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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 produced by Charles Mintz and directed by Arthur Davis.

It is, no prizes for guessing, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's short story "The Little Match Girl," though it takes place in a comparably more modern setting than the original.

It's New Year's Eve in (what appears to be) New York City and revelers are out at midnight celebrating the New Year. None of the people out drinking and partying seem to notice a little girl who's clad only in a ragged dress, walking around barefoot in the cold, snowy winter. Some even cruelly heckle her. The little girl is trying to sell matches, but nobody buys any—the little girl is also homeless, so when she fails to sell any of her matches, she retreats back 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 seems to notice the tiny little girl traipsing through the crowded streets trying to sell matches.
  • Apathetic Citizens: All the citizens in the streets who're celebrating the New Year take no notice of the begging girl on the ground trying to sell matches. The ones who DO notice just toot their horns at her. At one point, when a group notices her staring hungrily into a restaurant (where a chef is making what appear to be pancakes), they scare her and then laugh at her.
  • 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: Assuming it is New York City (and it sure looks like NYC), 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".
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  • 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's soul 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.
  • 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 freezes to death 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 all of her matches, and a deceased grandmother who welcomes the little girl to heaven. This cartoon makes the girl both homeless and (presumably) an orphan, and also replaces the grandmother with an adult-angel.
  • Setting Update: While the original short story was written in the mid-1840s (and presumably took place in Denmark), this cartoon takes place in what appears to be New York City (and presumably takes place in the late-1930s).
  • Silence Is Golden: Other than people yelling "Happy New Year!" in the opening scene, there's 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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