Tom Thumb in Trouble

tom thumb in trouble 2When it comes to animated shorts, each of the studios that produced them has their own style. It’s easy to spot a Disney cartoon, the Fleischer Studios had their own crazy style, and then, of course, there was the Looney Tunes. I mean, they didn’t call them “Looney” for nuthin’, but today we’re going to look at a very non-looney short released by Warner Brothers. As a matter of fact, this film looks a lot more like a Disney short. Directed by Chuck Jones, it’s 1940’s “Tom Thumb in Trouble.”

This short focuses on the classic fairy tale character of Tom Thumb who lives with his burly lumberjack father. Tom, of course, is about the size of an adult man’s thumb, while Dad is normal size. We see Tom and his father wake up one morning and get ready for their day. This includes Tom taking a bath in a pool of water cupped in his father’s hand. It’s uber cute.

tom thumb in trouble 1When Dad heads off to work, he leaves Tom to take care of his chores, including washing the dishes. Tom accomplishes this by washing plates with his own mini mop and cleaning glasses like a window cleaner on a skyscraper. But Tom has some trouble when he falls into a bowl of water. Luckily a helpful bird crashes through the window and rescues Tom. However, when Dad rushes in and finds Tom unconscious, he assumes the bird is responsible.

Tom tries to tell his father that the bird saved him, but he just doesn’t want to listen. So, that night, Tom heads out in the snow to find his feathered friend. When Dad wakes up to find his son missing, he panics and calls out the window. But the bird, hearing the cries, rushes out and finds Tom. He is then welcomed into the home by Dad.

“Tom Thumb in Trouble” is very heavily influenced by the Disney style and not at all characteristic of what would come out of Warner Brothers in the years to come. Tom even sings a song as he does the dishes that is sure to bring “Whistle While You Work” to mind. Though we think of Chuck Jones as being the man behind quintessential Looney Tunes films like “Duck Amuck” and “What’s Opera Doc?,” this sort of cutesy style was very much Jones’ thing at this point in his career. It may not be Looney, but it’s still a fine piece of animation.

tom thumb in trouble 3A lot of credit has to go to Robert McKimson who animated much of the film. McKimson had a real knack for realistic looking characters and movement, and that is certainly on display in this short. Tom Thumb’s father is as believable looking a character as you will see in a Looney Tunes short. McKimson, of course, would go on to direct many Looney Tunes in the future.

If you’re looking for boulder’s dropped on coyotes or ducks getting their beaks blasted off with a shot gun…well this isn’t that sort of cartoon. It does however show the great artistic range of the gang in the Warner Brothers animation department. It’s about as far from the Looney Tunes style as you can get…but is a fine piece of animation none the less.

2 thoughts on “Tom Thumb in Trouble

Add yours

  1. Just saw this on MeTV–it had been a very long time–I’d completely forgotten this cartoon’s existence. Interestingly, Jones did a very jaded cynical take on the Tom Thumb story, almost a quarter century later–“I was a Teenage Thumb.” Leaves a bad taste in the mouth–trying to be funny, and failing. (Maybe a bit influenced by the Fractured Fairly Tales of Jay Ward, which were much better). The animation in 1963 was much less impressive, as the market for theatrical shorts was nearly dead, so the budgets kept declining.

    My own take on Jones is that much of what we think of as his style is really just him imitating the styles of others–very impressively. His range was astounding, but there wasn’t much of an underlying core, which allowed him to adapt to each new era, blow with the wind.

    Tex Avery was far more original, as was Bob Clampett, but nobody could match Jones’ ability to glom onto a style and make it his own. We also tend to underestimate the influence of writers like Michael Maltese–Jones knew how to make use of such talent to his own advantage. As he made use of McKimson in this instance.

    I liked it, but it does drag on a bit. It lacks that kinetic craziness of Looney Tunes (already well-established by 1940). Jones wants those Oscars the Disney guys are getting for beautifully animated schmaltz. (The cartoon he finally got his Oscar for was The Dot and the Line, which bears absolutely no resemblance to anything he’d done previously, and is just a very faithful adaptation of a children’s book, like so much of his best work from the post-Warners era).

    Jones was at his best when he worked well with his collaborators, and took full advantage of the magnificent talent pool at Termite Terrace. But he had this egotistical streak which I think often hampered him as an artist, even as it drove him to try and surpass everyone else in his field. And fair play to him–he frequently did. Not this time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: