Monday, October 25, 2010

Thumbelina (1994)

Title: Thumbelina
Year: 1994
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

StarringJodi Benson as Thumbelina
Gino Conforti as Jacquimo
Gary Imhoff as Prince Cornelius
Charo as Mama Toad
Joe Lynch as Grendel
Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Beetle
Carol Channing as Mrs. Fieldmouse
John Hurt as Mr. Mole

Plot: A tiny, thumb-sized girl is pursued by a toad, a beetle, and a mole as she tries to find her way back home and to her fairy prince.
Based on: “Thumbelina" by Hans Christian Anderson
Setting: France

Tagline: Follow your heart and nothing is impossible.

Andrew's First Viewing: August 28th, 2010, courtesy of Movie Lovers in Bozeman; bits and pieces prior to this
Jordyn's First Viewing: In theatres sometime in the spring of 1994. (Oh. Yeah.)

Jordyn's Comments
Okay, I won't beat around the bush, Don Bluth's Thumbelina is one of my favorite movies of all time. I already wrote a review for it on my blog, Popped Density, so forgive my lazy ass as I plagiarize myself.

You might assume that I will blame my love for this movie on nostalgia. Surely, growing up with a bad movie is like a Get Out of Jail Free card when someone demands your reasoning for liking it. I did see this movie in theaters and loved it. Being a six year old girl, I loved all things princess and fairy and with the love songs and the magic, glavin! But after that initial first viewing, the home video was not purchased or rented or even watched at a friend's house. No, I didn't seen Thumbelina again until it was on Toon Disney in the summer of 2002. Nostalgia and curiosity got the better of me so I watched it. And I fell in love.

2002...yeah, that would make me about fourteen. Fourteen. An age when I should have been going on dates and getting felt up during the latest Josh Hartnett movie. But, oh no, not me. I spent my evenings doing my homework while this crap played in the background...every damn night. (I alternated between this and Some Kind of Wonderful). At fourteen, my pessimistic side had yet to materialize so an external conflict romance written and produced for dullard children satisfied the unsexualized side of my romantic whims.

Thumbelina is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale by the same name. It is fleshed out a bit...Disneyfied (ahem, I mean, Bluthanized), if you will. It begins with a French swallow named Jaciquimo telling us a story of impossible romance with an impossible beginning. A lonely single woman longs for a child. She is given a magical seed by a good witch, which she plants. It grows into a flower and once it blooms, a tiny girl emerges. She is given the moniker Thumbelina, as she is, you know, no bigger than a thumb. (One wonders if she was in a different scale if her name would be Toesita or Weinerella (tee-hee)).

Weiner-ELLA, she's a funny little squirt.
However, Thumbelina is dissatisfied with her size. Like all animated heroines, she longs for true love. But how can she find it if she's the only little person in the world? Thumbelina's only outlet is fiction, where fairies (who happen to be the right size) exist. But if this is a world where young, fully clothed, post pubertal miniature girls can grow from flowers, there has to be fairies, right?

As Thumbelina is singing to herself, Cornelius, the fairy prince, manages to fly by on his pet bumblebee and become entranced by her beautiful singing voice. It's basically love at first sight for both of them. There must be a lack of fairy chicks. After some mild flirtation (and an almost kiss) Cornelius takes her on a magical "A Whole New World"-esque journey across the French countryside. He serenades her with the best song in the movie, "Let Me Be Your Wings", while flying her over a glistening, mirror like pond and a huge pumpkin and through the glittering midnight sky.

And now I'm in a diabetic coma.
So after the romancing, Cornelius hears his parents summoning him, but he promises to return to Thumbelina in the morning after he breaks the news about his new, non-fairy girlfriend. He promises to not forget her and leaves...but not before failing at two more almost kisses. (That's right, two! How can you fail three times in seven minutes?)

