Gulliver's Travels: Breakthrough Animated Classic Movie

by Guy Mouton

This animated film from 1939 is only the second full length animated feature of this magnitude produced, after Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

It is based on the first part of Jonathan Swift's classic novel that was officially known as "Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships". 

The novel was written in 1726 and amended in 1735, and it became popular as soon as it was published.  Since then until now, it has never been out of print.

This 1939 animated movie, directed by Dave Fleischer and produced by Max Fleischer, has a plot that goes about a sailor called Gulliver in a storm losing his boat, and then washing ashore.  Gabby, the town crier of Lilliput, discovers Gulliver on the beach and runs to tell the king about a "giant on the beach".  The king however doesn't take notice at first because he is preoccupied with the coming wedding of his daughter, Princess Gloria, to Prince David from the neighbouring kingdom.  

But, oh my, the kings can't agree on what song they'd like to play at the wedding:  Faithful or Forever.  A war starts out between the kingdoms because of this, and the prince and princess miss each other terribly.  

Meanwhile Gabby manages to get attention to his claim about the giant on the beach, and off they go to see Gulliver and bind him with ropes.  The people of Lilliput are miniature in size compared to Gulliver.

Finally they become friends with Gulliver, and their enemies are too scared to attack the kingdom with the giant.  There doens't seem to be anything they can do to Lilliput.  

Except - there's "Gulliver's Thunder Machine", his hand pistol.  That should do the trick in getting rid of Gulliver!

This movie should be critiqued against the backdrop of its time.  It was a remarkable achievement, and was nominated for an Academy Award.  It didn't win as the competition in 1939 was very stiff, as The Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind was also nominated that year, otherwise it probably would have. 

Obviously the sound quality of 1939 is not quite what we are used to today, nor the picture quality.  However there are digitally restored versions available on DVD. 

Personally I found that the cartoon style of everybody except Gulliver and the prince and princess, and the latter of which are drawn with realistic features and realistic moves, do not quite mesh together perfectly as the silly cartoon motions and characters do not build up any kind of suspense.  The viewer doesn't quite know how to interpret the feel of the movie.  (Disney's Alladdin movie for example does quite a better job of meshing cartoony and realism together). 

The pacing of the story could have been much, much faster in the beginning.  One's attention would have been better held had the story focused on Gulliver being found on the beach.  Instead, the people of Lilliput only come out to capture Gulliver after about half an hour of the movie that was about talking about the wedding and the war and a lot of singing.  By then the attention of the viewer could be lost. 

The story may be a little thin too, with the plot of having a war over which song to play at a wedding.  Must have been pretty petty kings. 

Gulliver is animated rather well.  His realistic design and face movements really work. 

A great movie for admiring hand-drawn classic animation, but not one that will make for exciting modern entertainment.  It's rather a piece of nostalgia for the good old days when full length animated feature films hadn't been topped yet with what we are bombarded with today.