Very little is known about this amazing and moody stop-motion feature film that found itself on the shelves of the more esoteric video rental stores during the mid-90’s, but The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb is written, directed, shot and edited by someone named Dave Borthwick- and it’s unlike anything you’ll ever see.
A mixture of claymation, stop-motion puppets and live humans (all interacting in the same universe) Tom Thumb has a Brothers Quay feel on the surface, in that it’s dark and creepy… but with a much stronger sense of narrative and focus than anything those guys put out. Tom is a tiny claymation baby, born to human parents by way of some bizarre artificial insemination accident. Though they seem to love and care for him, some men in black suits and hats whisk Tom away to a lab where they experiment on a variety of grotesque creatures. Tom escapes, searching for a way back to his father in this cold, cruel world.
Completely devoid of any discernible dialogue, Tom Thumb is a challenging film to watch, even at a mere sixty minutes- but that single viewing will stick with you for decades… at least it did with me. Watching it again almost 30 years later, I was surprised by how clearly I remembered so many of these abstracted scenes. More mood than story, the film nevertheless works on a visceral, subliminal level that pulls you in. Its world is slimy, gross and toxic, yet there’s an odd tenderness and innocence within Tom that keeps the film from drowning in its own heaviness.
The animation style, too, is not just technically amazing (those actors had to sit still for hours while bits of clay were animated frame by frame) but creates a surreal sensibility you’d never get with traditional live action film… or drawn 2D animation, or the more prevalent and popular 3D CGI of today. Tom Thumb is a messy, tactile film meant to be felt and experienced, floating in a world that barely remembers its existence.
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