she know that she’s almost right next to Tom Thumb. (Tom’s carrying a compass. He has a compass? There are miniature compasses that will fit in a backpack that size?!)
The next day, Thumbelina keeps strolling along, only to be interrupted by some beetles who follow her and keep insulting her. She boats off in what looks like a sardine tin. Meanwhile, some moles tunneling along at high speed notice her. Tom hears her humming and follows the noise, but he’s knocked off his feet by the moles. Twice.
The two moles return to the Mole King’s kingdom. Why do moles find a human girl beautiful? Anyway, they do, and tell him she would make the perfect bride. I actually have a hard time finding this guy threatening, but he is set up as a terrifying villain with a Hulk-level temper. Part of it is that he’s blind, and actually everyone has gotten sick of him to the point that his entire kingdom now consists of him and just two servants. Strangely, the minions are dead-set on convincing him that he’s still a powerful ruler with many courtiers. One mole switches into a maid costume, but I don’t know why. He literally just ran to the other side of the room and put on a costume in full view. There is no point to the costumes other than an unfunny joke. A minute later, they’re shaking hands with imaginary people and talking to thin air, and the king’s completely fooled.
Oh, and his throne is a shoe.
Elsewhere, Thumbelina and Tom happen to sit on opposite sides of the same tree. Hearing the moles approach, they bump into each other and immediately RUN AWAY. What—but—that’s why they were out looking around! They were looking for others like them! Why would they scream and run away from each other? Tom apparently is thinking the same thing, and turns around to go get her. However, Thumbelina glares at him, and then tackles him. Though her head’s really huge in a couple of these shots, she looks like she’s about to slug him. But she cheers up when she hears he’s also looking for little people. That’s the same thing she’s doing! Then why did you run away and then attack him?!
They’re soon chatting happily with each other about their pasts. They agree to team up, only to then be interrupted by the bugs, who have brought their mother. She thinks Tom’s cute but they make fun of Thumbelina’s name. Tom laughs too OH THANKS TOM
And we learn that our two main characters, who have been bonding after finally finding someone else like them, haven’t even learned each other’s names yet!! They argue over whose name is sillier, she insults his height, he calls her rude, and where is this going? Why are they fighting? The mother bug tells Tom, “I don’t think there’s magic in this relationship.” OH SURE
This is so stupid. Thumbelina has her back turned. Tom’s struggling and grunting as they’re hold their hands over his mouth, but she just assumes he doesn’t like her. She doesn’t even look back before storming off! Tom gets free, runs after her, and tells her she’s his friend. It’s like watching small children interact.
Then he turns the other way as he asks her to come with him. On cue, the moles grab her. And he assumes she just wasn’t interested in hanging out! THESE PEOPLE. The Mole King is smitten with Thumbelina and starts planning their wedding on the spot. Thumbelina refuses because “there’s someone else” YEAH SOMEONE YOU DON’T GET ALONG WITH HALF THE TIME
Tom returns to the bugs, who are bringing him food when they throw in Thumbelina’s shoe that fell off when she was kidnapped. He recognizes it immediately because who else wears Size -60 shoes? He finds the moles’ hole right away and knows what’s going on. Why? He hasn’t even met the moles. For all he knows Thumbelina’s shoe just happened to fall off. But then a huge shadow comes over all of them, they scream, oh dear
As the Mole shows Thumbelina around, she looks in one of the holes and sees a blue bird tied up, so she goes in that one. YOU DON’T KNOW THAT BIRD THUMBELINA STRANGER DANGER STRANGER DANGER
Thumbelina’s untying her when they overhear the moles planning to make “sparrow quiche.” (Aren’t sparrows normally brown?)
Thumbelina jumps on the sparrow’s back and they get out, somehow, through a back way we didn’t see before. The sparrow, Albertine, reveals that she can’t fly, having been imprisoned since chickhood. Those moles are really devoted to their quiche recipe. They’re probably using cheese passed down from their grandparents.
The mole minions pursue them through the tunnels, until they jump up and land in a birds’ nest. The moles, meanwhile, are scared off by a warthog. I didn’t take this seriously when I first read a review. But it is real. There is actually a scene with a warthog. Are warthogs indigenous to this area? Is it just a wild boar? I don’t know. But this is a real scene.
