D.J. Mulrooney (Walter Brennan) is a wealthy lumber merchant but he is growing jaded with the whole business. Perhaps a visit from his two English grandchildren will cheer him up, as if nothing else it will give him the opportunity to drive his prized Rolls-Royce. He arrives at the airport just in time to meet Rodney (Matthew Garber) and Elizabeth (Karen Dotrice), and then take them on a picnic to the nearby forest. However, when they reach it and settle down for the food, Elizabeth wanders off and to her great surprise meets a gnome, Jasper (Tom Lowell), who has a problem to share with her...
The Gnome-Mobile was a vehicle for the two juvenile leads of Mary Poppins, and indeed they are credited that way at the start, but it was also a way of recycling one of the biggest Disney live action hits from before that certain English nanny had come along, Darby O'Gill and the Little People. This was far more of an entertainment for the very young, while those others had been appropriate for all ages, so though all ages could have appreciated the leprechauns and the variety of songs Mary and company sang, there was nothing so extravagant here, and a lot of the special effects were simply blue screen work.
If this robs the film of some of its supposed magic, then at least it is bright and for the most part, of a sunny nature. It does have some oddness that comes with the territory, as Mulrooney is introduced to Jasper and his grandfather and utterly fails to notice that old gramps looks just like him, except with no teeth and a long, white beard. This is down to Brennan playing two roles for no very good reason other than it could have been he wanted double the salary, or felt like stretching his talents, or maybe it was all part of the novelty - the characters are hardly two sides of the same coin. It turns out that these gnomes are the only ones left thanks to Mulrooney's logging.
So there's an environmental message here too, all very improving but nothing more laboured than look after the woodland and it will look after you, though it's really the adventure that should concern us here. What adventure is that? Well, once it has been established that the millionaire is to help out these two remaining little folk, who it is made clear are not leprechauns, let us be certain of that, no pots of gold or lucky charms here, all right? Where was I? Oh yeah, Mulrooney decides to assist by sending them to a forest where there may be more of their kind, but there is an obstacle when not only do the gnomes get kidnapped, but he is sent to an insane asylum when he tries to get his employees to go along with his plans.
In fact, there's so much of this business with Elizabeth and Rodney staging a break from the asylum that the gnomes get somewhat short shrift. They really only appear at the beginning and the end, which must have saved on the effects budget, but is a bit of a letdown otherwise. For the bulk of this we are treated to the requisite chases, one in the Gnome-Mobile of the title which disappointingly is not a cute little car the little people drive themselves around in, but the Rolls-Royce with a new moniker. In addition our heroes must outwit a villain who wants to place the gnomes in a freak show, so they have their work cut out for them, and if nothing else the thrills prove diverting enough in their low wattage kind of way. That ending where the lady gnomes try to catch the greased Jasper is downright bizarre, mind you, it's like something out of a fantastical fetish video. Music by Buddy Baker.