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  tom thumb It's A Small World After All
Year: 1958
Director: George Pal
Stars: Russ Tamblyn, Alan Young, June Thorburn, Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Bernard Miles, Jessie Matthews, Ian Wallace, Peter Butterworth, Peter Bull, Stan Freberg, Dal McKennon, Barbara Ferris
Genre: Musical, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Once upon a time, many years ago, Honest Jonathan (Bernard Miles) was out in the forest where he lived trying to chop down a large tree. He had just begun when a young woman magically appeared, the Forest Queen (June Thorburn), and told him she would rather he didn't fell this particular tree; he was so astonished at her disappearing and reappearing act that he agreed to her wishes, and in return she granted him three of his own. Once he returned to his cottage, he told his wife Anne (Jessie Matthews) about this at the dinner table and wished he had a big sausage to accompany the cabbage he was offered...

Well, that was one wish gone, and soon all three were used up since the sausage was then attached to Jonathan's nose then wished off it again - what a waste. But where was our title character, the one from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales? He shows up later that night, presumably as compensation for the childless, middle-aged couple, and the adventure can commence properly in this, a musical fantasy created by something of an expert in the field during this era, George Pal, producer turned director. Here he was using MGM's British arm to realise his endeavours, which meant a cast mostly hailing from that country.

Though Tom himself was played by an American, the incredibly athletic Russ Tamblyn who had so impressed audiences earlier that decade with his dancing in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and here was recruited to perform more of his impressive moves. First sighted wearing a leaf, because Tom is five and a half inches tall, he is quickly adopted by Jonathan and Anne, who have a whole room full of toys for him to play with, though luckily he doesn't have to exert himself pushing them about because in proto-Toy Story fashion they spring to life when the parents are not around, animated by way of Pal's patented Puppetoons, a line of stop motion which had proven very popular.

This leads to possibly the film's most famous sequence where Tom dances with the playthings, flinging himself around the set with oversized models mixed with the puppets, so dazzling in its invention that the rest of the movie has trouble living up to it. To do so they introduced a sinister element, and there are those who when watching this as an adult find the movie oddly unsettling, but then that was more faithful to the Grimm's stories than might be readily admitted. It's not as if Tom ends up like The Incredible Shrinking Man and has to battle a giant cat or spider - though you do wonder if he ever was faced with such problems due to his diminutive stature, but there are villains in this nonetheless, played by Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers, just on the cusp of making their names internationally.

Those two want to rob the local village's bank, so persuade Tom to assist them under the pretence they need the money to give to orphans when they are planning nothing of the sort, which establishes the grand finale where Jonathan and Anne are unjustly accused of stealing the gold and threatened with a lashing, which seems unduly harsh for a family film from the fifties. All that was more interesting than the subplot where Alan Young was a woodwind (i.e. recorder) player in the village band, and wanted to marry the Forest Queen but couldn't since she was immortal and he was not, though a kiss will remedy that (couldn't she have made him immortal instead?). Along with these complications were songs by Peggy Lee, fresh off her Lady and the Tramp triumph, though she didn't pen the memorable paean to going to sleep, the Yawning Man's song here sung by the legendary Stan Freberg. There's no denying tom thumb probably plays better when you were a little kid, but it rarely flags and Pal's imagination was well-suited to this material; tumblin' Tamblyn's gymnastics remained superb.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Review Comments (2)
Posted by:
Andrew Pragasam
18 Nov 2013
  Clearly I didn't pay close enough attention to the credits as a child but I honestly had no idea Peggy Lee was responsible for those songs. So thanks for that! I'd rank this a slight notch above The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm because the plot is more coherent and the characters more vivid. Of course Pal's greatest achievement remains The Time Machine but I wish he'd made a few more fairy tales.
Posted by:
Graeme Clark
18 Nov 2013
  Peggy Lee is prominent in the opening titles, but she only wrote two or three of the songs. They are good ones, though. Pal's Brothers Grimm epic is a bit too lumbering really, this one's more fleet-footed.

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