Thumbelina gets all coy about Tom and wants to go back and find him right away. She’s certainly changed her tune. But they’re interrupted when Thumbelina is also abducted by a giant shadow. Cut to her in an odd-looking laboratory filled with sad-looking caged mice. Her bottle is set right next to Tom’s and the bugs’, where they can look over the desk of a creepy little kid who’s preparing cotton balls with ether to kill his specimens. Thumbelina manages to break free and knock the kid out with his own ether. As they escape, she stops to free the mice.
Outside, she and Tom join the procession of mice, who are … suddenly … carrying … food. Huh. The mice thank them and take them along to their village, where they’re greeted by others. These others don’t seem particularly surprised to see them, but do seem to know exactly what happened even though I didn’t see anyone explain the story.
Okay, I want to step back for a moment and look at that weird little kid.
But anyway. Just for fun: compare the circus mouse to the wild mice.
Don’t do drugs, kids.
The mice declare a celebration, and one takes Thumbelina off to get dressed up. Which means basically, “Come into my parlor and I’ll do your hair exactly like mine! MUAHAAHA I mean how’s the weather.”
(Incidentally, the annoying boy-crazy bugs are present, and decide to focus their efforts on the mice. What is it with these beetles? They’ll be extinct soon!)
Out by a waterfall (a standard romantic backdrop), Tom and Thumbelina sing a song. They’re trying hard to make “cha cha cha” romantic but it’s not working. My dad watched one minute of this and declared it worse than the Ice Cream Bunny’s Thumbelina.
With the song over, they’re about to kiss, when the moles (who’ve been spying on them the whole time) grab Tom and somehow tie him up in about .5 seconds. They work fast. The Mole King arrives and demands a dance with Thumbelina, prompting me to ask how well he can actually see, as he’s not crashing into everything whenever he moves. However, he does fall right back down the molehol with Thumbelina. The angry mice converge, prompting the mole minions to drop Tom and flee. Tom and the others begin to plan a rescue mission.
Meanwhile, the Mole King tells Thumbelina that Tom is his prisoner and threatens to hurt him, so she agrees to th marriage. As Tom and friends approach, Thumbelina gets a scene I’ve been wondering about for a while. Namely, she asks the moles why they stay and help the Mole King. Apparently they’re scared of him and don’t have anywhere else to go. This does seem reminiscent of real-life bus, but it still seems odd to me. They get nothing out of this relationship. And so far we haven’t really seen him display any power at all. He’s just been kind of bumbling.
Time for the wedding. But now Tom arrives! “Thumbelina loves me! I think.” Well, that’s stirring.
Thumbelina gives the Mole King a monocle to prove that he only has two minions. Realizing that he’s been tricked, he grows furious, and a chase/fight song begins. Tom briefly wields a needle as a sword, which is a nice nod to the original character, but I have to ask: where did he get that? You don’t normally find needles just lying around. Anyway, he smashes the King’s monocle and the King is now extremely angry and starts hulk-rage-screaming and clawing his way through the dirt, but he also seems to be … quoting Shakespeare? And there are more animation errors with the mole minions.
Our heroes jump off a cliff and are caught by Albertine, while the now-incoherently screaming King tunnels straight out through the side of the cliff and falls to his presumed death. The minions immediately begin fighting over his crown.
Albertini hasn’t learned to land, so they keep flying back through the waterfall, through a cave, and into a strange valley. The bird casually notices a village of little people and decides to crash there. The village is pretty strange; in contrast to the modern world we’ve seen so far, it’s like a step back in time to fairy-tale era, with kings, queens, and a tiny castle in the background. And this is where the movie hits a bizarre skip and goes from quirky modern retelling, to old-fashioned cliche fairytale style. It’s hard to tell what to make of it.
Thumbelina’s locket has been appearing and disappearing through this whole scene via continuity error. Spotting it, the villagers welcome her as the long-lost Princess Maia. Apparently they know long-lost royal family jewelry by sight.
