“Once there was the sun, bright and warm and wonderful. Now there's no more sun. Winter has killed everything. And although it's dark December, forever, I remember sun.”
Jodi Benson as Thumbelina
Gary Imhoff as Prince Cornelius
Gino Conforti as Jacquimo
John Hurt as Mr. Mole
Plot: A tiny girl is captured by a toad and fights to find her way home and to her true love.
Tagline: Follow your heart and nothing is impossible.
First Viewing: In the theater, spring, 1994.
Added to the list: After rewatching on Toon Disney in 2002 (9th grade).
The other night, I found a review of Don Bluth's 1994 animated feature, Thumbelina. In it, the movie was torn to shreds as a piece of Disney thieving, saccharine shit. All possible redeeming qualities were either ignored or rebutted with convincing arguments. Note: This review was not written by some self promoted web geek who's top five movies include Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This review was written by a woman my age, who was in the demographic Thumbelina was marketed to in 1994. Not even fond childhood memories saved this flick for her.
Surely, my opinion of the quality of this movie has faltered with time and education, but my love for it has not. And why? Truly, it is a piece of Disney thieving saccharine shit. So why in my Age of Cynicism is it possible for me to enjoy it? Well, let's analyze, shall we?
You might assume that I could pass it off as nostalgia. Like I've said, 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.
Okay...here's the sick part. I was 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)).
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. I warn you, viewing this scene might cause you to fall into 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.
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, an unhelpful sidekick who ranks right up there with Gurgi from The Black Cauldron and Jar Jar fucking Binks (No, I'm not kidding). This is the biggest and most irritating flaw in the whole movie. Instead of getting on the bird's back and flying back to her house, Thumbelina continues on foot while Jacquimo looks for Cornelius's home, the Veil of the Fairies. 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 pace...in 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 Veil 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!
Later that night, Thumbelina sneaks into the tunnel and visits Jacquimo's corpse. But unfortunately for us, he's not dead and lectures her on giving up hope and settling for Mr. Mole. Thumbelina wants no more of his optimism, even though he flies off to look for the Veil 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 Veil of the Fairies. She gets on his back (FINALLY) and flies with him. Jacquimo convinces her to sing and she awakens the Veil 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.
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.
I know these possible deep meanings are covered up by the tried and true "love at first sight" and external conflicts of fairy tales. I doubt Don Bluth realized that these points could be made while this film was in production. And it's a stretch for me to make them in the first place. But these are themes I enjoy, and therefore go into my argument of why I like this movie. It's by no means in my Top Ten...or even my Top Fifty. But it goes on my list because it makes me recall the wide eyed optimism I had a mere seven years ago. Movies like Thumbelina remind me of how much easier life would be if it was a little more "Love Story" and a little less "Teardrops on My Guitar."
I love this sequence.