"The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb"
Directed by Dave Borthwick. Starring Nick Upton, Deborah Collar, Frank Passingham, John Schofield, Mike Gifford. (1993, NR, 60 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 7, 1995
Like a cross between the Brothers Quay, Jan Svankmajer, and David Lynch, Tom Thumb is a dark, eerie retelling of the familiar tale of the tiny boy and his magical adventures in a world of giants. Borthwick, one half of the brilliantly creative animation team out of Bristol, England, called bolexbrothers (who are responsible for, amongst other things, Peter Gabriel's “Sledgehammer” video and the Academy Award-winning Creature Comforts series), has created a winning, emotionally resonant update of the Brothers Grimm classic that manages to make both your skin creep and your heart ache, often in the same 30-second stretch. Using a combination of live action, claymation, stop-motion, and pixilation, the hour-long film follows little Tom from his gory, unexpected birth to his kidnapping at the hands of mysterious, cloaked, government agents, and from there to his unlikely friendship with a likewise diminutive man-of-arms and his eventual reuniting with his father. Like their contemporaries the Quays, Borthwick and company have a genuine love of the squalid. Tom's world seems lacquered over with grit, grime, and sooty waste. Piles of trash line the streets and alleyways, and the skies are bleak and foreboding, all while toxic waste bubbles away in the background. Thrust into this hellishly industrialized world, preternaturally innocent Tom must fend for himself while trying to get back home. It's a deliriously wicked hour, crammed with subtleties, a musical score by former Led Zepper John Paul Jones, and gorgeous, wrenching animation. Also billed with Tom Thumb is one of this year's Oscar-winning short films, Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life, in which Richard E. Grant plays the hapless Prague writer as he struggles to come up with the opening line of Metamorphosis one chill winter night. Brilliant in everything from its art direction to execution, this bizarre little comedy of terrors mixes bits of the Capra classic with suitably Kafkaesque nightmares to create one of the most original shorts I've ever seen.