The Disney Renaissance really defined the animation scene in the 1990s. Once Walt Disney Animation Studios finally got back on their feet, they started pumping out some of the greatest animated films beginning with "The Little Mermaid" in 1989. Once "Beauty and the Beast" came out in 1991 and became the first animated film to receive the Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards, it showed animation really was a force to be reckoned with and studios hopped on board to try to steal Disney's thunder. Unfortunately though, most animation studios made the unwise decision to copy the formula Disney perfected rather than make their own film and resulted in a lot of pretty bad copycat Disney films and easily one of the worst of the bunch was "Thumbelina". Released in 1994, this film was Don Bluth's attempt to make a fairytale like his former employer and it failed pretty badly. To put it lightly, this film is quite honestly one of the most boring animated films I've ever had to sit through.
Once upon a time in France, a lonely widow (Barbara Cook) wishes for a child and is given a magic barleycorn seed by a witch that blossoms into a flower containing a young girl smaller than her thumb. The widow names the girl Thumbelina (Jodi Benson) and they live happily on the farm keeping each other company. One night, Thumbelina discovers there are more people her size when she meets Cornelius (Gary Imhoff), the prince of the fairies. The two fall in love and Cornelius promises to take her to his palace tomorrow to meet his parents. However that same night, Thumbelina is kidnapped by a group of musical toads who plan to marry her to Grundel Toad (Joe Lynch). Thumbelina feeling her heart belongs to Cornelius, leaves the toads and sets off through the garden back home meeting animals along the way like the bird Jacquimo (Gino Conforti) and a beetle named Berkeley (Gilbert Gottfried), hoping to reunite with her true love.
I've read that this film had an incredibly troubled production. Bluth's company Sullivan Bluth Studios was sadly facing bankruptcy during this time and distributor MGM decided to not release the film on its original Thanksgiving 1993 release fearing it would be a failure and it didn't get released until March 1994 when Warner Bros picked it up. Having finally seen the film, I'm not surprised why MGM decided to pull out of this film. The biggest problem with the film is easily the story. The story tries to tell the fairy tale of "Thumbelina" written by Hans Christian Andersen and rather makes it dreadfully boring and old fashioned. Compared to the fairy tale films that Disney was putting out at the time, this film seems really dated in comparison. There are no surprises or wonder to be found in this film and I was just finding myself so bored that I was checking my watch almost every five minutes. Bluth's previous films had so much energy to them that I wasn't left bored by what was happening on the screen, including "Rock-A-Doodle". This film on the other hand was so slow and monotonous that I was aching to watch something else. Another big problem the film has is that the story could easily have wrapped itself up with an easy solution yet the characters don't realize that. Thumbelina just needed to get on Jacquimo's back and him fly to the house yet she's forced to walk through the garden herself encountering all these creatures and it just left me wondering why. The solutions were so easy and were staring the characters in the face and it was so frustrating to see them make bad decisions to get to the goal. It also builds to such an anticlimax that it all but left me feeling so unsatisfied by the end. I also found most of the animation in this film a little outdated. I did find the character animation splendid as always and I did admire the designs for them as well, but I found the backgrounds uninspiring and gloomy and the colors brown and dull. There weren't any details that stood out in this film and it all looked really gloomy in the end. I also found the blending of computer animation backgrounds with the traditionally animated characters extremely poor. Some of the sets don't look very good and I also thought the transitions between the hand-painted backgrounds and CG backgrounds extremely noticeable. It's rather embarrassing especially considering that the stellar ballroom CG shots from "Beauty and the Beast" came out three years before. As far as the characters go, all of them are extremely boring and lacking personality. Thumbelina really doesn't have any unique characteristics about her. The only trait I picked up from her was that she likes to constantly spin around in her dress and ruffle it a bit. She's really an extremely weak protagonist and barely does anything throughout the film. Cornelius is also bland and has no personality traits like Thumbelina and leaves little to be desired. Even the other animals she interacts with are dull. Jacquimo is basically a watered-down version of Henri from "An American Tale", Berkeley is a sort of watered-down version of Iago from "Aladdin", and Grundel Toad is such a weak villain whose only goal is to marry Thumbelina and barely does anything menacing except for getting mean to other characters that I really just found myself lacking any interest in these characters and bored throughout. Another instance in where the film really fails is the songs written by pop singer Barry Manilow. While I do admire some of the work of Manilow and have enjoyed some songs of his, he did not bring his A-game here. These songs are simply dreadful as they range from either being annoying, forgettable, or just plain bad. The worst song is easily "Marry the Mole" which includes lyrics warning Thumbelina not to fall in love citing that Romeo and Juliet who did fall in love ended up dead. It's really bad songwriting and only gets worse knowing that fellow pop star Elton John would debut his fantastic songs in "The Lion King" only a few months after this film. It's embarrassing.
In all, "Thumbelina" is not a good animated fairy tale. The story is boring and old fashioned, the animation is gloomy and glum despite nice character animation, the characters lack personality and are flat, and the songs are poorly written and unmemorable. I don't recommend this film at all and highly recommend you skip it. There are many grand animated fantasy films and fairy tales that came out in the 90s that you should see, but this is not one of them.