Her parents, the king and queen, arrive to greet her. They immediately introduce Prince Pointy Chin. “OUR LONG LOST DAUGHTER, RETURNED AT LAST! Now, marry this stranger.” The guy seems smarmy but not actually that bad. (As an interesting note: he had a cameo earlier! Watch carefully during Thumbelina’s first song.)
Naturally Thumbelina’s not interested in marrying him, so her parents reveal that this prince is actually a backup (THIS POOR GUY). The lost prince she was supposed to marry was named Horace. Aaaand it’s Tom! How convenient!
Okay, hold up. The parents arranged a backup betrothal because the original betrothed was missing. But Horace and Maia disappeared on the same night. What?! Their daughter was missing, so their move was to work out a backup betrothal, just in case she came back?
“And so, young Chin, when you come of age, you will wed the princess, or rather you won’t because she’s missing and probably dead.”
Poor Chin. But … wait. Did Horace’s parents pick out some other girl as a replacement wife for him, too? And how are there two princes in this town in addition to the royal family of Thumbelina? Maybe they’re just noblemen – but how big is this community of tiny people, that they have a royal family plus two princes?
All the mice and bugs arrive. How did they get there so fast?!? They had to fly! Through a waterfall! And over a valley! I … huh?
And so the movie ends with our happy couple, just married, riding in a carriage procession. Prince Chin has to ride with the annoying bugs. The End.
And Tom never saw the man who raised him again.
So, a few thoughts.
Tom and Thumbelina’s relationship feels shoved in. They’re the main characters so they fall in love. That’s it. Their attachment grows choppily, without much continuity, but at the same time, the moles immediately assume he’s a romantic rival. There was one thread in their relationship that seemed particularly weird to me – namely, his fear that if they actually find more people like them, she’ll find someone she likes better. The running gag of Tom’s short stature seems to play into this. Essentially, he’s got an inferiority complex. Some character development would have been nice, but we don’t get it. Instead, Prince Chin is a quick way to settle Tom’s fears and resolve the romantic plot. Even faced with a suitable, handsome (?), tall husband, the kind of guy she dreams about (as seen in her first song), Thumbelina still chooses Tom because he’s the one she’s come to truly love. Again, with more expansion it could have worked. The lack of development is partly because even though Tom’s name comes first in the title, he’s only the deuteragonist.
Thumbelina is our real main character. The story starts out with her and she’s probably the best-developed character here, with the most clearly-shown arc. She’s the one with the “I Want” song and at the end, it’s her parents we meet. This is her movie.
Overall, it feels like a rewritten version of the Andersen story – in contrast to Tom Thumb Meets Thumbelina, which seemed more descended from Tom Thumb’s story.
The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina begins with a tiny girl out of place in a big world. She makes her way into the wilderness, but still doesn’t fit in (and this turning point features a scene on the water, where she interacts with a frog/toad). She encounters bugs who mock her and call her ugly. She meets her proper mate, a tiny man/fairy prince just her size. A mole tries to force her to marry him. She saves a trapped bird who flies her to safety. Mice take her in as one of their own. At the end, she discovers a society of tiny people and her true home, becomes Princess Maia, and marries her proper mate.
The events are shuffled and altered so that Thumbelina’s much more proactive and has more power. For instance, she chooses to go out into the wild, and her royal status isn’t tied to her marriage. She’s a princess in her own right.
Overall, an interesting watch. It’s given me a surprising amount to think about. But I don’t know that I’d really recommend it, unless you’re bored (or doing research).
I’ve found quite a few reviews for The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, but none for this little 1997 gem from Golden Films. I finally watched it, and it was surprisingly bearable.
It opens with a song, led by Thumbelina flying around on a bird and making the flowers open up in the morning. Accompanied by animals and fairies, as well as a pig playing the piano (???), the song is a stirring piece that really speaks to the beauty of nature and the meaning of life. “Hi dum diddle dee, hi dum dee dum” (repeat 500x).
They play the same shot of the animals jumping down a hill at least 3 times. This is not the last time they will reuse animation. That said, I immediately prefer the art style to that used in The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina in 2002.
