Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Dave Fleischer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo, Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.77:1
Studio: E1 Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 77 Minutes
Release Date: March 3, 2009
“There’s a GIANT on the beach!”
Most everyone knows that Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first ever full-length animated film…quick, what was the second?
If you answered Gulliver’s Travels from the studios of Max and Dave Fleischer, you know your film history. The Fleischers were once considered Disney’s only real animation rivals, and while Walt and crew were creating their artful and musical short films, the Fleischers gave us the funny, gritty worlds of Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor.
But Snow White changed everything. Disney’s gamble paid off unthinkably well, and Max and Dave would soon be putting pen to paper to show the world that they too had what it took to succeed in the new format of full-length animation.
Their pick for a story was a classic tale from Jonathan Swift. But while Disney seemed to move effortlessly from short form to long, it didn’t come quite as easy for the Fleischers. Their film, though a money maker in its day, was a bit cool. It lacked the endearing characters, memorable songs, and painstaking attention to detail that their rivals came so successfully to personify.
It is the tale of a shipwrecked sailor named Gulliver who washes on the beach of the island of Lilliput, much to the shock of its tiny townfolk. But there are other concerns at hand. Two kings, on the eve of bringing their children together in marriage, end up in a war over, of all things, the choice of wedding song.
Though Gulliver could easily destroy the people and their silly war, he is a kindhearted fellow, and instead uses his size and decency to bring peace and harmony (literally) to the little island, as well as playing a little matchmaker on the side.
One gets the feeling that this 1939 release was rushed a bit to try and follow on the heels of the Disney success as quickly as possible. Fans came to see it, but most felt it was a pale comparison to Snow White. The Fleischers would try again, with their more ambitious Mr. Bug Goes to Town, but it had the lethal misfortune of being released on December 7, 1941…a day that most Americans weren’t thinking about their local cineplex.
Thus, the feature career of the Fleischer studio was short lived and Disney would reign unchecked for decades. It’s a shame, because the brothers were capable of some real cartoon magic. They never had the chance to really discover their footing in the world of features.
Gulliver’s Travels isn’t the best testament to their talent. Still, it remains as an early landmark of an art form in its blossoming years and proved that the idea of the animated feature as a lucrative business was no fluke.
It would seem the same preservation granted to other early animated features didn’t quite reach Gulliver’s Travels. Even in high definition, this is a bit of a disappointment. There is some minor background ‘rolling’ noticeable in the darker scenes that almost made me think this was transferred from a videotape source. The images are soft and murky, and the colors are a bit dull and dense. Some classics don’t look their age, but sadly, this one does. The images also seem a little cut off at the top from time to time; the frames are blown up for widescreen instead of boxed at the correct 1.33:1 ratio…a mistake.
You can choose original mono, enhanced stereo or remixed 5.1 soundtracks. The 5.1 is nicely done; the music sounds pretty good and a couple of bigger scenes actually employ the subwoofer a bit. Dynamic range is minimal, and dialogue occasionally slightly muffled, but no major complaints overall.
The disc contains two “Gabby” shorts created from outtakes from the movie, plus a short look at the Fleischer Studios at work on a new Popeye short.
Gulliver’s Travels stands as an early example of feature length animation, but doesn’t really deliver the magic. The overall blandness and lack of intriguing characters makes this Fleischer offering more of a historical curiosity than anything else.