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, and released in 1939. The animation directors for the film were Seymour Kneitel, Willard Bowsky, Tom Palmer, Grim Natwick, William Henning, Roland Crandall, Thomas Johnson, Robert Leffingwell, Frank Kelling, Winfield Hoskins and Orestes Calpini.
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 and the Seven Dwarfs, 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 (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, 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. A lot of the film's entertainment comes from the scenes involving King Little and King Bombo bickering and Gabby the Town Crier'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. Gulliver also meets the Star-Crossed Lovers Princess Glory of Lilliput and Prince David of Blefuscu, whose separation forms the mainspring of the action.
Victor Young and Ralph Rainger provided score, 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...
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptational Alternate Ending: Besides only being a very loose adaptation of the the Lilliput section the book, the ending is overhauled. In the book, Gulliver is convicted of treason by the Lilliputians and is sentenced to be blinded, but with the assistance of a kind friend, "a considerable person at court," he escapes to Blefuscu. Here he spots and retrieves an abandoned boat and sails out to be rescued by a passing ship, which safely takes him back home. In the movie, Gulliver helps stop a war between the two nations and leaves in a giant boat build by both of them for him, leaving all of them on good terms.
- Animated Adaptation: Of Jonathan Swift's masterpiece, but has little real relationship with it.
- 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.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: King Bombo putting two guards out of combat with his bare hands.
- 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 & 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.
- Compressed Adaptation: The film only adapts the first part of the book (and loosely at that), where Gulliver winds up shipwrecked on Lilliput.
- Conjoined Eyes: Sneak and Snoop, but only in a brief, Off-Model moment when they realize Snitch had accidentally 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. Gulliver sees that he survived, but momentarily keeps it hidden from the warring nations so they can reflect on what their actions had wrought.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Jerkass Façade: During the "Forever" song, Bombo is clearly upset that he had such a bad falling out with King Little that it provoked him to declare war, but his pride prompts him to hide his real feelings in front of Sneak, Snoop and Snitch.
- 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.
- Leitmotif: 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 "THERE'S 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 (as in bombastic); 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.
- "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")
- 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.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: King Little, despite not being as big and strong as King Bombo and acting humble and effeminate, still has enough determination to protect his kingdom by going to battle with a sword in hand.
- 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 Mob: Gulliver in the film's ending. He sees early on that David has survived the fall but he still lets them think that he died in order to show them the consequences of war and give them above mentioned "The Reason You Suck" Speech where he calls them out on their pettiness and their readiness to fight.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: Gabby gets captured by Bombo's spies just in time for the climax, only to be released after Gulliver helps the two kingdoms make peace. Amusingly, the same spies willingly free him from the bag he's trapped in, but Gabby comically beats the stuffing out of them anyway.
- 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. When David and Glory tell Gulliver what's going on, he notes with irony how silly the whole quarrel is.
- Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification: The film is a Type 1 (In-Name-Only) adaptation of the first part of Jonathan Swift's story.
- 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 "THERE'S A GIANT ON THE BEACH!" into the minds of many animation fans forever. It's 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 & 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.
- Symbolically Broken Object: After declaring war, King Bombo smashes the wedding cake. The camera lingers on the cake toppers of Prince David and Princess Glory as they lay broken on the ground.
- 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.
- 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. This was undoubtedly 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.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The whole quarrel between Bombo and Little would have ended as soon as it started if Gabby hadn't barged into Little's throne room to warn him about Gulliver, which causes Little's guards to mistakenly attack Bombo, making him change his mind about reconciling the feud.
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.
- 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!
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Gabby generally gets himself in trouble by attempting to "help" people with things they are far more qualified or better at than he is.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Whether it's trying to help out the fire department or clean King Little's 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.