Thumbelina is an overworked ruler trying to keep the meadow organized while animals and fairies bicker. It reminds me a little of the Tinker Bell movies. There’s supposed to be a prince, but he was kidnapped when he was a baby (or not, we’ll get to that later). Mainly this just makes me wonder about Thumbelina’s backstory. She’s not a fairy, but they never say what she is.
Her duties include dealing with three young delinquents with really annoying voices, and here we have our our kid appeal/comic relief team. Actually, I kind of grinned at some of the interactions here (“What makes you think it was fairies?” Cut to signed graffiti).
The work’s getting to her, so she goes to ask advice from an old and inconsistently drawn tree named Oakley.
In answer to her plea for advice, he decides to tell her her own backstory. Evidently, the Fairy Queen picked two children from noble families to reign as prince and princess of the meadow. And this just raises more questions. We still don’t know what Thumbelina is. And how did she pick these babies? What were their qualifications?
So his advice on government is “wait for your prince to come and then live happily ever after.” I GUESS THAT SOLVES THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
We cut to Tom Thumb, swinging from the curtains. He’s accompanied by a dog that resembles Max from the Little Mermaid, and does not talk. (Even though every single other animal seems to talk in this world, and humans have no trouble communicating with them. Are dogs the exception?
Tom then flies around on a tiny motorcycle. I am not making this up.
He heads into another room, where an Arthur-esque king and several knights are sitting around a round table. Gee, I wonder if the snobby guy with the nasal voice and the ugly pet bird could be evil. Turns out it’s the king’s son Mordred I mean Medwin, who wants to expand the Castle and open an IHOG (international house of gruel) at the expense of the Great Meadow. The king, however, values nature. Tom tries to give input, but they don’t hear him.
He’s eating a snack in the kitchen, when the ugly bird (a raven named Edgar who says “Nevermore” all the time and sounds like a poor man’s Iago), corners a mouse. Tom runs over to defend her with a fork and they have a discussion about how he wants to be an important knight. He feels like he’s meant for more and pulls out a plot-relevant necklace and whoa, that matches Thumbelina’s necklace! What could this mean?!? Then they both get dumped into some batter by a cooking lady with a deep gravelly man’s voice. But it’s all good.
Meanwhile, Medwin meets up with some thug and plots to kidnap the king. As usual, I’m baffled by how gleeful they are at the idea of being evil. Like, you can’t have subtlety in a cartoon. And if you were wondering when this film takes place, there’s an odd reference to the War of the Roses (”just like my father to fight over a bunch of flowers”).
Thumbelina’s hiding in the bushes when suddenly the King comes riding along with Tom. Tom spots Thumbelina and they talk for a minute, when suddenly the King is kidnapped just offscreen. Tom races back to the castle and is ready to ride out to the rescue, but the knights tell him to stay put.
Tom gets suspicious after Medwin and the bird, in public, at the top of their lungs, talk about getting things done their way now and cackle out hysterical evil laughter.
Back in the meadow, the animals come running to tell Thumbelina about construction work ruining the meadow. She flies off on her bird to talk to the king. There’s a brief mention of taking away the teen delinquent fairies’ wings if they don’t shape up, which makes me wonder if Thumbelina is a wingless fairy. But she says at some point that Tom is not a fairy, implying that this isn’t the case. More on this later.
She meets Medwin, and of course trying to persuade him to save the meadow doesn’t go well. She starts to leave on her bird. Tom’s swinging on curtains again (is this how he always gets around the castle?) and they crash into each other. She assumes Tom’s part of this construction project and gets mad at him. Tom doesn’t know what she’s ranting about, but then he overhears Medwin plotting.
My notes at this point read simply, “Oh no,” because, without any preamble, there’s an abrupt cut to Medwin singing and dancing with construction workers and it’s the most bizarre, anachronistic piece of dinner theatre I’ve ever seen. They’re also reusing clips again.
There’s also a mention of tearing down the meadow, which is confusing because it’s kind of flat.
Tom Thumb arrives with Fiona in the now-fortified meadow. At first Thumbelina and the fairies think he’s a spy, but he explains the truth and lays out a plan to sabotage Medwin’s equipment. Thumbelina and the delinquents volunteer to help, and they all fly off.
