The Gnome-Mobile

The Gnome-Mobile is a 1967 Walt Disney Productions comedy-fantasy film directed by Robert Stevenson. It was one of the last films personally produced by Walt Disney.[3] It was based on a 1936 book by Upton Sinclair titled The Gnomobile.

The Gnome-Mobile
Original window card, 1967
Directed byRobert Stevenson
Produced byJames Algar
Written byEllis Kadison
Based onThe Gnomobile novel by Upton Sinclair
StarringWalter Brennan
Tom Lowell
Matthew Garber
Karen Dotrice
Ed Wynn
Richard Deacon
Sean McClory
Music byBuddy Baker
"The Gnome-Mobile" song by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
CinematographyEdward Colman
Edited byNorman R. Palmer
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • July 12, 1967 (1967-07-12)[1]
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4,000,000 (US/ Canada)[2]

Walter Brennan plays a dual role as D.J. Mulrooney, the kind-hearted lumber tycoon of Irish descent; and as the irascible 943-year-old gnome Knobby in the film, which has been described as "wavering between a comedy, a romance, a drama, and an environmental critique"[4] The children, Elizabeth and Rodney, were played by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber, familiar from their roles as Jane and Michael Banks in Mary Poppins. Tom Lowell, who plays the young gnome Jasper in this movie, also appeared in the 1965 Disney film That Darn Cat! as Canoe, the befuddled surfer boyfriend of Hayley Mills.

The Gnome-Mobile was the final film for both Matthew Garber and Ed Wynn. Wynn died of throat cancer before the movie was released and Garber died ten years later, having contracted hepatitis while visiting India. Richard and Robert Sherman contributed the song "Gnome Mobile".

The Gnome-Mobile was re-released theatrically on November 5, 1976.

Plot summary

The story opens with the children's grandfather, D.J. Mulrooney (Walter Brennan), a well-known executive officer of a timber-trading company. D.J. is going to Seattle to sell 50,000 acres of timberland and takes his customized 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II on the trip. In a brief conversation with his company's head of security, Ralph Yarby (Richard Deacon), we learn that the car was purchased after D.J. earned his first million dollars. His first stop is the airport, where he picks up his grandchildren Elizabeth (Karen Dotrice) and Rodney (Matthew Garber), who are to accompany D.J. on his trip to Seattle.

Traveling north from San Francisco, the trio detour through what later became Redwood National Park where D.J. has endowed a grove of Redwood trees,entitled "Mulrooney Grove". There they encounter a gnome called Jasper (Tom Lowell), who has "a terrible problem". They also are introduced to Jasper's 943-year-old grandfather Knobby (also played by Brennan) who, like D.J., is passionate and short-tempered. Jasper's "terrible problem" is that Knobby is suffering from a sickness called "fading", or becoming semi-transparent. D.J. diagnoses this as Knobby losing the will to live. The reason for this "fading" is that Knobby fears that he and Jasper are the last two of their Gnome kind, and Knobby wants Jasper to find a bride before Knobby dies. Knobby harbors immense hatred for humans because of the human's logging damage to the forests and the livelihood of gnomes. D.J. Mulrooney is startled when Knobby exclaims that the worst loggers were "Mulrooney's Marauders", but the gnomes agree to go along with the trio and seek other gnomes. As they leave together, the children rename the Rolls-Royce "the Gnome-Mobile".

Jasper and his grandfather are kidnapped by Horatio Quaxton (Sean McClory), a freak show owner, while D.J. is committed to an asylum by Yarby, who has heard about the gnomes and deems his boss insane. Rodney and Elizabeth rescue D.J. from the asylum, rescue Jasper from Quaxton, and then set out to find Knobby, who had managed to escape earlier.

They arrive in the woods to find Knobby delighted with the presence of a thriving community of gnomes. Jasper is recognized by Rufus the Gnome King (Ed Wynn) as "the eligible gnome" to a large number of young females of his race, who compete in a contest to determine which one will marry him. He is smitten with one lovely, timid girl-gnome named Violet (Cami Sebring), and they end up together.

D.J. gives as a wedding present the rights to the 50,000 acres of forest that were to be sold for logging, which become a haven for the gnomes.

Cast and characters


Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four, calling the special effects "fascinating" and reporting that the kids in the audience "got their money's worth."[5] Howard Thompson of The New York Times described it as "a good-natured but heavy-handed little comedy," finding that "the action and light-hearted spirit sag under a crisscross jumble of slapstick and broadly handled locomotion that flattens the fun."[6] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety described the film as "amusing, if somewhat uneven."[7] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The moppet audience for which 'The Gnome-Mobile' is intended will obviously find it a delight, funny and ingenious. The full-sized among us will find a few laughs, too, but cannot rank the film with Disney's best by a long shot, or a gnome shot."[8] The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "A whimsical fantasy in the Disney tradition of clean, honest fun, with a merrily tuneful title song, moderately ingenious trick work, and some unsophisticated comedy of which the highlight is a car chase in which the aristocratic old Rolls is pursued by a modern vehicle which bit by bit falls to pieces."[9]

Film critic Leonard Maltin rates this as one of Disney's best comedy-fantasy films, and states that it is a "mystery" why the film is not better known. He says it deserves to be rediscovered and enjoyed by a new generation, especially younger children.[3]


  1. Maltin, Leonard (1995). The Disney Films (3rd Edition). Hyperion. p. 251. ISBN 9780786881376.
  2. "All-Time B.O. Champs", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  3. Maltin, Leonard (1999). Leonard Maltin's Family Film Guide. New York: Signet. p. 210. ISBN 0-451-19714-3.
  5. Ebert, Roger (July 17, 1967). "The Gnome-Mobile". Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  6. Thompson, Howard (July 20, 1967). "'The Gnome-Mobile' Begins Run in Neighborhood Houses". The New York Times. 30.
  7. Murphy, Arthur D. (May 31, 1967). "Film Reviews: The Gnome-Mobile". Variety. 18.
  8. Champlin, Charles (August 11, 1967). "In Putts Disney 'Gnome-Mobile'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 12.
  9. "The Gnome-Mobile". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 34 (403): 124-125. August 1967.
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