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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Thumbelina' a Magical Adventure

March 30, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don Bluth's "Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina" casts its spell so effectively that you don't even have to be a child to be swept away to its magical never-never land. Another success from Bluth and his partner Gary Goldman, whose previous animated hits include "The Secret of NIMH" and "An American Tail," it is a work of lilting pace and charm with an array of enjoyable rather than memorable songs, with lyrics by Jack Feldman and Bruce Sussman and music by Barry Manilow.

As a work of animation, it is securely in the Disney tradition of simply designed whimsical characters set against painterly landscapes and interiors. Bluth's script, in fact, is so sturdily constructed that he actually could have gotten away with a more venturesome, contemporary style and still appeal to family audiences.

A lonely woman (voice of Barbara Cook) living in a cottage on the outskirts of medieval Paris so longs for a child that she visits a "good witch," who gives her a barley seed, revealing, when it blossoms, a tiny living creature, a pretty young woman whom her new mother names Thumbelina (voice of Jodi Benson) because she's no bigger than her thumb.

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Thumbelina brings joy to her mother, but she soon grows lonely, longing to enter the world of fairy tales because the figures in her mother's book are the same size she is. Magically, her wish is granted, and she soon meets and falls in love with the handsome Prince Cornelius (voice of Gary Imhoff), whose wings leave trails of stardust and who rides a bumblebee for longer journeys.

Naturally, the young lovers are not about to get to live happily ever after so early in the game, and, sure enough, Thumbelina is kidnaped by the amorous toad Grundel (voice of Joe Lynch). She escapes only to land momentarily in the arms of Mr. Beetle (voice of Gilbert Gottfried) and finally winds up for the winter in the care of Ms. Fieldmouse (voice of Carol Channing), who thinks she'd be the perfect bride for the homely, sightless but rich Mr. Mole (voice of John Hurt), whose underground quarters possess a movie palace splendor. At times, Thumbelina seems as imperiled as a heroine in a Samuel Richardson novel.

Although not innovative, Bluth and company are certainly imaginative, taking us into their enchanting world so completely its people actually become real for us. There are a number of quite impressive set pieces, most notably a high-stepping nightclub sequence in which the jazzy Mr. Beetle and his pals dance up a storm.

The casting of the performers who supply the voices is especially inspired, making full use of the distinctive sounds and personalities of Channing; Hurt; Charo, who voices Grundel's mother, a knockout performer in the Carmen Miranda manner, and Gino Conforti, who voices Jacquimo, the swallow who befriends and looks out for Thumbelina in the course of her adventures. It's thumbs up for "Thumbelina."

Playing with "Thumbelina" is Steven Spielberg's presentation of Tom Ruegger's lively cartoon "I'm Mad!," featuring the TV series Animanics' Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner, those boisterous youngsters who here are off to adventure at a carnival with their friend Dr. Scratchansniff.

* MPAA rating: G. Times guidelines: It is suitable and enjoyable for the entire family.

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'Thumbelina'

Voice of Jodi: Benson Thumbelina

Voice of Gino: Conforti Jacquimo

Voice of Gary: Imhoff Prince Cornelius

Voice of Ms. Fieldmouse: Carol Channing

A Warner Bros. presentation. Directors Don Bluth, Gary Goldman. Producers Bluth, Goldman, John Pomeroy. Screenplay by Bluth. Supervising Directing Animator (L.A.) Pomeroy. Supervising color stylist Violet McKenns. Animation film editor Fiona Trayler. Songs Barry Manilow, Jack Feldman, Bruce Sussman. Underscore William Ross, Manilow. Production designer Rowland Wilson. Art director Barry Atkinson. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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