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Western Animation: Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels is the second American animated feature ever made. It was produced by Max Fleischer and directed by Dave Fleischer, both of Fleischer Studios for Paramount Pictures, and released in 1939. The film is an extremely loose adaptation of the "Lilliput" voyage of Jonathan Swift's 1726 classic, keeping only the skeleton of Swift's story and sugar-coating whatever hints of harsh satire or topical allegory were remaining from the tale.

In an attempt by Paramount to have the film compete with Disney's then-wildly successful Snow White, Swift's hard-edged story is made considerably Lighter and Fluffier by the Fleischers, and his rather unattractive and wholly commonplace protagonist is transformed into a sort of all-wise Mighty Biggie teaching the "silly little people" of Lilliput and Blefuscu a serious lesson about getting along (then again, with World War II about to explode in Europe, and having already exploded in China, perhaps a lesson in getting along was what the nations needed.)

The animation is an interesting blend of the rubbery East Coast cartoon style of animation associated with the shorts of the period, with the more realistic style that had been pioneered by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which Gulliver was obviously meant to emulate. There are some extremely impressive sequences the binding of Gulliver by the little people is perhaps a stand-out and the backgrounds are sumptuous in color and detail, also helped by superbly composed layouts. The plot is handled in a workmanlike fashion, though the characterization and pacing of the film seems lacking: Gulliver is reduced to a prop for more than half of the entire film, and when he does become active, he comes off as a condescending know-it-all; Gabby, an obvious attempt to emulate the likes of Dopey or Donald Duck, comes off as shrill and generally obnoxious, and the Prince and Princess, whose separation is the mainspring of the action, are colorless and utterly forgettable ciphers with almost no dialogue at all (It is with an effort that one remembers they are called "David" and "Glory."). Fortunately, a lot of the films entertainment comes from the scenes involving King Little and King Bombo bickering and Gabby's antics, as well as Bombo's bumbling trio of spies, "Sneak, Snoop and Snitch", and the carrier pigeon Twinkletoes, who provide some much needed genuine comic relief.

The score by Victor Young and Ralph Rainger is pleasant if anodyne, and there are a number of catchy songs by Al Neiburg, Winston Sharples, and Sammy Timberg, including "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day" (which became something of an unofficial theme for the Fleischer Studios, rather as "Merrily We Roll Along" did for Warner Bros.. cartoons) and the clever counter-point combination song, "Faithful Forever", formed from the two competing traditional marriage songs of Lilliput and Blefescu, and united at the end to symbolize the union of the happy couple and the now united kingdoms.

This film is in the Public Domain and can be viewed for free online.

This film also spawned a short lived Spin-Off theatrical cartoon series: Gabby, starring the eponymous Town Crier from the film. Another Fleischer short series, Animated Antics, have at least four shorts featuring characters from the film, two centered on the spies Sneak Snoop and Snitch, and two on Twinkletoes the Pigeon.

Gulliver was a success at the box office, but not quite enough to cover the overheadnote , resulting in the Fleischers immediately starting work on their next and last feature...

On a side note, Turner Classic Movies aired a screening of this film, along with Mr. Bug Goes to Town, on October 21, 2012.

This film provides examples of:

