Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale Thumbelina was first published in 1835. Don Bluth, of The Land Before Time fame, produced, directed and wrote the script for the 1994 film, which was a box office flop. I think it’s a lovely film and it certainly captured my imagination when I was little. However, it’s not in the same league as Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which is also an Andersen adaptation. Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, was also Thumbelina.
The film uses the basic story, in which a woman wishes to have a child and gains (via a witch) the means to grow one. The flower opens to reveal Thumbelina, a tiny girl. She has a charming simple life, until she is stolen by a toad, who intends for her son to marry Thumbelina. Then she is stolen by a beetle but abandoned because she’s a human. She is taken in by a field-mouse, who seems kind but wants her to marry her neighbour the mole. Her friend the swallow helps her escape. She marries the fairy prince.
Many elements are added to the fairytale to make the plot more cohesive, such as the fairy prince (here named Cornelius) meeting Thumbelina and the two falling in love, before she’s stolen by the toad. The toad’s son is turned into the big villain, pursuing Thumbelina after she escapes from him, culminating in his working together with the Beetle to set a trap for her, using her prince (frozen in a pond) as bait. The swallow, here a French troubadour-figure named Jacquimo, has a larger role in the story, being the narrator at the beginning and a kind of bumbling guardian angel.
There is a showbusiness theme to the exploitation of Thumbelina, as on the frogs’ boat she is forced to sing and dance for a crowd of pond creatures, while the Beetle makes her the star of his show, with false antennae to wear. I always wondered why she never tried to resist these enforced performances, even seeming to enjoy them. Thinking about this now, I suppose it could reflect her sheltered former life, which lacked friends her own size. Yet, the passiveness of our heroine is still a little troubling. From a feminist perspective, the film is questionable, as a succession of hideous males attempt to possess her, almost succeeding (she gets as far as the wedding vows with the mole), before she finally marries the prince – who, we might add, wooed her by sneaking into her home, chasing her around the table, waving his sword around and persuading her to take a ride with him on his bumblebee.
Anyway, it’s a cute, goofy adaptation of the original story, but a remake today would give Thumbelina more independence.
Low-resolution film poster sourced from Wikipedia.