If you have children and want to entertain them and yourself with a film, TOM THUMB is acceptable entertainment. Producer/director George Pal creates a quaint, vivid fairy tale world with bright colors, picturesque scenery and Tyrolean costumes. The stop motion animated singing and talking toys who befriend the titular tiny boy (Russ Tamblyn), are beautifully realized and smoothly co-exist with the live action Tamblyn. The songs are pleasant and hummable. Particularly memorable is “The Yawning Song,” drowsily warbled by the voice of Stan Freberg as a sleepy toy. Russ Tamblyn is appealing in the title role and Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers as, respectively, the conniving Ivan and his eager confederate Tony practically steal the film with their comic shenanigans. Sellers is particularly impressive, giving the standard dim-witted accomplice part a creepily animalistic shading.
But although TOM THUMB is enjoyable, it doesn’t rank with such outstanding family films like THE WIZARD OF OZ and Walt Disney’s PINOCCHIO. What mainly prevents TOM THUMB from achieving greatness is Ladislas Fodor’s slight scenario. In the best family films, the protagonists have important goals. For instance in THE WIZARD OF OZ Dorothy has to find a way back from Oz and in PINOCCHIO the titular puppet must learn to distinguish between right and wrong in order to become a real boy. In contrast, Tom Thumb’s mission- to prove his parents (Bernard Miles, Jessie Matthews) did not steal the town’s treasury by exposing the real thieves, Ivan and Tony-seems inconsequential. Compared to the scheme of, say, the Wicked Witch of the West to obtain Dorothy’s ruby slippers in order to obtain supremacy in Oz, Ivan and Tony’s plan is very pedestrian. The fate of the parents if they’re not cleared- a public whipping- is certainly bad but much milder than say the fate of Pinocchio, Geppetto, and their pets if they can’t escape from Monstro the whale- eternal imprisonment.
Then there is the romantic subplot between a local musician Woody (Alan Young) and the immortal Fairy Queen (June Thorburn). Woody wants to kiss the Fairy Queen so she can become a mortal as well as his wife, but the Fairy Queen warns him he should prove himself responsible before he can marry her. Pal handles the scenario in such a fluffy manner, however, that there is little conflict or feeling in this subplot. And while the animated segments are delightful, they hardly contribute to the plot.
But considering the glut of dreadful films trying to pass off as family entertainment, one should be grateful that TOM THUMB succeeds in its modest goal of entertaining viewers. Although the film is not extraordinary, it does emanate a storybook charm without succumbing to cloyingness. And Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers are a memorable pair- a kind of malevolent Laurel and Hardy.