Thumbelina Review (1994)
In 1994, I loved the animated princess movie, The Swan Princess. But there was another cartoon movie musical that I adored almost more. My sister and I watched it so much that our parents quickly got sick of it. This movie was Don Bluth’s Thumbelina.
Don Bluth is a former Disney animator who left the Disney Studio in the early 1980s. His most famous movies include The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go To Heaven and An American Tail.
Hans Christian Anderson wrote the original Thumbelina fairytale. Our film is narrated by the ever-romantic bird Jacquimo. Jacquimo is passionate about love and impossible things. In the story, an old widow wanted a child and got a magic seed. A flower grew, and inside the flower was a tiny girl. The widow names her Thumbelina because the girl was the size of a thumb. Living on a farm, our heroine is always getting into trouble. She’s also sad because she wants to fall in love and there is no one else her size.
Luckily, as she is dancing and singing, the handsome fairy prince, Cornelius, sees her and decides to take a closer look without her knowing that he is watching. Even as a kid, I thought that was creepy. Despite that, the two are instantly smitten, and go on a magical ride by a bee. They decide to marry. Before they can, however, Thumbelina is kidnapped by a family of musical toads. Upon learning that the toads plan to force her to marry one of them, she is determined to escape. With the help of Jacquimo, she gets free.
Learning that she can follow her heart home, Thumbelina sets off on a journey to find home and her true love, while Jacquimo sets off to find Cornelius. Thumbelina encounters many strange creatures on her adventures, some friends and some not. Meanwhile, both Prince Cornelius and the jilted toad are trying to find her. But it is fall, and winter is coming.
Soon, winter arrives. Thumbelina finds herself underground with Ms. Fieldmouse and the mole, who have saved her life. Prince Cornelius freezes into a block of ice. Jacquimo vanishes. Can true love triumph? Will Cornelius thaw? Will our heroine marry the mole? Why are the beetle and the toad working together? Can Thumbelina find her way home? These questions will be answered in Thumbelina!
Other than the creepiness of their first meeting, Thumbelina and Cornelius have a very sweet romance. The entire plot of the movie is them trying to find each other after they’ve been separated and find themselves lost in a world that is much bigger than either of them. He risks his life to save her multiple times. When she believes that he has died, she is emotionally destroyed. Their love haunts her through the rest of the movie.
Their love duet, “Let Me Be Your Wings,” is woven through the entire movie, reminding the watcher of this true love that we’re rooting for. And the ending of Thumbelina is still one of my favorite cartoon endings of all time.
Our characters are interesting. Thumbelina is a pretty passive heroine. However, she is out in the world and separated from everyone she knows and loves. She also believes her true love has died, so this makes sense. She is scared and not very optimistic about how things are looking in her life. Cornelius is a prince who is a bit of a rebel. He flies a bee instead of a butterfly and goes out into a storm to find Thumbelina. Despite his rebel nature, he is also a secret romantic, willing to risk everything to save the woman he loves.
The supporting characters are funny, though as an adult I wonder about the Spanish toads, including one voiced by Charo. All of the accents for all of the characters are very over the top. Thumbelina’s mother has a small role, but she is a sympathetic character. The little kid bugs who help Thumbelina and Cornelius have a lot of spunk, the Beetle is perfectly slimy, and Ms. Fieldmouse and Mr. Mole are just the right levels of crazy, pushy, and unaware that they’re in love.
When it comes to the animation, I have mixed feelings about Thumbelina. While the closeups and backgrounds look amazing, sometimes the characters can be a little fuzzy. Once or twice, I noticed that the characters did not move their mouths when talking. However, the colors are still bright and lovely, and iffy Don Bluth animation is still pretty amazing.
Are there problems with Thumbelina? Yes. In addition to these animation issues, there are a lot of puns, over the top characters, and some weird but catchy music. And again, the prince sees her dancing through the window and spies on her. The other big problem that never bothered me as a kid is the fact that Thumbelina has a bird sidekick, and he never thinks to give her a ride until the ending of the film. That’s just rude. Watching this movie as an adult, I understand why my dad still makes fun of this movie today. It can be ridiculous at times.
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Despite these issues, I have to be honest-I still love this movie. Maybe it’s the nostalgia goggles, maybe it’s the love story. Yes, it’s cheesy and some of the songs are very strange, but it’s also sweet. The animation is still Don Bluth animation, the morals are “love yourself for who you are” and “nothing is impossible,” and I still cry every time I see the ending.
If you are looking for a trip down memory lane, or you somehow missed this gem of a movie, I would check it out. Although it is a little cheesier than The Swan Princess, Thumbelina embraces the cheese. Somehow, it just works. And seriously, the romance is still sweet and it’s a really fun movie. If you like animation, fairy tales, or love stories, Thumbelina is definitely worth a watch.
CONTENT NOTE: There are some moments of peril and some risque moments that adults will get. There aren’t many of these, however, and for the most part, Thumbelina is a wholesome film.
Photos: Don Bluth/ Warner Brothers
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