So since our heroine has found her one true love in the first act, there has to be some conflict to keep them separated for 60 more minutes. This comes in the form of Mama Toad, the amphibious version of Charo. After hearing Thumbelina's gorgeous singing voice, Mama Toad's son, Grendel, has fallen in love with her. Mama Toad tries to convince Thumbelina to join the family singing group and to marry her son. Although Thumbelina is tempted by fame, she wants to return to her mother and Cornelius. The toads abandon her on a lily pad, meaning to return and force her to marry Grendel.

Mexicans in sixteenth century France? Sure, why not?
Cornelius fulfills his promise and returns for his lady fair. He discovers her kidnapping and goes on a quest to find her. Back on the lily pad, Thumbelina meets Jacquimo, a romance obsessed swallow. He promises to find Cornelius's home, the Vale of the Fairies while Thumbelina continues on foot to her house. Jacquimo is convinced that "following your heart" is the quickest way home. Not flying. No, it's definitely not flying.

Both Cornelius and Grendel are on the hunt for Thumbelina, but she continues to walk at a glacial the wrong direction. She is commandeered by Mr. Beetle who, through forest gossip, heard about her voice and convinces her to sing at the Beetle Ball. However, her Elizabethan butterfly costume is removed and she is revealed to be an ugmo because she lacks feelers and wings.

Our heroine's confidence is shattered. Not to mention that she is lost in the middle of the woods as autumn turns to winter. But Jacquimo arrives and teaches an important lesson: if the man you love thinks you're beautiful, then no one else's opinion matters. But if he doesn't, you're fucked. Again, Captain Useless doesn't fly Thumbelina to her home, or steer her in the right direction. He keeps searching for the Vale of the Fairies. Winter comes rather quickly. (Wasn't it only yesterday the fairies were golding the leaves?) Thumbelina finds shelter in an old shoe while Cornelius ends up frozen in a pond and presumed dead.

Thumbelina is discovered by Mrs. Fieldmouse who brings her into her underground home and informs her of Cornelius's death. Thumbelina is distraught but owes a debt to Mrs. Fieldmouse and accompanies her on visit to Mr. Mole. While visiting him, Thumbelina discovers Jacquimo in his tunnel, unconscious and with a thorn in his wing. Despite her opposing cheeriness, Mr. Mole also has the hots for her and bribes Mrs. Fieldmouse to convince Thumbelina to marry him...which she does. Through song!

M is for Money, O-L-E!!!
Later that night, Thumbelina sneaks into the tunnel and visits Jacquimo's corpse. But unfortunately for us, he's not dead and lectures her for giving up hope and settling for Mr. Mole. Thumbelina wants no more of his optimism, even though he flies off to look for the Vale of Fairies without letting her escape. Meanwhile a group of bugs find Cornelius and thaw him out on Thumbelina's wedding day. On the way down the aisle, she has visions of Cornelius singing the second reprise of "Let Me Be Your Wings" and cannot go through with it.

At that moment, Grendel storms in to capture Thumbelina. As does Cornelius to rescue her. And the beetle is also there. But in the confusion, Thumbelina manages to escape without seeing Cornelius. She climbs out of the underground lair just as Jacquimo comes to inform her he's found the Vale of the Fairies. She gets on his back (FINALLY) and flies with him. Jacquimo convinces her to sing and she awakens the Vale of the Fairies to spring. Even though she refused to marry someone she didn't love, Thumbelina's optimism is gone and knows Cornelius will not rise from the dead. However, he returns just in time to finish their duet. They kiss and Thumbelina is transformed into a fairy (sure, why the fuck not?) and they live happily ever after.

Fade to black, show the names, play that happy song.
Let the defense begin. First of all, I love the music. The songs and score were written by Barry Manilow...which sounds like the punchline to a joke. I know that this type of music isn't everyone's cup of tea, but my favorite band is the Carpenters so...That and it's blatantly ripping off the Disney style. Despite my opinions, Mrs. Fieldmouse's song "Marry the Mole" won the Razzie for worst original song. Personally, I think the worst song is "The Beetle Ball" but whatever. I truly think "Let Me Be Your Wings" is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and I don't mind it's four reprises. Not. One. Bit.

