If you’re thrown off by that movie title, you’re like Brooke. She was confused about what I was making her watch, and I refused to give any context. Because I’m SUCH a good friend.
Brooke, as per tradition, please kick us off. What did you think of this movie, and really, what IS it?
B: Not only did you refuse to give me any context, you were militant about your refusal. Whatever I asked, “Is it animated?” “Is this a Disney drug movie?” “Did you say ‘no-mobile’?” I was denied. I give you credit for upholding one of the unofficial rules of Required Viewing: maintain completely false ignorance at all times. AND I’ll further give you credit for picking a movie that doesn’t have a single GIF readily available on Giphy. So please enjoy the random image selection.
Anyway, when we did finally get around to watching this thing, I learned that The Gnome-Mobile is a lost entry in what I’m calling the “Disney car genre.” It is not animated. And it probably involved some drugs. But mostly, it seems like a quickly assembled way to capitalize on the renown of “The Mary Poppins Kids” as said Mary Poppins kids are primarily billed as such. To be honest, this is kind of what I thought Chitty Chitty Bang Bang would be like, instead of a nightmare scape.
The Gnome-Mobile is about a family of people who have very poor spatial awareness when it comes to traffic, and who happen to be hanging out in a forest (that the grandfather owns, BTW) for a picnic when the female Mary Poppins child meets a gnome. He doesn’t wear a pointy hat or a long beard, so I think gnomes have been severely mis-marketed, but he is tiny in the way that only rudimentary ’60s special effects could make him tiny. (Read: his size seems inconsistent, and he has a funny glow). Anyway, this gnome is sad because his grandfather is fading away and there are no lady gnomes around for him to
bang build a life with. Because, reasons, the family decides to drive both gnomes to another forest in search of other gnomes. Along the way there is an encounter with a freakshow owner, a false death notification, an admission to a mental health facility and probably other shenanigans that I don’t remember. Oh yeah, and sexism.
Also, this movie is based on a book written by Upton Sinclair?! I can’t even. I feel like something must have been lost in translation.
But, for all of that, I kind of enjoyed this relatively non-traumatic Disney car movie. It was light, rather creative and to be fair, it had a lot of twists I didn’t expect. Okay, AM, other than the fact that you’re such a good friend and you rather enjoy exasperating me, what lands this movie on our legendary list? I’m sensing that there are tales of wee Annemarie flights of fancy associated with this. Do tell.
A: I forgot I owned this movie, actually. We were rummaging last week and I re-discovered the DVD, gasped, and immediately texted Brooke to ensure that she had not seen this little gem. Thankfully, she hadn’t and I refused to explain anything. Now that she’s seen it, and we all understand WHAT it is, I’ll explain myself. Truth be told, this should have been the immediate Required Viewing successor to Mary Poppins, which should have come before Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and probably after Sound of Music.
Brooke’s right, it’s a fun, whimsical car movie not unlike The Love Bug (exact same era) and distinctly capitalizes on the name recognition of the Mary Poppins kids (aka Jane and Michael Banks, aka Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber IRL). It also has some thematic elements in common with The Great Muppet Caper (jailbreaks, mostly), but where Chitty is magical car, the Gnome-Mobile is strictly a transporter of people and gnomes. There’s no magic, except for the gnomes themselves.
Let’s talk a bit more about those effects. You’re right, they’re rudimentary. I do like the use of forced perspective and some basic visual effects to achieve the idea that the gnomes are tiny. Mary Poppins clearly had a bigger budget, but the same sort of visual language is at play here. I think it’s ultimately more effective than if they’d used an animated gnome, but what are your thoughts on how they brought the gnomes to life?
Hmmm… What sort of sexism could have possibly come out of a Disney flick in the ’60s? (She says sarcastically.) I didn’t mention why I like this movie so much (or rather, why Child Annemarie liked this so much), so I will admit that I liked it mostly because the lady gnomes were so pretty. Shallow, I know, but the “we’re going to coat the Man Gnome in soap and have alllll the Lady Gnomes try to capture him and the winner immediately marries him” montage seems to have made an impression on me. Is that what you meant by sexism?
B: I agree that the tricks they used to make the gnomes seem small were the right choice for this movie and this era. Animated wouldn’t have worked well because the gnomes aren’t really whimsical, they’re actually the source of most of the gravity in this movie, so that human feel helps ground the story, I think. Possibly I’m overthinking this.