  • Animated Adaptation
  • Animation Bump: The opening storm, and the entire sequence where Gulliver is bound and carried off into the village.
  • Anti-Villain: King Bombo, who is a type 3. While he is the one who technically instigated the war in the first place and for a very petty reason, it's clear that it's out of misplaced nationalism and his own short sighted ego and temper, rather than death and destruction for an evil cause. And he almost reconciled his quarrel with King Little as soon as it began, until a misunderstanding involving Gabby getting him attacked by Little's guards made him change his mind—and even then, it's clear during David's "Forever" song that he does wish it didn't come to that, but he hides it in front of his own men to save face.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Gulliver to the Lilliputians, at first anyways.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Prince David pulls this on the spies, just when they're about to kill Gulliver with his pistol.
  • BFG: Gulliver's flintlock pistol—although it's only big in comparison to the lilliputians.
  • Black Cloak: Sneap, Snoop and Snitch, King Bombo's spies, wear these.
  • Breakout Characters:
    • Gabby proved popular enough to get 8 cartoons.
    • To a lesser extent, the spies Sneak, Snoop and Snitch and Twinkeltoes the Carrier Pigeon were popular enough to star in several of the Animated Antics cartoons Fleischer made; 2 for the spies, and 3 for Twinkletoes.
  • Camp Straight: King Little.
  • Cape Swish: Bombo does one after he declares war on King Little.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal example—Gulliver's pistol is used later as part of the Spies attempt to kill him.
  • Color Failure: Gabby's face is flushed white in frustration right before it turns red.
  • Conjoined Eyes: Sneak and Snoop, but only in a brief, Off Model moment when they realize Snitch had accidently started a fire in their hideout.
  • Construction Is Awesome: The very lengthy sequence where the Lilliputians build an elaborate slab to bind Gulliver to and drag him off to the village.
  • Cool Boat: The stunning sailboat model used in the opening credits, and the boats seen in the movie itself are nice, too.
  • Crowd Song: The crowd reprise of "All's Well", "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day", "Bluebirds In The Moonlight", as well as "All Together Now" and "Faithful Forever".
  • Digital Destruction: The Kino 70th Anniversary DVD and Blu-Ray releases, which cropped the film into widescreen, and used a shoody, blurry transfer. While the Winstar 60th Anniversary DVD uses a much, much better transfer, it suffers from nasty frame ghosting. Fortunately for Blu-Ray collectors, Thunderbean acquired a 35mm Technicolor print in 2013, and gave it a proper HD restoration with no distortion or line erasure.
  • Disney Death: Prince David, after saving Gulliver from being shot.
  • Disney School of Acting and Mime: No surprise, since the film used a number of ex-Disney animators, including Grim Natwick and Shamus Culhane.
    • Justified somewhat in that at the time Fleischer was trying to compete with Disney through mimicry.
  • Ear Trumpet: One of the Lilliputians has one.
  • Expy: Twenty years after Gulliver, King Hubert in Disney's Sleeping Beauty would bear an interesting resemblance to King Bombo, including threatening King Stefan with war over an imagined slight while planning the marriage of his princely son to the other monarch's princessly daughter. (Hubert and Stefan, however, compose their quarrel almost immediately.)
    • King Luna from the Casper short "Boo Moon" is an obvious one of King Bombo.
  • Flat Character: Glory and David are barely more than animated plot devices. They don't even have an actual line of non-singing dialogue until just near the end of the film!
  • Follow the Leader: While Max Fleischer had the idea of making a feature length animated film in his head for a while, it wasn't until the unprecedented success of Snow White that Paramount gave the greenlight to such a project.
  • Gentle Giant: Gulliver is nothing but gentle and compassionate to all of the Lilliputians.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The trailer mentioned that the movie was "one solid hour and 20 minutes crammed full of laughter and gay music."
  • I Have a Family: Gabby when Gulliver is picking him up. "You can't do this to me! I have a wife and KIDS! Millions of kids!"
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: Snitch carries an impressive number of weapons beneath his cloak.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Little finally hears Gabby tell him about THE GIANT ON THE BEEEEEACH and promptly chastises him for not telling him earlier.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Gabby HATES his job as night watchman, occasionally interrupting his happy work song to complain about how tiring and tedious it is, but he does it anyway.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Bombo and a large army are due to trigger the war on Lilliput, but as soon as they catch sight of Gulliver, he realizes they have no chance of standing up to him, and he and the entire navy flees the area in seconds. A non-comedic example also occurs near the end, when Bombo basically calls off the battle when he sees his attempt at killing Gulliver with his own pistol was sabotaged by none other his own son David, and seemingly got himself killed in the process.
  • Leit Motif: An instrumental version of "I Hear A Dream" for Gulliver.
  • Lilliputians: Of course!
  • Lovable Coward: Annoying voice aside, Gabby is this. He'll at least TRY when push comes to shove though.
  • Madness Mantra: Gabby during the scene where he wakes up the whole town to tell them THERES A GIANT ON THE BEACH!
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": King Little when he first sees Gulliver, as well as Bombo and his entire army when they first see Gulliver.
    "We of Blefescu are not... afraid of... anything."
  • Meaningful Name: King Little; King Bombo; Gabby, and well as the spies, Sneak, Snoop and Snitch.
  • Off Model: The animation can get really sloppy at some parts, and is rather mediocre overall. The most biting critique of this came from Walt Disney, who claimed "We can make a better film than that with our second string animators."
  • Prevent The War: The kingdoms of Lilliput and Blefuscu are on a path to war. Gulliver must find a way to stop the war before it destroys both countries.
  • Public Domain Animation: The film fell into the public domain decades ago, and it has since become a staple of bargain bin VHS and DVD releases.
  • Rotoscoping: This technique was used to animate Gulliver, tracing directly from footage of his voice actor, Sam Parker. While some critics have complained about the unimaginative use of the technique in the film, it's handled so meticulously well, that Gulliver at times almost looks like a storybook illustration come to life! Some of the close ups of his hands and face are rendered and shaded in jaw-dropping detail.
  • Scenery Porn: Some of the background and layout work is very well done and almost compensates for the uneven animation.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: King Little when he first sees Gulliver.
    ''"Call all the guards, the army, the navy, women and children first, I'll see ya later...."
  • Shaming The Nations: Gulliver in the films ending. See "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Silly Reason for War: One of many changes made from the original story is that instead of a holy war over which end of an egg should be broken, King Bombo declares war on King Little for not playing the song he wanted to play at Glory's wedding. In theory the Fleischers could have kept a touch of the original novels Satire by at least pointing out how utterly contrived and ridiculous this is, but the film instead plays it like something that were supposed to be taken seriously.
  • Small Annoying Creature: Gabby. No bigger than a pin, has an obnoxiously shrill voice, and a personality as lovable as a mosquito, he has permanently etched the word "THERES A GIANT ON THE BEACH!" into the minds of many animation fans forever. Its certainly a surprise that he was popular enough to warrant getting his own Spin-Off series, short lived as it was.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Gulliver with his pipe during the "I Hear A Dream" sequence.
  • Spin-Off: The short-lived Gabby cartoons. Sneak, Snoop and Snitch and Twinkletoes The Carrier Pigeon respectively make appearances in four shorts from the Fleischer short series "Animated Antics".
  • Super Speed: Lilliputians are capable of this when frightened.
  • Take a Third Option: What Gulliver suggests at the end to end the quarrel—merge the two songs together.
  • Terrible Trio: Bombo's spies, Sneak, Snoop and Snitch respectively.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Given by Gulliver to the dueling kingdoms after Prince David is apparently killed saving Gulliver from being shot, but it ends on a high note:
    "Poor foolish little people, look what you've done. Now go ahead, break your nutshell heads over your song. But did you have to break Glory's heart, King Little? Because you were thoughtless and selfish...and you, Bombo, oh mighty warrior...what have you won? You were too stubborn to think. Too busy quarreling to land dear to the harmony that might have been yours. But now in your sorrow and despair, perhaps you'll listen to your songs as they might be sung." (cue "Faithful Forever").
  • This Means War!: What the argument between King Little and Bombo literally amounts to.
  • The Twelve Principles of Animation: A result of the Fleischers trying to compete with Snow White was beefing up their animation considerably, as well as attempting to adapt to these principles. Unfortunately, much of the animation in the film is ruined by sloppy inbetween work and terrible inking, giving the drawings a mushy, floaty feeling to them. This was undoubtably a result of Gulliver's tight deadline for production, as well as the studio have a mix of East Coast and West Coast animators who were constantly at odds with each other and their approaches to animation.