Although it's beaten into your head that "you're sure to do impossible things if you follow your heart" this is not the theme. The theme is true love is irreplaceable and trying to replace it is futile. Let me explain. So up until she meets her prince, Thumbelina thinks there is no one else her size...which translates to "I'm going to die old and single just like my mother." When Cornelius shows up she finds in him the only person she could ever love. After she learns of his "death", she states "he was the only one--" and then is cut off by Mrs. Fieldmouse. She probably would have finished with "my size". But "the only one my size" translates to "the only one who could make my life complete." The size issue is just a physical embodiment of this point. You're true love might as well be the only one "your size". Marrying someone the "wrong size" (or of a different species like in this movie) is wrong.

That's another theme in Thumbelina. Don't settle. It may be practical for Thumbelina to marry a rich old mole if it's impossible for her to ever go back to her home. It's a dog eat dog world out there, and she can't rely on the good graces of woodland creatures forever. But she knows that marrying for money will never make her happy, only love will. That's why it's better to stay miserable and alone rather than replace the irreplaceable.

Perhaps I'm stretching it a bit. But I doubt you can find these themes in Bluth's other movies. Compared to the other ones, I feel that Thumbelina is the least of a mind screw. It's very faithful to it's source material despite a few changes. In the original, Thumbelina doesn't meet the unnamed fairy prince until the very end when she is dropped off by the swallow, who she first meets in the mole's cave. I suppose a better version without glaring plot holes (I'll let Andrew cover that) could be made, but this is pretty damn good. Easily the best Bluth movie. There, I said it.

Andrew's Comments:
And so with this entry, I’ve passed the opening reigns to Jordyn, and now I get to experience the feeling of having most of my major points already covered. Joy and rapture. Anyway, onto today’s entry: Don Bluth’s adaptation of the oft-loved (though completely missed by me in childhood) Thumbelina. This movie is a pretty earnest attempt to mimic the success of Disney renaissance movies such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast (“cash-in” is a phrase I’ve never agreed with; it brings to mind someone pulling a lever, and the product is delivered immediately in a ready state, similar to the titular heroine of today’s movie). Something was lost in translation, however, and this movie is simply not very good. Not worthy of ire to the extent of Rock-A-Doodle (which, it has been established, I have a personal vendetta against), but certainly something I would avoid watching on my own time.

Being that Jordyn and I have two rather different opinions on this movie, let’s start with what we agree on: “The Beetle Ball” is indeed a much worse song than “Marry The Mole.” “Marry The Mole” is indeed ri-doggone-diculous in its exceptional lyricism (“His breath may be alarming / but he’s charming, for a troll / dearie, *woodblock* marry the mole!”), it’s sung by Carol Channing, who can at least sell the bloody thing. “The Beetle Ball,” by contrast, is Gilbert Godfrey rapping. Let me repeat that for effect: Gilbert Godfrey rapping. And yes, it is as good as it sounds. This one wins by default.

It's a fact.

I also rather appreciate the thematic analysis that Jordyn provided earlier, which suggests that the movie isn’t quite as vapid as it looks (and sounds, and acts, etc). “Don’t sell yourself short” (bahaha) is a road not necessarily taken by many movies these days, and it’s a pretty worthy message to be sending to kids. That said, I’m not a fan of the actual execution, but Thumbelina’s heart certainly is in the right place.