As for the sexism, I was mostly thinking of the way the men in this movie man handle the women in this movie, and are generally dismissive. But the whole soap contest battle for the man is rather reminiscent of an ancient mythological attitude toward women’s need to marry that isn’t exactly flattering.
Am I to gather that Present Annemarie doesn’t dig the movie quite so much as Child Annemarie did? It’s funny, isn’t it, to rewatch something, have the self-awareness to know why you once liked it, and also recognize that said element doesn’t really do it for you anymore. When I was a kid, I loved the Pierce Brosnan Thomas Crown Affair for the escape scenes, particularly the one where everyone looks like that guy in that painting. I tried to rewatch it a couple years ago, and remembered basically nothing else. I never made it to that scene I liked so much because the heavy handed B romance novel vibes exasperated me too much. Did Child Annemarie think that you would claim a husband through soap tackle contests? Tell me more about the impression it left, I want to hear that The Gnome-Mobile fundamentally shaped you.
Okay, here’s the part where I make a confession. You know how we had Qdoba nachos with quite literally ALL OF THE CHEESE early on in this movie? And adult beverages? And it was Friday after a busy week? I think I might have drifted in and out at the end of this movie. Like, you could tell me that just about anything happened, and I wouldn’t feel confident enough to refute you. I remember the mental facility breakout quite clearly, but after that things get kind of hazy. Until the late stages when a mob of women are all around the young gnome and there are flowers and cheering. Did I miss crucial shenanigans?
A: LITERAL GASP. How dare you admit you FELL ASLEEP during one of the greatest gnome films of all time?! Mostly kidding, I understand and was similarly sleepy. You got the high points, I think. It’s not a terribly complex plot, and you’re also right about the idea that hordes of lady gnomes clamoring for a boy gnome is pretty sexist. It feels of the 1960s, so I mostly forgive it.
Onto my Adult Impressions vs Youth Impressions. This most recent viewing wasn’t the first time since childhood that I’ve seen this film, but there was a huge disconnect between those early viewings and the one I saw maybe 10 years ago and was pretty disappointed. I’ve come to accept that the magic of the film works in large part for children, and the plot isn’t strong enough to make up for it for adult viewers. I will admit I used to find the shy gnome lady winning the soap chase contest terribly romantic. That’s the type of courtship I suppose one expects when one has no real-life experience to compare it with. And it’s not that different from the standard Disney “And they lived happily ever after” fairy tale trope that appears in so, so many stories. It makes perfect sense that this is how the story would conclude. The writing was on the wall when Grandpa Gnome was fading away and the problem was there were no females around for his grandson to marry/procreate with.
I seem to remember more of an environmental aspect of the film back when I first saw it, but I don’t really think that theme comes through. The villain of the story is the freakshow proprietor, not the lumber company owner, who transports all the gnomes to the already-established wildlife preserve so they can live in safe harmony in perpetuity. I wonder if the story is lacking a stronger tale here about the perils of extinction.
Brooke, assuming you did in fact capture all of the story through your sleep eyes, what are your thoughts on the fairy tale tropes and environmental message here? Did they miss a huge opportunity to make this a proto-Fern Gully?
B: The environmental lens is interesting here, and I think it was an opportunity missed. I honestly thought it was going to be more of a thing based on Grandpa Gnome’s angry reaction to the family name. But ultimately, it felt like a loose end. I’d like to see a version of this movie that features a Human Grandpa flashback to the moment he realized some trees must be protected, even as a lumber man. Cause he definitely seems to revere the big ‘ol Redwoods. It could have given the whole thing a very full circle vibe that I would dig on. To be fair, this was the 60s and I don’t think Disney was particularly on board with “hippie” agendas, so we might be asking to much by suggesting that they should have roped something more powerful in here.
I do think you’re spot-on about the fairy-tale tropes. It’s all very classic and seemingly thrown in just to give the movie an ending. I suppose it’s nice that the young gnome gets a bride, but it is curious that the race gives it all kind of a The Bachelor vibe. How did we not end up with a rom-com dedicated to gnomes trying to win each other’s love?! That’s a movie I would not take a nap during … probably.
Next time, we’re bringing it back to the real world with a look at a year in the life of one legendarily larger than life family.