Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Gulliver's Travels - a giant of a picture

Released in 1939, Gulliver's Travels was the Fleischer Studio's first animated feature. Originally concieved as a Popeye short, Fleischer's distributors, Paramount Pictures wanted a feature length cartoon like Disney's Snow White. So Popeye got cast overboard and Gulliver's Travels set sail as a 79 minute technicolor cel animated masterpiece.

Loosely based on Jonathan Swift's 18th Century novel, the film follows Gulliver's Liliputian adventures where the kingdoms of Blefiscu and Lilliput argue over which song to play at the wedding of Prince David of Blefiscu and Princess Glory of Lilliput instead of fighting over which end of a boiled egg to break first.

Although much of the animation is easily the equal of Disney's output at the time, Gulliver's Travels differs from the 'house of mouse' with its extensive use of rotoscoping especially for Gulliver himself. Much of the Fleischer studio's trademark ingenuity and imagination (as seen in many Betty Boop shorts) is evident throughout the movie particulary in the scenes of the capture of Gulliver and his later duding up by the Lilliputians.

Gulliver is big, noble and wise, but the Prince and Princess are a bit bland and don't do much apart from be lovey-dovey and sing. The humour in the movie is provided by King Bombo and King Little; Bombo's spies Sneak, Snoop, and Snitch; and Gabby, Lilliput's town crier, voiced by Pinto Colvig, the voice of Disney's Goofy. Although a hit at the time, Gabby (who spawned a number of follow up shorts), seems to be a composite of all Disney's Seven Dwarfs and as such is a bit abrasive (as in annoying) by today's standards.

Like Snow White, Gulliver's Travels, features some charming songs including the feel good, It's A Hap-Hap-Happy Day, Gulliver's lump in the throat Sailor Man song and the romantic Faithful Forever. Victor Young is credited with 'atmospheric music' and adds an epic and lush sheen to the proceedings. Although cover versions of the songs in the film have been released over the years, no official soundtrack exists. William T Stromberg recently recreated several key cues from the film on a collection of Victor Young's film music. With no official score on the horizon, it has been left to fans to search for old 78's of the tunes or create their own unofficial soundtrack cobbled together from available music and musical extracts from the DVD of the movie.

Although Gulliver's Travels was a box-office success, history seems to compare this magical movie unfavourably against Snow White which is unjustified. Gulliver's Travels was sold off following the collapse of the Fleischer Studios due to financial problems. It is now in the public domain and readily available on DVD and viewable on numerous websites. Alas some awful transfers of the movie have tarnished its original glory. There are however some decent versions of the film available now, in fact Amazon is currently promoting a 'special edition', though information about it is sketchy. Potential purchasers should always buy from a reputable retailer like Amazon and read the reviews to ensure they see Gulliver in the way it was meant to be seen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I've always loved this film and lamented that I could never find the music. You made my day.