Voices of Jodi Benson, Carol Channing, Gilbert Gottfired, Charo, John Hurt, Joe lynch
Walt Disney cast the mold over seventy years ago when he premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first full length animated feature. In front of an audience that included Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, and Marlene Dietrich among others, feature film animation was born, the model was set, the benchmark placed. From that point on, no American animated film veered from the path forged by Disney and his team until 1995’s Toy Story. We know the fundamentals: musical numbers, hand-drawn animation, cute animal sidekicks, villains, missing parents, and occasionally a nice princess story. These familiar trappings have been mined and will continue being mined as long as they yield the kind of results we saw as recently as 2013’s Frozen ($1.2 Billion earned). There are not many boring animated princess movies, but I am afraid Thumbelina proves an exception. Looking at the man responsible for this travesty, Don Bluth, a man whose credits include The Secret of NYMH, The Land Before Time, and Anastasia, offers very little insight into what went wrong. He once worked for Disney. He ought to have a pretty solid understanding of how to put together a good animated flick. This film beggars the mind.
The plot maybe had potential. A thumb sized princess torn from her beloved fairy prince must traverse a harsh environment to make it back home. I could see a nice adventure springing from that setup, but I am using my imagination and not my memory, because this film does nothing with it but meander. She gets help from a bird with a french accent named Jacquimo, and trouble from a beetle named Berkely Beetle (rolling my eyes) voiced by the same person who voiced Iago in Aladdin. Eventually the fairy prince tracks her down, they get married, she gets wings, and they live happily ever after; cue the bad music.
Let’s go down the Disney checklist. Perhaps the Bluth team missed a step: bright and colorful animation (check), a fairy tale princess story (check, courtesy of Hans Christian Anderson), cute animals (check, this film has several), musical numbers (check-minus, the songs are horrible courtesy of Barry Manilow) . So the concept at least, has all the essentials of a Disney classic, but what’s missing is any discernible charm or magic associated with the best princess stories. Think of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and of course Snow White. You can even think of Bluth’s next stab at the animated princess story, Anastasia, which is vastly superior to this one. Thumbelina may not be the worst animated film ever-that distinction belongs to Troll in Central Park-but it’s a photo-finish.