Review: ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’

A triumphant demonstration of animation techniques, but weakened by thin plotting that doesn't quite hold the attention, "The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb" is a high-grunge, post-industrial meltdown of elements from the traditional yarns "Tom Thumb" and "Jack the Giant Killer."

A triumphant demonstration of animation techniques, but weakened by thin plotting that doesn’t quite hold the attention, “The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb” is a high-grunge, post-industrial meltdown of elements from the traditional yarns “Tom Thumb” and “Jack the Giant Killer.” Hourlong feature should find a home in adventurous TV programmers’ skeds, though item and subject matter is too outre for afternoon kidslots.

Production is the brainchild of U.K. animator Dave Borthwick, co-founder of Bristol-based production house bolexbrothers with Dave Riddett, a cameraman from claymation specialists Aardman Studios. Pic mixes their pixilation technique (frame-by-frame animation of live actors) with standard model and clay animation , all done in-camera. Result has an unreal, time-lapse feel, perfectly suited to the film’s David Lynch-like, industrial-Gothic atmosphere.

Slim story, set in a kind of 1950s British working-class ambience, has a hairless, earless, tiny sprig (resembling the Star Child in Kubrick’s “2001”) born to a poor couple in a bug-ridden apartment. Christened Tom Thumb by his parents, the kid is taken away by Kafkaesque goons for testing in a lab, whence he escapes down a chute to discover an alternative society of Little People scraping a living among the garbage and industrial waste.

The medieval-like society is led by Jack, who goes on raids among the Giants (humans), felling them with blowdarts. Tom’s father tracks him and Jack down but is accidentally killed by a drinking partner in a fight. The tiny duo make their way to the lab, where they smash a secret, mystical power source. Surreal ending is ironic (and obscure).

Though the pic’s technique is often awesome, the relentlessly downbeat tone, with the screen suffused by bugs, creepy-crawlies and dank imagery, proves a turn-off after a while. Dialogue is mostly grunts, with occasional key words highlighted to aid comprehension.

The project started as a 10-minute series pilot, screened by pubcaster BBC during Christmas 1988. When the BBC went cold on more funding, the producers raised their own coin for a feature version, finally re-interesting the BBC. Following a screening at last year’s London fest, and a brief theatrical outing, pic aired Dec. 23 in an evening slot on the U.K. pubcaster’s minority channel, BBC2.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb

British

Production

A Manga Entertainment release of a bolexbrothers production for BBC Bristol/La Sept (France)/Manga Entertainment, in association with Lumen Films. Produced by Richard "Hutch" Hutchison. Executive producers, Thierry Garrel (for La Sept), Colin Rose (for BBC). Directed, written, edited by Dave Borthwick.

Crew

Camera (color), Borthwick, Frank Passingham; music, Startled Insects; title theme, John Paul Jones; production design, Borthwick; sets, costume design, makeup, the bolexbrothers; sound design, Andy Kennedy; sound, Paul Hamblin; key animators, Borthwick, Passingham, Lee Wilton; character models, Justin Exley, Jan Sanger; additional models & set dressing, Cathy Price, Beverley Knowlden; script associate, John Schofield; associate producer, Hengemeh Panahi; second unit director, Passingham. Reviewed in London, Jan. 5, 1993. Running time: 60 MIN.

With

Pa Thumb - Nick Upton
Ma Thumb - Deborah Collar
Two men - Frank Passingham, John Schofield
Woman in bar - Mike Gifford
Voices: Brett Lane, Helen Veysey, Paul Veysey, Peter Townsend, Marie Clifford , Tim Hand, Andrew Bailey, Nick Upton, John Schofield.
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