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.