Fumbling `Thumbelina'

Thumbelina

Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman

She twirls. She giggles. She's no bigger than your thumb. Who is she? Why, Thumbelina, of course, the aptly-named "star" of the latest animated adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The movie was produced and directed by Don Bluth of "An American Tail," with music by Barry Manilow. "Thumbelina'"s makers try hard to follow Disney's lead in producing animation that appeals to both adults and children. However, the movie's confused plot and lack of engaging characters, despite a number of talented voices, prevent it from achieving this goal. A film of a few good moments, "Thumbelina" lacks the sustained charm of a "Beauty and the Beast" or "Aladdin."

The movie's opening is promising--using the same computer animation techniques that made "Aladdin'"s magic carpet-ride sequences so impressive, the "camera" follows the flight of a bird, zooming and swooping in toward an animated Paris. This perspective is realistic enough to make the viewer slightly queasy, but, sadly, seems to have eaten up most of the film's budget--the rest of the movie is nowhere near as technically advanced. The backgrounds are largely static, with the animated characters looking out of place moving over them, as is especially evident in the musical number "Thumbelina" which introduces us to the title character. The coordination of dialogue and the characters' movements is also somewhat choppy and distracting, though it seems to improve as the movie progresses.

Despite its technical problems, "Thumbelina" provides us with some thoroughly enjoyable animated moments. The detail used to animate Thumbelina's flowing skirt makes it a joy to watch as she twirls and dances her way through her journeys, accentuating her movements and making them more realistic. The movie's highlight, however, is the flight of fancy she takes with the Fairy Prince Cornelius, to the accompaniment of "Let Me Be Your Wings." During a number that cannot help but be compared to "Aladdin'"s "A Whole New World," the characters, in true romantic style, fall in love while flying/dancing/singing their way across the night sky. Never mind that they've known each other all of about five minutes; their ice-skating-like pas de deux across the golden, glittering surface of a lake is much more interesting than the giggling, awkward scene where they meet.

Jodi Benson's voice, as the sweet, naive Thumbelina, is clear, pleasant, and familiar--as well it should be, having first buoyed the equally sweet and naive Ariel of "The Little Mermaid." Her voice brings life to Thumbelina's giggling, almost Barbie-like appearance, though her partner Prince Cornelius, a sixteen year old adventurer with a haircut somewhere between a crew cut and a bowl cut, has a voice that seems a little forced in comparison.

As for the music, while a bit bland when compared to the complex orchestrations of Disney's Alan Mencken, Manilow holds his own. With numbers that range from a Spanish-flavored rhumba to a putting-on-the-ritz style ballroom affair, the music itself is somewhat catchy, and fits the animation. Surprisingly, it is the lyrics, by Jack Feldman and Bruce Sussman, that are the really cheesy part of the score. With none of the creativity of Disney's Howard Ashman or Tim Rice, songs like "Let Me Be Your Wings." suffer from overly commonplace declarations of love, while the more upbeat numbers evoke only an Manilow himself sings only the ending song during the credits--a reprise of "Let Me Be Your Wings."

Ultimately, it is the muddled storyline that detracts most from the movie. To their credit, the adapters have tried to follow Andersen's tale quite closely, paying attention to such details as Thumbelina's walnut-shell bed. However, because of their effort to incorporate everything as well as adding their own touches, the audience never "gets to know" the myriad of characters who traipse across the screen. Thumbelina herself seems unable to stay focused for more than a couple of seconds, and can't seem to decide whether she wants to go home, find Cornelius, or run away and join a singing troupe. This confusion is not aided by the fact that the story's narrator, a French swallow named Jacquimo is incredibly annoying, and seems to pop in and out without warning or respect for what's going on. With a large number of cameos by noted personalities, it is surprising that so few of these char acters are memorable or even fun to watch. EvenGilbert Gottfried (who played lago in "Aladdin")is wasted on stupid dialogue as the annoyingBerkeley Beetle. An exception to this is CarolChanning's Mrs. Fieldmouse--her attempts toconvince Thumbelina to marry Mr. Mole are at leastamusing, and she carries off the small roleconvincingly.

"Thumbelina," then, would have benefited from alittle judicious editing, and its cheesy ending isalmost necessary to tie up the muddled tale.Bluth, who is better known for his originalefforts such as "An American Tail" and "The LandBefore Time," may have been gunning for widerpublicity in following the tried-and-true Disneyformula but is unable to handle the classic tale.While "Tumbelina'" better moments will proveentertaining to viewers of all ages, in theoverall amusement department this fairy tale comesup short