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Western Animation / The Little Match Girl 1937

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The Little Match Girl is a 1937 animated short film by Charles Mintz.

It is, no prizes for guessing, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's short story "The Little Match Girl". This version is set in the (then) modern day in a city that appears to be New York. It is New Year's Eve, and revelers are out at midnight celebrating the New Year. None of the people drinking and partying notice a little girl, clad in nothing but a ragged shirt, barefoot in the winter cold. The little girl tries to sell her matches, but no one buys any. The little girl is homeless, so when she fails to sell her matches she retreats to her regular spot in an alley. Lighting the matches one at a time for warmth, she imagines all the things she doesn't have, like a warm hearth, food, and a comfy bed. Eventually she has a dream of heaven.

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Compare The Little Matchgirl, a Disney adaptation of this story from 2006.


Tropes:

  • Alone in a Crowd: No one even sees the tiny little girl traipsing through the crowded streets trying to sell matches.
  • Barefoot Poverty: No shoes. On the way back to her spot in the alley the little girl stumbles, her feet probably already going numb.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: If it is New York, and it looks like it, the girl lives in the rotten part, in a dirty alley. We briefly see an adult homeless man passing by in the other direction as the little girl goes "home".
  • Bittersweet Ending: The little girl dies, but she's taken up to heaven by an angel.
  • Book-Ends: The ringing of bells at the start of the cartoon, for New Year's, and at the end as the little girl ascends to heaven.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The little girl's dream of heaven is mostly filled with little winged cherubs even smaller than her, but she also sees one grown-up angel, which flies up and becomes a star in the sky. At the end of the film that adult-sized angel is the one who comes down to earth and carries the little girl's soul up into heaven.
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  • Death of a Child: A little girl freezes to death in an alley.
  • Dying Dream: The little girl has a dream of heaven, before she dies and the angel takes her there for real.
  • Fluffy Cloud Heaven: There's the standard issue fluffy clouds and winged cherubs and angels playing harps, but there's also stuff for kids, like a Christmas tree and a beautiful garden and a tree swing.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: An innocent little blond-haired child.
  • Imagine Spot: The little girl imagines a warm hearth, a big dinner, and a cozy bed, one at a time as she lights matches. The extended heaven sequence appears to be a Dying Dream.
  • New Year Has Come: Filled with revelers singing and partying and not noticing a hungry, cold little girl.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The original story has an abusive father who threatens to beat the girl if she doesn't sell her matches, and a deceased grandmother who welcomes the little girl to heaven. This cartoon cuts out both, instead making the girl homeless.
  • Setting Update: The 1845 fairy tale is updated to 1937 New York.
  • Silence Is Golden: Other than people yelling "Happy New Year!" in the opening scene, no dialogue.
  • Snow Means Death: The little girl freezes in the snow.
  • Stars Are Souls: The little girl becomes a star in the sky.
  • Street Urchin: A homeless little girl, struggling to sell matches to survive.
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