We cut to a party at night in the meadow. I guess they’ll do the sabotage later?
“I think somebody spiked the nectar!” someone says in the background. WHAT?
Romance incoming. Tom and Thumbelina start chatting, and mention that The writing is usually okay, aside from the songs, but there are some non sequiturs and oddly emphasized lines.
“This might sound kinda weird but I feel kinda like I belong here.”
“This may sound even weirder but I sort of feel the same way.”
“I have some strange attachment to this meadow.”
“Like, you know, like YOU belong here.”
A song follows, and they declare their love for one another (that was quick), and … Whaaat’s he doing with his mouth?
What follows is the most awkwardly animated kissing scene I’ve ever witnessed.
On another note, Thumbelina’s outfit is weird. I thought those things on her shoulders were sleeves. They’re not. They’re just … sitting there, not attached to anything.
We cut to Medwin hearing about the sabotage, and this is when I realize that the party was to celebrate the successful mission and we just skipped over the entire thing. Medwin plots to “catch flies with honey;” meanwhile Tom’s preparing to go back and stop Medwin once and for all.
Medwin takes a frog hostage and plots to kidnap the fairies when they come to rescue. (I don’t think that’s what catching flies with honey means.) He tosses a turtle away when it tries to stop him, and it lands right in front of Thumbelina’s throne. Hearing the news, she and the delinquents rush off to save the frog. Medwin has completely immobilized the frog by tying his tongue to a piece of grass. (Wow, really?) However, in the process of freeing the trapped animal, Thumbelina and the fairies walk right onto a piece of flypaper. (I still don’t think that’s what catching flies with honey means.)
Tom rescues them from Medwin’s birdcage. Medwin was monologuing as usual and mentioned where the king is being kept, so they go to search the dungeons. When they split up, Tom and Thumbelina make up a team and immediately find the king. Medwin has an army of Saxons coming in, so our heroes recruit all the fairies and animals to fight them off. Soldiers are reduced to running and screaming in terror by tiny creatures throwing nuts and water balloons. Oh, and there’s a skunk. And an angry bear. Actually, never mind, this is surprisingly effective, even though the delinquents still aren’t funny. They don’t hit a major roadblock until they realize that they can’t lift the key to the king’s cell.
Anyway, it all works out. Tom gets knighted, but now his and Thumbelina’s duties must separate them. So sad. He decides to give her his necklace of plot relevance to remember him by. This summons the Fairy Queen! And it’s revealed that Tom is the long-lost prince of the meadow oh yes of course.
Why can’t he remember his childhood? The narrator says he was a baby when he was kidnapped, but he looked like a young child, probably older than five.
Anyway, Tom and Thumbelina can now be married and become king and queen (”that is, as long as it’s okay with you both,” the Queen says eloquently). And to reward the delinquents, she gives them new, better wings that look exactly like the old ones. Except all yellow.
For his punishment, she shrinks Medwin and Edgar down to a tiny size and puts them in the model of the castle they were planning to build. And everyone lives happily ever after. There’s a weird mention of the two kingdoms becoming one, which doesn’t make much sense, as Thumbelina didn’t exactly make a marriage alliance with the king.
So, a few notes. They never say what Tom and Thumbelina are, just that they’re from royal families and they are not fairies. We never see their parents, even in the flashbacks. It’s blurry, but the only people I can identify are a squirrel and a trio who seem to be the teen delinquents, the same age.
The Fairy Queen displays the ability to shrink people, and fairies are known in real-world folklore as creatures who steal human babies and replace them with changelings. So my theory is that the Queen kidnapped two children from human royal families and shrunk them. She probably had good intentions, but she’s a fairy. Their morality doesn’t necessarily match up with ours in all the stories.
As for animation: there are quite a few errors and reused footage, but what stood out to me was the inconsistencies in the tiny characters’ scale. In the first picture here, Thumbelina is smaller than a man’s eye. In the second, she’s about the size of a man’s foot.
Not to mention this flawless bit with Medwin walking. And no, he’s not supposed to be shrinking in this scene. That little blue figure in the background is Tom.
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.