“You might as well face it, you’re never really going to get any bigger than this,” so someone tells Jack Black’s Gulliver early on in his version of Gulliver’s Travels. The big/little juxtapositions continue throughout the film, not surprisingly, as director Rob Letterman previously tackled size issues in Monsters vs. Aliens. Gulliver lives in a tiny studio apartment (like most in New York City) where he spends his spare time playing with little Star Wars figurines, role-playing with Guitar Hero, and fantasizes living in an impossibly beautiful modern architecture house, depicted in a poster hanging up on his wall.
Gulliver lives and works in Times Square. His job is head mailroom clerk of a newspaper where he’s got a crush on the travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet). He tells her he’s always wanted to write travel articles and when she tasks him with a sample assignment he plagiarizes internet travel sites and travel books in order to write an article and impress her. She loves it and sends him out on his first assignment to write about Bermuda — the Triangle, that is.
Gulliver’s never piloted a boat before, nor even left the city, but he heads out to sea in the Ship Happens where he quickly encounters a huge storm. He wakes up to find himself tied down, with major scaffolding, and a very tiny yet imperious military person, General Edward (Chris O’Dowd, who practically steals the movie), claiming him as prisoner. And so the special effects portion of the film begins, along with lots of silly visual jokes (giant plumber’s-butt crack) that the kids will love.
The effects are great. Lilliput has been imagined as a very pompous place — with long, wide (to the Lilliputians) boulevards (Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, is used as the Lilliput palace). Gulliver meets Horatio (Jason Segel) in prison, “Before you arrived, I was the tallest man in Lilliput.” Anyone familiar with Segel will enjoy the big man/little man joke here, too.
When the Lilliputian’s long-standing enemies the Blefuscians invade, they attempt to kidnap Princess (Emily Blunt). Gulliver rescues the her; on the other hand she really looked like she wanted to be captured. But who can blame her? Her fiance is a nightmare and Lilliput is a bit on the boring side.
Gulliver also saves her father, the king (Billy Connolly) and puts out a fire in the castle in a scatalogical way. The grateful king and his court invite Gulliver to a celebratory banquet, with new best bud Horatio as his “plus one.”
At the banquet Gulliver’s natural tendency to “talk big” gets bigger than usual, as he tells his royal hosts that he was the President of the United States with Yoda as his vice-president.
There are some nice set-pieces and jokes. Industrious and talented builders, the Lilliputians outfit Gulliver with his dream house and various other accomodations, including a fantastic media room where the they act out “scenes from Gulliver’s life”: Star Wars, and Titanic (the movie). Gulliver and Horatio bond, with Gulliver coaching him, a la Cyrano, to court Princess Mary, using a little Shakespeare and a lot of Prince (“Kiss”). The King cautions an over-zealous Edward, “Inside castle voice, please!” The Lilliputians participate in a living fussbol match. Slacker Gulliver quickly turns downtown Lilliput into a mini-Times Square.
But Gulliver’s lies soon catch up with him and he is banished to “the island where we dare not go” (Brobdingnag), where, like in Swift’s novel, the tables are turned and Gulliver is now in the land of the giants. And his true love Darcy has followed him, trying to complete the article on the Bermuda Triangle. Will Gulliver be able to patch things up with Darcy and the Lilliputians, and battle the evil, yet amusing, Edward piloting a giant robot?
The 2-disc DVD comes with extras, in Gulliver’s Fun Pack:
“I Don’t Know…with Lemuel Gulliver” – an In Search Of-style television show with Black as Gulliver hosting a special on the Bermuda Triangle.
Deleted Scenes – where apparently most of Catherine Tate’s and Billy Connolly’s scenes ended up. “There’s no sword-stabbing in basketball” and Billy Connolly and Emily Blunt attempt trash-talking.
Gulliver’s Foosball Challenge – an interactive game.
Interviews and behind-the scenes with cast and crew include:
Little and Large & Jack Black Thinks Big (Black was feeding dialogue to the actors while doing their green screen work.)
War Song Dance – behind-the-scenes of the War number.
Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character Jack Black.
Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character Jason Segel.
Life After Film School: Rob Letterman of Gulliver’s Travels.
World Premiere – scenes of the cast arriving.
The only thing missing on the extras disc would have been some behind-the-scenes of the filming of the opening credits, which include some really wonderful miniatures.
This version of Gulliver’s Travels is far from a Swiftian satire. It’s a kid movie in the mold of Night at the Museum, with lots (and lots) of bathroom humor. Black, Segel, Blunt and everyone else throw themselves full-on into the silliness, even in a mini- (or large, depending on your perspective) musical number to the classic Edwin Starr song War, showcasing Black’s rock and roll persona. Gulliver’s Travels does deliver for the kiddies (and adult fans of Black’s particular brand of mayhem) as some goofy and sweet-at-times action-entertainment.