Millionaire lumber magnate D J Mulrooney (Walter Brennan) takes his visiting grandchildren Elizabeth (Karen Dotrice) and Rodney (Matthew Garber in his final film role) for a picnic in a Californian Redwood forest, travelling in his proudest possession – a 1930 Rolls Royce.
While wandering in the woods, Elizabeth meets Jasper (Tom Lowell), a young gnome, and his 943-year-old grandfather Knobby (also Walter Brennan – with his dentures out – in a dual role), but soon discovers the gnomes have a serious problem.
There are no gnome girls left for young Jasper to marry. They have all been scared away – along with the rest of the gnomes – by the incessant logging of their forest home by Mulrooney’s lumbermen.
So desperate is the situation – Knobby is physically fading away – that the gnomes solicit the help of the “doodeens” (humans) as a last resort.
Unfortunately, Horatio Quaxton (Sean McClory) – the nasty owner of a circus freak show – has other plans for Jasper and his grandfather and kidnaps them. When Mulrooney tries to solicit help for the little people from his business associates at his company, he is deemed a “looney” and packed off to a sanitarium.
Now Elizabeth and Rodney must get Mulrooney out of the mental institution, help the gnomes escape from the freak show, and find Knobby some new friends and Jasper a wife.
In the end, Mulrooney turns over 50,000 acres of beautiful Redwood forest to the gnomes as a permanent home.
This Walt Disney production – starring the young children from Mary Poppins – boasts gorgeous colour photography and outstanding camera tricks which make owls, bluejays, and racoons talk and two-foot-tall gnomes run around with ordinary-size “doodeens”.
Ed Wynn has a terrific cameo at the end of the film as the 1100-year-old king of the gnomes. It was his final role, as he died of throat cancer before the movie was released.
The Gnome-Mobile is not one of Disney’s better or most well-known films, but the songs are light, scatty and fun, and it’s a sprightly hour-and-a-half of pure magic for the kids.
Matthew Garber died in June 1977 of haemorrhagic necrotising pancreatitis, aged just 21.
D J Mulrooney/Knobby