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DVD Review: Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

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Written by Fantasma el Rey

Gulliver’s Travels was Max Fleischer’s and Paramount Pictures answers to Walt Disney’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and is just as visually pleasing if not as overall entertaining. The Fleischer brothers, Dave and Max, with their studio were pioneers of many of the innovations used to further the art of animation and it shows in the work that they achieved with their 1939 masterpiece. Dotted with song and comedy, Part I of the classic Jonathan Swift tale is brought to life and delivers its still powerful message while providing seventy-seven minutes of cartoon entertainment.

The “giant” Gulliver loses his ship during a rough sea storm and is washed ashore in the land of Lilliput, which is inhabited by tiny little people that fit into Gulliver’s hand. Discovered while passed out on the beach by the fussy Gabby, Gulliver is finally set upon by the Lilliputians at the request of the king and brought to town. Once awake and after their initial fright the Lilliputians take to Gulliver very well, cleaning, shaving, clothing, and treating him to a feast and festivities of song and dance. Gulliver is also persuaded to aid the people against the attacking army of the king of Blefiscu. Now the whole feud between the two kingdoms started over what song was to be sung at the wedding of the prince of Blefiscu and the princess of Lilliput.

The kings could not decide, began to quarrel, and war was declared. Gulliver intervened only to stop any loss of life and not really to see one side win. After witnessing the young couples true love, Gulliver comes up with a plan to combine the two songs and bring the two warring kingdoms to peace again. Gulliver does help bring peace, but after the prince nearly loses his life while saving the giant’s, only then do the people of both kingdoms realize that fighting over a song is trivial and friendship is a better option. With all well again Gulliver and company build a small boat for him to sail off into the sunset on, back to the land of giants.

The film contains many great scenes and some good comic moments from the kings and mostly Gabby. Gulliver pulling ships together as they attempt to attack Lilliput is a sequence which has stuck in my mind since I saw the feature as a child on television as well the scene of the giant’s discovery. Gulliver himself is another aspect of the film that has always lived in my mind for the fact that he looks like a real human, through rotoscoping, and not a cartoon individual. The color is great and keeps the eye alive to the movements and scenery. The songs are okay, Gabby’s opening song and “It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day” are highlights. “Happy Day” is the centerpiece of the film and was used in numerous other Fleischer cartoons.

Entertaining even though the plot is, it’s a tad thin and the songs don’t pop the same way the Disney features do. Side by side with Snow White, Gulliver’s Travels does fall short. But with its antiwar message, goodhearted vibe and great animation, children should adore the film in the same way that generations before have.

As a DVD bonus there are two Gabby shorts (“Swing Cleaning” and “King For A Day”) that were pieced together from unused portions of the film and in that sense they are interesting but again lack the flair of other toon shorts of the time. A five-minute vintage documentary (“The Making Of A Cartoon”) on the Fleischer studios by the Fleischer studios is interesting to watch as we see the way animation studios used to work.

My one major problem with the disc is the menu. It’s hard to determine what chapter or feature you want to select or jump to; other than that the film and packaging are fine.

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