directors Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
There are doubtlessly worse animated feature films than 1994’s Thumbelina, but not probably worse animated feature films that I will sit through with my kids. I actually had both of them asking me why we watched it in the end. My answer was simple: Don Bluth.
Don Bluth may only have one truly great animated feature to his name, 1982’s wonderful The Secret of NIMH, but on more recent discovery, his 1989 film All Dogs Go to Heaven was pretty good. With moderately fond memories of Anastasia (1997), I thought it was worth giving his catalog a run.
It seems though that Don Bluth jumped Disney’s ship in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s when it was indeed sinking in malaise and in doing so made a better Disney-style traditional cel animated feature in The Secret of NIMH than Disney had made in decades. While the quality of his films eclipsed Disney for most of the 1980’s, Disney righted their ship and apparently, by the 1990’s the quality of Bluth’s output was on the wane.
It’s an interesting time in American animation. A time when traditional cel animation looked nearly dead (and potentially all animation), but actually just on the cusp of computer animation taking over the animation universe, an explosion of money, success, studios, and growth which has resulted in the massively changed landscape of animation in the 20 years hence. Interesting because at the time it looked merely bleak.
Thumbelina was to be a 3 picture deal with Barry Manilow, who provided the musics. Followed by The Pebble and the Penguin (1995) (remember that one? I don’t), it was followed by the collapse of the Sullivan Bluth Studios and eventual move to Fox Animation Studios.
The voice cast includes Carol Channing and Charo, the latter as a Charo-inspired toad. Channing voices Ms. Fieldmouse, who I found actually one of the more interesting characters, but is most notorious for singing, “Marry the Mole,” a Razzie-winning Worst Original Song.
While the merits of the song “Marry the Mole” are worth questioning, the theme of the song and the theme of the movie are really the site of utter lameness. Thumbelina, based as she is on the Hans Christian Anderson original, is a tiny girl with virtually no power, swept away by toads, beetles, a mole and a fieldmouse, with no sense of self other than who she should marry (obviously the prince of the fairies, right?). The movie is essentially plot-less in her attempts to return home and marry the prince while the world besets her disempowerment. Only at the end does she assert herself and to that end winds up marrying the prince.
Weak sauce, before perhaps, such a term had been coined.