The Kids are Poppin down to Gnomeland
Maybe I wasn't in the mood, maybe the opening credits which promptly told me that it featured the kids from "Mary Poppins" and reminded me of a great family movie, maybe I just couldn't get past the repetitive and annoyingly catchy "Gnome-Mobile song" but something just didn't really work for me when I watched "The Gnome-Mobile", not the first time as a child nor now as an adult. Don't get me wrong it has a charming tale, plenty of inoffensive comedy and that whole family friendly feel but compared to other Walt Disney live action movies it just lacked that special something, the Disney magic.
Having picked up his grandchildren, Rodney and Elizabeth (Matthew Garber and Karen Dotrice), from the airport, millionaire D.J. Mulrooney (Walter Brennan) takes them for a picnic in the forest which is Lumber company owns. Whilst there they discover Jasper (Tom Lowell) and his Grandpa Knobbly (Walter Brennan), the last of the gnomes and whilst struggling to believe they have met gnomes offer to take them to another forest in search of more gnomes. But things don't go smoothly when travelling entertainer Horatio Quaxton (Sean McClory) kidnaps the gnomes and Mr. Mulrooney is taken away by men in white coats when he calls his assistant and tells him about kidnapped gnomes. It's left up to Rodney and Elizabeth to try and save the day.
As storyline's go "The Gnome-Mobile" is exactly what you expect, purposefully simplistic so that younger audiences can enjoy it without having to constantly ask their parents questions. But it's also sort of charming with the lovable grandfather, the cute grandchildren and that initial meeting with Jasper the gnome in a sunlit woodland glen, in amongst the towering redwoods. It's a nice enough start with an obligatory sing along with the children in the car as they learn about "The Juanty-Mobile" which their grandfather drove as a young man.
Even when it progresses to the main part of the movie with travelling performer Horatio Quaxton causing issues by kidnapping both Jasper and Knobby it's still entertaining and quite amusing as Grandfather D.J. Mulrooney gets a visit from the men in white coats when he mentions the gnomes to his assistant. It's obvious and expected, nothing wrong with that for a family movie and it all ends up happily ever after, as you would expect.
But the trouble is that whilst it works, it entertains and amuses there is nothing really magical about it. The gnomes, Jasper and Knobbly are not that memorable and nor is the overall storyline. Even the ending which without ruining things goes on too long and features Jasper and a series of females gnomes with flowery names like Violet and Morning Glory fails to really linger in your memory that long after you've watched it. In fact the only thing which really stays with you is the "Gnome-Mobile song" which whilst amusing with its various verses and chorus is also rather annoying. This may sound a little cheesy but "The Gnome-Mobile" is missing that coating of fairy dust to make it magical rather than just adequate.
As for the performances well as the credits reliably inform us those young children from "Mary Poppins" are the young children Rodney and Elizabeth in "The Gnome-Mobile". And you know that the cuteness and comedy which they delivered in "Mary Poppins" is for the most recreated here, with the late Matthew Garber delivering some of the movies funniest moments as Rodney. Alongside them there is also Tom Lowell as Jasper the gnome and Richard Deacon as Ralph Yarby both delivering solid performances.
But whilst the "Mary Poppins" kids add the cuteness it is Walter Brennan who carries the movie on his shoulders playing both their grandfather D.J. Mulrooney and also Jaspers Grandpa Knobby. Brennan certainly manages to deliver that friendly, likeable grandfather stuff as D.J. Mulrooney and also that cantankerous comedy as Knobbly, with some great comedy in the edited scenes where he appears as both characters in the same shot.
What this all boils down to is that "The Gnome-Mobile" is by no means a terrible movie and has charm, comedy and is completely inoffensive but it's also pretty unmemorable except for the "Gnome-Mobile Song". That Disney magic doesn't really work and when you compare it to other Disney live action movies it feels decidedly inferior. Basically its watch able, it's entertaining but instantly forgettable.