A Year in Shorts Day 43: "The Little Match Girl"
Folks, we’re finally going to do it. We’re finally going to celebrate Christmas with a short that’s about… New Year’s Eve. Damn it. I thought this was a Christmas short, I’m sorry guys. But hey, it can still be fun! If I mistook it for Christmas, that must mean it’s festive, right? So let’s talk about The Little Match Girl, the 1937 short about a homeless orphan freezing to death! Happy Holidays!
Adapted from yet another cheerful story by Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Match Girl was part of Charles Mintz's "Color Rhapsodies" series he made for Columbia. The film (directed by Arthur Davis and Sid Marcus) updates the setting to contemporary (at the time) New York and changes the ending, but it's still fairly faithful. It is also, according to Wikipedia, considered to be the studio's best animated short. I'm hoping Wikipedia is inaccurate on this one, because if this is the studio at its best, I'd hate to see them at their worst.
To be fair, I can definitely see why people would like this short. For one thing, it's a surprisingly dark little film, especially for a thirties cartoon. I can imagine it must have had a pretty profound impact on Depression-era audiences. And while I personally find the whole thing overly schmaltzy, that might not be a deal breaker for some like it is for me.
But the one thing that really sinks this short for me is the character animation. By God, it is terrible. In trying so hard to make the Little Match Girl cute, they somehow went all the way back around to making her grotesque. It's a shame too, because a lot of the prop and background animation is quite lovely. But the characters all look like Precious Moments figurines, and it's frankly a chore to watch as a result.
There are other issues as well. The score is very annoying in that particular way that a lot of scores from 1930s animated shorts can be annoying. And I find the final two minutes a little unnecessary; why exactly do we need to know that the heaven sequence was a dream if the girl is going to die anyway?
Still, this short has its fans, and if you're one of them, I can't say I blame you. It's definitely not for me, but there's an audience out there for this type of thing, and I hope they find it. The Little Match Girl would lose the Oscar to Disney's The Old Mill that year, and I don't think anyone can argue with that. And nearly seventy years later, Disney would release their own take on the story, and made a significantly better short in the process.
And I'm pretty sure that short has something to do with Christmas.
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