Blu-ray Review: The Great Land of Small | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

The Great Land of Small

Studio: Canadian International Pictures

Apr 29, 2024 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Siblings Jenny and David leave their home in the city to visit their grandparents in the countryside. Grandpa, the old coot, is just a nut for local folklore, telling the children to keep their eyes open for invisible woodland creatures who can only be seen by those who believe in magic real hard. Gramps has to fix a fence the next morning, so he dumps the kids off on the edge of the forest and basically tells them to have fun out there. You wanna bet they find something invisible, magical, and very much alive before they can make it three trees deep into the woods?

Their whimsical, little spellcaster and new friend-for-life is Fritz, played by Twin Peaks backwards-talking Michael J. Anderson. He’s a leprechaun, but the movie weirdly refuses to call him that (has General Mills trademarked leprechauns in Canada?). His extensive gallivanting with these human children makes him miss his ride home on the tail of a rainbow, and worse yet, he’s lost his bag o’ gold – which has been stolen by an evil hunter hellbent on corrupting the leprechaun’s magic for . . . one thing or another. They’re eventually teleported to the magical Land of Small, where the king and queen try to forcefully adopt them as their own children. They narrowly escape being melted into butterflies, then retrieve the bag o’ gold (and possibly save the world) with the help of a leprechaun, a dog, a human dog, a vagrant, a magical giant and a bartender.

The text above was an attempt to make The Great Land of Small (1986) sound as normal as possible, but it’s far weirder than words can do justice. Directed by Vojtěch Jasný, it feels like a piece of Czech surrealism – say, a Muppet Babies take on Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. But no, it’s actually a Canadian children’s film, and part of the Tales for All series. (See: our review of The Christmas Martian). Fellow parents of young kids should be familiar with their unique form of storytelling, which jettisons logic in favor of a sort of “free disassociation” – this happens, then this happens, then this happens, and it doesn’t really matter if any of that makes a lick of sense. The Great Land of Small, for better and worse, feels like it was written by a cadre of five-year-olds after a sugary breakfast, but it’s entertaining and often visually interesting throughout its runtime.

The following thoughts/bullet points could be construed as spoilers (but are they really spoilers if they have no logical explanation?):

  • The Land of Small itself looks like the summit scene in The NeverEnding Story crossed with one of the Bob Fosse-directed fever dreams from All That Jazz. Or, better yet: the ending of Return to Oz, when the heroes are being paraded through the Emerald City and pelted with confetti by exuberant circus-folk.
  • Love how the kids barely question that the Queen of Small not only looks just like their mother, but is a trapeze artist, just like their mother. (The King is also played by Anderson, as Fritz’s “twin brother.”) The dual roles might imply that the Land of Small is a dream, or it might imply that the production simply didn’t want to hire separate actors.
  • The King and Queen seem to lead a suicide cult, selecting followers to be sent down a slide into a pit to be “slimoed.” Some emerge from the goop in a new, evolved form, while others apparently become one with the ooze.
  • Slimo himself looks like the floating head from Zardoz made a baby with the turd monster Bill Paxton transforms into in Weird Science, but is somehow grosser than both.
  • A hunky, young police officer is too busy romancing the kids’ single mother to be bothered with stopping local hunters from trying to lynch the town’s eccentric drifter.
  • The movie makes a big deal out of Fritz having a terminally finite number of magic spells, but he sure does waste the first couple on some childish bullshit (imagine Aladdin using his first wish to have the genie help him loosen a stuck peanut butter lid for some equivalent frivolity).
  • Just what is the significance of Fritz’s bag of gold? What does it even do? It’s supposed to be some sort of test of mankind, but we’re never given any parameters. From what we can see, it appears to possess the same magical transformative qualities that turns Skeletor into Gold Skeletor in Masters of the Universe (1987).

Much like The Christmas Martian, The Great Land of Small is an enjoyable little slice of nuttiness – and one that my children also enjoyed. (It doesn’t appear to have given them any nightmares, but I can’t comfortably speak for myself yet.)

Canadian International Pictures’ Blu-ray looks excellent, especially in contrast with the VHS rip which many fans have presumably been watching it on. The bonus features are robust for a film of this obscurity, including: an audio commentary from Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth, on-camera interviews with its former child stars, and another with VFX producer Pascal Blais explaining how the movie was animated. Also present: a long archival interview with the director, and two of his early short films. My favorite features lean into the movie’s weirdness. One is an episode of the surreal public access series Beyond Vaudeville that featured Anderson alongside various puppets, a lounge singer, a violent giant, and pogo stick record-holder (Curious about this vintage ‘80s/’90s oddity? Full episodes are available on the show’s YouTube channel). Another is The New World Pictures Podcast episode on The Great Land of Small, which baffled the show’s hosts as much as it did this reviewer. [Disclosure: The reviewer has been a guest on the podcast.]

The Great Land of Small is an oddity worth checking out, whether it was part of your childhood or not.

(vinegarsyndrome.com/products/the-great-land-of-small)




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