I think this, ultimately, is why this film narrowly avoids a poison-pen ass-whupping from me. It tries so incredibly hard to please, and adheres to so many of the established fairy tale movie conventions, and is so convinced that its story and characters are worthwhile that I just can’t bring myself to hate on it as much as I could. Sure, I can definitely pick some nits and laugh at its expense (“Ha ha! They think this is good character development! What a riot!”), but castigating it for being what it is is something that I cannot do in good conscience.
That said, let’s pick those nits! My biggest pet peeve (though, again, it ultimately redeems the movie) is the overall tone. It reminds me of a parody of these sorts of movies, of Shrek were it less self-aware. More specifically, though, it reminds me of the beginning of the “Mickey and the Beanstalk” portion of Fun and Fancy Free (which I happen to think is absolutely hilarious), where everyone is bouncing and singing and being jolly because everything is SO DAMN HAPPY. Here is one movie where the patented DB flouncing wasn’t such an issue for me; I often imagined the voice actors flouncing around in the booth while recording their characters’ lines.
Speaking of the characters, this movie certainly has a lot of them—toads and beetles and horseflies and field vermin abound in this film, but not many of them made an impact on me. My favorite character may have had the least to do: Mr. Mole, who slinks around in his fabulously wealthy estate, acting like a smaller, ruffled-collar Eeyore. Mr. Mole, however, is voiced by John Hurt (yes, that John Hurt), whose wonderfully full-of-character voice suggests much more depth to Mr. Mole than the movie ever gives him space for.
And the music… oy, the music. As we have mentioned, Thumbelina’s score and original songs were composed by Barry Manilow, who is sadly not on “Copa Cabana” form in this project. Many of the songs sound like parodies of Broadway By Way Of Disney songs, especially the opening number, where the farm animals bob their heads, stomp their feet, and sing their hearts out to ThumbelinAAAAAAA! The only good song (and I use the term loosely) is “Let Me Be Your Wings;” the movie also seems aware of its quality compared to the others, and reprises it no less than four times (seriously, take a shot every time there’s a musical number with “da da daaaa, da daaaa” in it). The score is pleasant enough, I suppose, but it too wants nothing more than to remind us what a great song “Wings” is.
I also find the relationship between Thumbelina and Cornelius to be a bit hokey. They’re immediately smitten with each other upon making eye contact, a sort of “We’ll be married in the morning!” situation, but not tongue in cheek. Also, because there’s no learning curve with their romantic feelings, the movie has to work overtime to keep them apart, and as a result, we never really learn much about Cornelius (perhaps it’s for the best, though—guy’s more vapid than she is).
This guy swashes surprisingly few buckles.
A few more things and we’re done. I was going to dedicate an entire paragraph to how much Jacquimo annoys the PISS out of me, but I was getting too worked up, and decided his character flaws and pants-on-head-ridiculousness was pretty self-evident (what is it with Don Bluth and effeminate, singing pigeons anyways?). Speaking of Jacquimo, I’ve laid-off discussing the plot, because picking apart the story for a movie like this is a sure way to make a smug asshole out of one’s self, but seriously, couldn’t most of this movie been avoided if Thumbelina just got on J-Crew’s back and flies home like she does later in the film? Lastly, why the hell does Thumbelina get wings at the end? Perhaps it’s implied that she was a fairy the whole time, and that her wings just hadn’t come yet? Maybe someone just needed to throw the deus ex machina lever.
This movie is bad. However, it’s not the kind of bad that deserves a painful fate of wailing and gnashing of teeth, for it’s the kind of bad that can be good, if you squint hard enough. As evidenced by my colleague above, this movie has brought joy to many Girls the world over, and I can’t begrudge the movie's sincerity in reaching out to tell its story, no matter how garbled it turned out. That said, please don’t make me watch the damn thing again.

"Follow Your Heart" (Intro) - Gino Conforti (Jacquimo)
"Thumbelina" - Chorus
"Soon" - Jodi Benson (Thumbelina)
"Let Me Your Wings" - Gary Imhoff (Prince Cornelius) and Jodi Benson
"On the Road" - Charo (Mama Toad), Jodi Benson, and Chorus
"Follow Your Heart" - Gino Conforti and Chorus
"Yer Beautiful, Baby" - Randy Chrenshaw (Mr. Beetle)
"Soon" (Reprise) - Barbara Cook (Thumbelina's Mother)
"Sun" ("Let Me Be Your Wings" Reprise I) - Jodi Benson
"Marry the Mole" - Carol Channing (Mrs. Fieldmouse)
"Let Me Be Your Wings" (Reprise II) - Gary Imhoff
"Let Me Be Your Wings" (Reprise III) -  Jodi Benson
"Let Me Be Your Wings" (End Credits) - Barry Manilow and Debra Byrd

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