Le Petit Poucet
Apart from the obvious ballets and operas, Perrault inspired many film adaptations beginning in the late 1800s with silent shorts and extending through several animated classics from Disney and others. The character of "Le petit poucet" (sometimes Anglicized as Hop o' My Thumb rather than Tom Thumb) made his first onscreen appearance in a 1905 silent French short directed by Vincent Lorant-Heilbronn, though it wasn't adapted as a full feature until a 1972 French production, Tom Thumb, directed by Michel Boisrond and starring Marie Laforêt and Jean-Pierre Marielle. The basics of the story have remained consistent throughout with the title character, the youngest of seven children born to a woodcutting couple in the countryside, forced to compensate for his small size by using his wits instead. Unable to support their family any longer, the parents abandon their children in the woods where a number of threats arise including a hungry ogre intent on making them the main course of his next meal.
However, the most lavish version by far came in 2001 under its original French name, Le petit poucet, though in Australia and South America it was again retitled Tom Thumb to keep with tradition. This adaptation keeps the macabre and sometimes violent tone of Perrault's original writing, with brutal battles and the ravenous ogre perhaps offering a bit more intensity than parents might expect. In a nod to the tradition of past adaptations, the film also eschews modern digital technology for the most part in favor of matte paintings and optical trickery, creating a deliberately artificial but striking series of environments dismissed by some as "bad special effects." The look of the film is entirely intentional, creating a sometimes theatrical and stylized aesthetic that fits the storybook ambience as well.
Le petit poucet marked the second feature film for writer/director Olivier Dahan, a former painter and music video director (including one for The Cranberries). He followed this with the 2002 Isabelle Huppert drama La vie promesse and the superior thriller Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse (2004), but it wasn't until 2007 that he would score his biggest international success to date by directing Marion Cotillard to an Oscar® as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose. More recently he helmed the troubled 2010 production My Own Love Song with Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker, as well as the sports comedy Les seigneurs (2012) and the Nicole Kidman-starring Grace Kelly biopic, Grace of Monaco (2013).
Among the primary cast, the most familiar to international viewers is probably Élodie Bouchez, who plays the ogre's wife. Decked out in striking gothic fashions reminiscent of Mia Sara's dark incarnation in Ridley Scott's Legend (1985), it's a colorful role for the actress also seen on the TV show Alias and in such films as André Téchiné's Wild Reeds (1994) and Roman Coppola's CQ (2001). Also playing the old title character and providing narration is Michel Duchaussoy, who can be seen in titles like Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008) and several Claude Chabrol films including This Man Must Die (1969). However, film fans should also be prepared for a surprise appearance near the end from a major member of French cinematic royalty who won't be spoiled here.
Perhaps the most surprising name behind the scenes is the music composer, Joe Hisaishi, who has scored almost every anime directed by Hayao Miyazaki ranging from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) through The Wind Rises (2013). The same year he scored this film, Hisaishi also worked on the classic Spirited Away (2001), making it a banner year for him with cinematic fantasies. He and Dahan also penned a theme song for the film, "La lune brille pour toi," which translates as "The Moon Shines for You" and refers to the main character's unusual lunar-related origin. Interestingly, his birth was actually shot for the film but was scrapped from the final cut, with Dahan preferring to communicate his arrival through suggestion and dialogue instead. The song was performed by French pop star, actress, and Chanel model Vanessa Paradis, who has recently completed her album Bliss and was in the midst of a 14-year relationship with actor Johnny Depp (with whom she had two children). The song kicked off the film's soundtrack album but is tucked away in the end credits of the actual feature, so be sure to stick around all the way to the end; it's one of her best.
By Nathaniel Thompson