Thumbelina (1984)

“It’s just that I’m always the bride and never the bridesmaid…”

Thus quips Carrie Fisher in her 1984 role as Thumbelina, the diminutive heroine of one of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre productions.

After Thumbelina escapes the mother toad who kidnaps her as a bride for her son, she lives alone in the woods until winter, when she is rescued by a field mouse, whose neighbor the mole falls in love with her. Her host believes her marriage to the mole is a foregone conclusion; thus her frustration.

I watched this Faerie Tale Theatre episode after I saw the truly awful Don Bluth movie and re-read the original Andersen tale, both of which include yet another suitor (a beetle whose friends find Thumbelina ugly).

More details about this version below.

Shelley Duvall’s Thumbelina

This version is set in England, as we know when we meet the beggar woman who brings Thumbelina’s mother the magic barley seed.

Thumbelina sleeps in a matchbox (not a walnut) and reads Darwin (not fairy stories) because, as she immediately intuits, her mother doesn’t want her to be “just another pretty face”.

The toads are suitably repulsive. The son, as in the original tale, can’t even speak. Nevertheless, his mother is eager for him to make a good impression. The photo album, showing toad relatives and a graduation photo of the groom, is a nice touch. When Thumbelina throws the album and other items into the water, she inadvertently clobbers two white-wigged gentlemen fish, who pity her and free the lily pad she’s trapped on to help her get away.

Thumbelina, being a resourceful young lady, finds her way to shore and builds herself a shelter and survives quite well on her own for a while before being offered shelter by a field mouse.

The field mouse, whose costume includes a multipurpose tail and movable ears, is friendly and hospitable. Also, possibly, lonely.

His neighbor the mole is depicted as a white-haired Latin-speaking antiquarian scholar so opposed to progress that he insists on eating meals in a reclining position, because that was “good enough for Caesar”. When Thumbelina whines that she likes tables and chairs, he breaks into an anti-progress song glorifying the dead heroes of the past. He is kind, generous, and educated, but hates birds, sunshine, and the outdoors. Thumbelina respects him but hates his name (Mortimer) and the idea of never seeing the sun again.

Thumbelina secretly aids a nearly frozen swallow that the mole found in one of his tunnels and sings folk songs with him. When the weather is milder, the swallow leaves but offers to return and take Thumbelina away if she wishes.

After the mole has gotten to know Thumbelina for a while, he officially asks her guardian the field mouse for permission to marry her. Thumbelina professes herself flattered but uninterested, whereupon the field mouse praises the mole and calls Thumbelina ungrateful. Eventually, Thumbelina capitulates. However, on her wedding day, she excuses herself to “meditate” on the end of her girlhood, and sings a song, which the swallow hears. She accepts the swallow’s offer to take her away, and they fly joyfully through a green forest to a flowery southern land.

Thumbelina meets a flower angel king, and the two hit it off. She refuses his immediate offer of marriage, saying she hasn’t known him long enough, and in any case cannot marry without her mother’s consent. The sparrow tries to go and ask for consent on the king’s behalf, but the mother doesn’t understand bird speak. The king enters the mother’s dreams and instructs her to travel to their location, where she happily agrees to let Thumbelina marry.

Somewhere in there is a line about how nobody understands croquet.

Faerie Tale Theatre

I loved the Faerie Tale Theatre episodes I watched when I was little, though I’m sure I never saw all 26 of them. For me the most memorable one is Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, which was directed by Tim Burton and stars James Earl Jones as both the calm, green Genie of the Ring and the rather more energetic blue Genie of the Lamp. My mom and I would borrow the videotapes from the local library or rent them from a place called Turtle’s, an Atlanta retail chain that predates and was bought by better-known (but now equally dead) retail chain Blockbuster Video.