Gumby: The Movie was released at the wrong time. The film was completed in 1992 but wasn’t immediately released due to a lack of a distribution deal. Finally, three years later, the film was released after the independently produced film made a deal with an equally low-key film distributor. Upon this release, the film received fairly uninspiring reviews from critics across the country. When reading these reviews, it points out a pretty good reason why Gumby’s first and only theatrical release was panned: Toy Story, or at least the idea of it.
While Gumby: The Movie was released the same year as Toy Story, the former film suffered the same fate as Sheriff Woody did in the latter film. In other words, it was out with the old and in with the new. Goodbye clay animation and hello computer animation.
In the history of clay animation, Gumby has always been king. The original series premiered in the mid-50s and reigned supreme on Saturday mornings for close to 15 years. Like most any aging pop culture icon, Gumby went on a hiatus only to be resurrected in the 80s (a return typically credited to Eddie Murphy’s SNL portrayal – “I’m Gumby, dammit.”). This revival didn’t last as long as it probably should have, as the 1995 film marks the final appearance of the green clay-animated hero.
It’s not that the film was terrible. Sure it performed poorly at the box office ($57k) even with a relatively low budget ($2.8m), but that can be attributed to its very limited release of only 21 theatres. The film saw a more successful life on television after frequent airings on HBO, Showtime, and the Disney Channel. Thus, along with the 1988 revival series, Gumby: The Movie belongs in that slew of nostalgic media that 90s kids just eat up.
The film itself follows Gumby and his band, the Clayboys, who decide to put on a benefit concert to save a handful of farms from being taken away by the Blockheads’ E-Z Loan company. However, after the Blockheads learn that Gumby’s dog cries pearls when the Clayboys perform, they decide to kidnap both the dog and the band to become wealthier. This proves to be a difficult task to kidnap so many individuals, so the Blockheads use some trickery in the form of robotic cloning to obtain their maniacal goal.
Because the Blockheads do not speak, their motivations rely solely on their body language. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of talking from any of the characters in general (at least not when compared to modern animated films). This allows the magic of clay animation to take flight in some fun, bizarre sequences. Though I must admit that some aspects of the story are a bit cloudy, which may be the result of some overly uncanny concepts that just aren’t fully expressed the way they could be.
The end result is a genuine addition to the Gumby franchise. It contains a lot of the hallmarks that has made Gumby a household name. From traveling through storybook dimensions to Pokey’s skeptical quips, it’s everything a Gumby fan could ask for. The film even contains rock music featuring Starship-guitarist Craig Chaquico as well as an extensive sequence that spoofs the Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader duel from The Empire Strikes Back.
If anything, Gumby: The Movie has a shortage in the sort of cinematic production value you’d expect but that isn’t reason to dismiss it entirely. Of course movies like Toy Story will upstage it, because they have the billion-dollar studios to make that happen. Whatever Gumby: The Movie lacks in, it makes up for with imagination that doesn’t feel so artificially manufacture like so many children’s films seem to be nowadays. As the Blockheads realized, you lose many redeeming qualities when trying to make a cash grab.