The Gabby series provides examples of:

  • Butt Monkey: Gabby, it's like no matter what he does, the universe will ensure that he always screws up in the funniest of ways.
  • Digital Destruction: The Thunderbean release of "Swing Cleaning" included with their Gulliver's Travels has an unusual purple hue to it, giving characters like Gabby very slight purplish skin. By contrast "Two for the Zoo" which is also included with the release doesn't share this problem.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: No matter what Gabby does, he's bound to screw it up somehow and in the end he ALWAYS loses!
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Whether it's trying to help out the fire department or clean King Littles castle, Gabby will go his own route in doing the job and always screw it up royally, then he usually takes a punishment (usually a beating) at the end. Pretty much the only time he's ever been competent was when he was a constable (though certain laws at the time might've been the reason for this.)
  • Public Domain Animation: all 8 cartoons have entered the Public Domain.

Poor CinderellaPublic Domain AnimationWoody Woodpecker
GreedPublic Domain Feature FilmsThe Head Hunter
The Silent Age of AnimationImageSource/Animated FilmsLilliputians
The Guardians of the Lost CodeAnimated FilmsHal
Snow White and the Seven DwarfsThe Great Depression    
Color ClassicsThe Golden Age of AnimationSuperman Theatrical Cartoons
Goodbye, Mr. ChipsFilms of the 1930sGunga Din

alternative title(s): Gabby; Gullivers Travels1939; Max Fleischers Gullivers Travels
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