*/**** Image D Sound B
screenplay by Don Bluth
directed by Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
by Walter Chaw A predictably disturbing take on Hans Christian Andersen's cautionary tale of the importance of conformity and the dangers of female sexual awakening, the diminutive heroine of Don Bluth and Gary Goldman's Thumbelina arrives in the slow blossoming of a rose. After brief stops in which a hyper-sexualized, Charo-voiced frog teaches Thumbelina to shake her tiny money-maker, a sleazy moustachioed junebug (Gilbert Gottfried) abducts her to be its wife, and Bluth presents phallic stems and pregnant bulbs to the point of indecency, the message of "there's someone for everyone" (or, closer to the mark, an "Eye of the Beholder"-like "stick with your kind, freak") comes ham-fisting home.
Thumbelina (Jodi Benson) measures three inches in height--explanation for her stature is never satisfactorily offered. Her friends are singing animals, an apple-faced mother, and a French swallow (Gino Conforti) that sounds suspiciously like Jerry Orbach doing Maurice Chevalier. Thumbelina whines a lot about not having any humanoid boyfriends, but lo, her crooning of amazingly bad Barry Manilow-penned ballads attracts the attention of a strong-headed fairy prince (Gary Imhoff). Delightful romantic misunderstandings ensue.
For an animator who once sought to dethrone Disney atop the American animation food chain, Bluth goes to great pains to emulate Disney images here as varied as "Steamboat Willie"-era big-eyed bugs to the mice from Cinderella while also both hijacking Disney voice talent (Benson, Gottfried) and hiring voice actors capable of emulating same (Conforti). Bluth's philosophy seems to be that if you can neither beat them nor join them, rip them off in dispiriting low-budget hack jobs. The cheap-looking Thumbelina leaps from musical number to musical number, its secondary characters are animated even more poorly than its main characters, there's little consistency in its anthropomorphizing, and the tribulations and resolutions of Thumbelina and crew are so arbitrary as to inhibit any tension.
The film is for very young children and people in comas: lots of soft pictures and soft tunes meander around a central character who spends altogether too much time weeping and getting dragged around by her arm--the real loser here is feminism. Possibly recommending the film are the sheer amount of disturbing sexual images and implications embedded in the subtext and background of the piece. As those elements are inherent in the Anderson source material, I'd recommend you just spare yourself the torture and read the book instead.
Besides being badly-drawn and painfully-performed, Thumbelina--on DVD, at least--suffers from the "screen-door effect," where nearly every scene appears the way it might if seen through a layer of tight mesh. A title in Fox Video's "Family Feature" series (it was originally issued on tape and LaserDisc by Warner Home Video), Thumbelina is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen on one side of the DVD and in pan-and-scan on the flipside. Although there are occasional stretches of the film free of nightmare grain, the relative clarity is compromised by a blurriness to the colours that is probably more the fault of the animation than of the transfer.
The Dolby Surround sound gets a bum deal in that its main task is the reproduction of Manilow's mournful romantic ditties. It does its job with a minimum of fanfare, reproducing the dialogue pretty well along the way. Special features are comprised of full-frame TV spots and trailers for Baby's Day Out, FernGully: The Last Rainforest, The Man from Snowy River, The Pagemaster, and The Sandlot. Originally published: March 10, 2002.