Directors/Screenplay/Production Design – The Bolex Brothers [Dave Borthwick], Producer – Richard Hutchison, Photography – Dave Borthwick & Frank Passingham, Music – John Paul Jones. Production Company – The Bolex Brothers
Nick Upton (Tom’s Father), Frank Passingham (Drunk), Deborah Collard (Tom’s Mother), John Schofield (Man)
After a mix up at an artificial insemination factory, a woman gives birth to a child only a few inches tall. The child is duly named Tom Thumb. Tom is then abducted by scientists, during which his mother is killed. He makes an escape from the laboratory. Attempting to return home to his father, he must cross a giant-sized terrain where he encounters bizarre laboratory creations, miniature junkyard scavengers and drunks.
Forget anything to do with the Brothers Grimm or the George Pal film version tom thumb (1958), The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb is closer to Eraserhead (1977) than the land of fairy-tale. If anything, it resembles an episode of Gumby that has been hijacked by Czech surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer. Behind the pseudonymous name of The Bolex Brothers, the credits list at least a dozen names as being the directors, although most regard the director as the omnipresent Dave Borthwick. Whatever the case, The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb is a work of bizarre genius.
The entire film is stop-motion animated, including the human scenes, which are often combined with the puppet scenes – a considerable feat of logistics when one considers what such entails. The film is filled with such bizarre images as miniature people controlling full-size humans while hiding under a coat collar and holding a syringe at the human’s neck, or of a Santa Claus crucified on a wall. The most amazing sequence in the film is the nightmarish journey through the frighteningly oversized factory filled with buzzing, clicking and ratcheting Mecchano set machines and cages of monstrosities that contain creatures that are part winged reptiles, part trails of wires. Not to mention the bizarre experiments being run by pairs of animated black rubber gloves and the jars full of animated disembodied hands and mouths.
The Bolex Brothers have a fascination with insects, which are seen crawling, buzzing and flying through the background of just about every scene in the film – flies form strange patterns on walls, a woman’s jewelled broach is an insect that keeps trying to fly away from her lapel only to be held down by a gold chain. A great deal of pity is created for the frail character of Tom, despite it only being a rough hewn lump of clay – the scenes of him being tied down and callously manhandled through a succession of laboratory experiments by a giant pair of hands are quite terrifying.
Dave Borthwick has subsequently gone onto direct various animated children’s films with The Magic Roundabout (2005) and Doogal (2006), although none of these have the sheer bizarreness of The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb.