The Gnome-Mobile DVD Review
Theatrical Release: July 19, 1967 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: G
Director: Robert Stevenson
Cast: Walter Brennan (D.J. Mulrooney/Knobby), Matthew Garber (Rodney Winthrop), Karen Dotrice (Elizabeth Winthrop), Richard Deacon (Ralph Yarby), Tom Lowell (Jasper), Sean McClory (Horatio Quaxton), Ed Wynn (Rufus), Jerome Cowan (Dr. Conrad Ramsey), Charles Lane (Dr. Scoggins), Norman Grabowski (Male Nurse)
While D.J. and grandson Rodney picnic in a scenic forest, granddaughter Elizabeth goes wandering. She discovers a gnome named Jasper, who informs her that there is an important reason why he is breaking protocol and talking to a 'doo-deen' (Gnomish for 'human').
Like so many '60s live action Disney films, The Gnome-Mobile tackles a serious problem. You see, there are no gnome maidens for Jasper to marry. Because there's an absolute shortage of gnomes in this forest! It's just Jasper and his grumpy grandpa Knobby, who is becoming see-throughish, indicating a dropping desire to live.
Elizabeth assures Jasper to let her grandfather help the underpopulated gnomes, and reluctantly, Knobby decides that Jasper and he ought to take off with the wealthy tycoon, with slim hopes of resolving their dilemma.
The five of them hit the road -- one lumber magnate, two good-natured youths, and two desperate gnomes -- in a grand old Rolls Royce, which they dub the Gnome-Mobile. Of course, the gnomes don't know that the man they've just went off with is the D.J. Mulrooney, of Mulrooney Lumber. Once they find this out, Knobby is particularly upset. Fortunately, the social issue of preserving nature is kept to a minimum.
Instead, comic adventure ensues, as a shrewd manager of a travelling freak show learns of the gnomes and successfully plots to kidnap them from Mulrooney's hotel room. Instead of a traditional rescue, there's a twist. D.J. calls his assistant Ralph Yarby (Richard Deacon) and tells him about the kidnapped gnomes. Yarby happens to be receiving a medical checkup when he gets the call, and Dr. Scoggins (Charles Lane) devises a plan to trick D.J. into going to a sanitarium.
When Rodney and Elizabeth learn that their grandfather has been put in a crazy house, they take it upon themselves to save D.J.! The kids take Grandpa's car, utilize his uniquely loud snoring habit, and they're out of the hospital faster than you can say 'twelve monkeys.' (If you don't speak too fast.) D.J. and the kids are off again to rescue the gnomes!
The visual effects employed to depict the gnomes are pretty dated and not all that convincing. Just two decades later, Disney's Honey, I Shrunk the Kids convincingly achieved the type of visual wizardry that The Gnome-Mobile hoped to pull off. The rather rudimentary nature of these effects, however, do not hinder the film as a whole.
Although it may be a fantasy film, The Gnome-Mobile is first and foremost, a good-spirited, light-hearted comedy. The same can be said for many of the other live action Disney features from the '60s, and this film doesn't feel a lot different in tone (complete with a Sherman Brothers song). But, if The Gnome-Mobile uses elements of a formula, it does so successfully and to the point where you don't notice its familiarity but its heart.
In the dual roles of Mulrooney and gnome Knobby, Walter Brennan excels with his graceful comic charm that pulls off even the usually dated physical humor. The two young leads Garber and Dotrice do not look much older than they did in Mary Poppins, filmed three years earlier. Even if this film isn't as elaborate or magical as Poppins, the skilled actors don't treat it any less and where the script could have fallen flat on other children, their charisma carries The Gnome-Mobile far. Unfortunately, this was the last of three Disney films this duo appeared in, and was Garber's last film altogether.
In the final 15 minutes, the film finally delivers on the abundance of gnomes promised on the DVD cover. Among them is the comedic Ed Wynn (in his last film) as Rufus. Though you might think 'the more gnomes, the better,' the ending, if still entertaining, feels tacked-on. The humans who have dominated the film for the first seventy minutes just stand around and let the gnome maidens go after that irresistible Jasper. With a short and well-paced comedy like this, such a complaint is minor and far easier to overlook than the live action melodramas which surpass two hours with some filler.
VIDEO and AUDIO
The Gnome-Mobile is presented in 1.33:1 and it does appear to be a bit cropped. I would guess the film's original theatrical aspect ratio would be 1.75:1, like many other live action films of the decade. For the most part, the light cropping doesn't affect framing, but some shots in the car of the three humans do feel tight, and watching it on a TV with overscan, is bound to look a bit bad.
Video quality was inconsistent. At times, the film appeared to be pretty sharp and clean. Other times, it would be riddled by print flaws, grain, and scratches. The effects shots show very easily that the film worked with different planes to achieve the illusion of humans interacting with two-foot gnomes. Colors were vibrant and accurate and many scenes looked just very good overall. Still, additional work could have tended to the problematic poor-looking scenes. And presenting the film in its original widescreen aspect ratio is not too much ask for Disney at all.
There are far fewer complaints to lodge against the Dolby Mono audio track. Dialogue is crisp and discernible, and the film's rather active score and occassional musical number are nicely conveyed. As a matter of fact, the film's soundtrack is more lively and dynamic than many of the flat, dated audio tracks on '60s Disney comedies. As such, the audio presentation is more than satisfactory.
At the start of the DVD, there is the 90-second trailer for classic live action films on Disney DVD and video, highlighting Apple Dumpling Gang, Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The Love Bug, The Parent Trap, Escape to Witch Mountain, Return from Witch Mountain, and The Absent Minded Professor. There are no other extras. The menus are static 4x3 screens accompanied by portions of the film's score.
I enjoyed The Gnome-Mobile, and I'm sure that its fans and those who know and love other '60s live action Disney fare are glad to see it finally arrive on DVD. The no-frills DVD presentation does leave some to be desired; the video quality should be better and even a small dose of extras like some other recent catalogue releases would have been appreciated. The lack of a widescreen presentation is troubling, as always, and as seen from the 16:9-enhanced Those Calloways, Disney is capable of releasing their classic live action films in the right aspect ratios.
Those on the fence may decide on waiting even longer for a $5 price drop. However, those who know and love The Gnome-Mobile, will be impelled to just pick it up and be glad it's finally on DVD. I can't really blame them, as The Gnome-Mobile is one of those spirited, imaginative live action that work very well and bring back fond memories.
Reviewed March 4, 2004.
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Also directed by Robert Stevenson:
The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) | Blackbeard's Ghost (1967)
The Love Bug (1969) | Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Other '60s Disney Films:
Pollyanna (1960) | The Parent Trap (1961)
Follow Me, Boys! (1966) | Monkeys, Go Home! (1967) | Bon Voyage! (1962)
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