This film, based on an Upton Sinclair novel, is a fast-moving ride with a genuine love and warmth between the bigwig lumber executive (J.B.) and his grandchildren that all family members will appreciate. There's also an underlying ecological theme that explains why the gnomes disappeared. As old (really old) Knobby recalls, it was all because of the chopping down of the trees by lumbermen yelling "timber!" ... everything was "pleasant and peaceful" before that. The story takes place back in the '60s when a car could be serviced for about six dollars, and it's fun to see such time-pieces as TVs with antennae, dial phones, and big old transistor radios. And two gallons of gas cost 72 cents! Part of the happy ending is that J.B. helps Knobby and Jasper discover that they aren't the only gnomes in the world. And to Jasper's delight, and Knobby's too, there are some very pretty and colorful ones, too, with names like Violet, Buttercup, and Dewdrop. Everyone will be rooting for shy Violet to win the competition and become Jasper's wife. As a wedding gift, J.B. deeds 50,000 acres of virgin redwoods to the gnomes, for eternity. Talk about happy-ever-afters!
Kids Will Like:
With special effects like talking animals and flying gnomes, and likable young siblings who want to help the gnomes, what's not to like? Kids will appreciate Knobby's love for the redwoods and his distress at having those gorgeous old trees cut down. Young Rodney is a chip off grandpa's block, with a tough, stubborn streak; Elizabeth, on the other hand wants to help Jasper no matter what. The fantasy of these tiny gnomes existing alongside J.B. and his grandkids will get young viewers to suspend their disbelief; it looks so real. And there's a comic likeability to old Knobby (at one point he defiantly sticks his tongue out at J.B.). The kids are appealing and industrious and hatch a scheme to rescue their grandfather when he's institutionalized for insisting that the gnomes have been kidnapped. Young Rodney decides to take the Rolls (though his feet don't even reach the floor), and with help from his sister and his grandpa's deafening snore, sneaks into the estate where J.B. has been placed against his will. It's also Rodney who suggests that the gnomes were probably kidnapped by Quaxton. He's right! And then there's an engaging chase scene toward the end of the movie and the Rolls handles beautifully.
Parents Will Like:
Knobby, the grey-bearded 900-year-old grandpa gnome remembers the good old days, before lumberjacks, with their infernal axes swinging, came in and destroyed the forest, chasing gnomes away. Knobby, one of the two characters played by Walter Brennan, is feisty, full of vim and vinegar. Grown-ups will appreciate the interplay between the two hardheaded grandpas: Knobby and J.B., both played brilliantly by Brennan. And there's some classic dialogue. When Jasper tries to get Knobby to trust J.B. (though he's a powerful lumberman), Knobby exclaims, "I'd rather trust a predatory vulture with a hungry eye and an empty belly."
There are just a few things that might be a bit disturbing to the youngest viewers. Near the film's beginning, Jasper's grandfather is in danger of becoming more "see-throughish," a condition that effects gnomes who have lost their will to live. Though gnomes have the ability to live on and on, they have to want to, and grandfather gnome is in danger of fading away as he fears that without a suitable gnome maiden, his grandson, Jasper, might not be married and never have kids of his own. Then when J.B. and his grandchildren stop into a hotel, the gnomes, stowed away in a picnic basket, cause a scene and attract the attention of Horatio Quaxton who runs Quaxton's Academy of Fantastic Freaks. When J.B. and Rodney step out of their hotel room, Quaxton steps in, tricking Elizabeth by telling her that her grandfather has been in an accident. Quaxton takes the basket containing the gnomes and drives off into the night. There are some tense moments when Quaxton walks in on the gnomes as they are trying to escape, and Jasper shoots off a gun in Quaxton's direction. Good thing the young gnome can fly! But the bad guy stops Jasper's escape by hooking him with a fishing rod. Ouch! But with a little help from his friends, the little guy ultimately outsmarts Quaxton.
This is a big-hearted film with plenty of humor and an ahead-of-its-time environmental theme. Still a couple viewings should suffice, so rent it or see if it's on the shelf at your local library.