Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Gnome-Mobile (1967)

A shiny penny to the man (or lady) who can remember this or has even seen it!. Directed by Disney maestro Robert Stevenson who ALL of the Disney films through the 50's and 60's!. The film also has various actors from other famous Disney movies such as the 'Mary Poppins' kids, Tom Lowell from 'That Darn Cat' and Disney stalwart Ed Wynn.

The film is based on a story by Upton Sinclair although how accurately I don't know. The story tells of two children and their grandfather who discover gnomes living in the Redwood forests in California. The trio help the two gnomes by escorting them to another wooded area looking for more of their kind. They run into trouble along the way as a freak show owner steal the gnomes and the fact that the kids grandfather is the owner of a logging company that is destroying the gnomes natural habitat.

Much like other classic Stevenson films such as 'Blackbeard's Ghost' this has been forgotten when up against other mega Disney animations. The 60's saw many live action flicks from old Walt which are admittedly terribly dated watching now but the charm factor is through the roof!. The visuals here are your typical vibrant colourful affair, the cheery ever happy acting, quirky sickening songs and those amusing sped up special effects.

I was impressed with the puppetry on display though, at the start of the film the gnomes are chatting with some animal friends of the forest and these creatures look great. Considering this film was made when it was you gotta give kudos to the craftsmanship on show. The effects overall are to a very high degree in general, the bluescreen work is of course obvious but does the job, while enlarged sets to force scale really work nicely, especially inside the Rolls Royce. The entire film has that bold cartoon look about it much like all the other uncle Walt live action films of the era but it does also suffer from feeling somewhat similar to those other films.

There is a nice car chase sequence which is pretty much the same stuff you see in 'The Love Bug', its cool and planted the seed for 'Herbie' but its too much of deja vu for me. Later scenes in the film do tend to feel like other fantasy films also, a bit 'Willy Wonka-ish' a bit 'Wizard of Oz-ish', not totally but you sense it. Unfortunately the film is no where near as great as those films, probably why its long forgotten. You do get the feeling they stuck the 'Mary Poppins' kids in there simply to try and make the film more attractive to audiences still high on that British vibe. Its only Ed Wynn who seems to fit in this fantasy world, even Brennan kinda feels a tad wooden and out of place (his 'Jaunty car' song is pretty awful).

Without sounding too cynical I can see why these films didn't take off as well as the animated films, the use of the same cast doesn't help with originality, I mean you could of stuck Dean Jones in here quite easily and nothing would feel any different. I confess to finding the finale also somewhat disturbing actually, the main young hero gnome is looking for a female partner, so he gets to choose a girl gnome at the end (spoiler aler...oh come on the films 46 years old people!). So all the girly gnomes line up and he gets to choose his sexy gnome wife! lucky boy, so basically we are seeing gnome prostitution are we not?.

Sounds over the top but the dialog coming from the elder gnomes do in fact consolidate my theory. After that the girls must chase and capture our plucky young gnome hero, the one who catches him gets to be his the whole choosing bit was a complete waste of time. This again seems really dumb, why would anyone run??! these sexy girls are running this guy down and virtually tearing off his gnome pants, oh if only!. Its all done in a very family fun orientated way of course but there does feel like a darker undercurrent here...or maybe that's just me and my sordid mind who knows.

The film is most definitely a Disney classic for sure, chock full of delightful characters, magical sequences of wonder, bright colourful scenery and charming silliness all based around old world fantasy creatures. I'm not so sure kids these days will get a kick out of it as CGI animation seems to be the thing. For me the film is a bit too wishy washy and sappy, not a lot does happen that is memorable and as I've said its way too similar to many other Disney films of the time. Even though the magic on display is created well it does clearly tend to struggle to keep things gripping and inventive, it can't really match the likes of 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks'.