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Image Entertainment presents
"Poor, poor foolish little people... Look what you've done."
DVD ReviewIt is sad to imagine how synonymous the names Disney and Warner Bros. have become with the history of animation, while the genre's innovators have all but vanished in the mist. These studios deserve their place, but the visionaries who made their modern success possible should continue to stand beside them. Fleischer Studios ranks among these. The brothers, Max and Dave, created what is arguably the most important work among the earliest animators, and Gulliver's Travels remains one of the finest feats of full-feature animated classics. Not so much for its story, which is thin and lacking—it seems more a song vehicle than a re-telling of Swift's tale—but for the beauty and genius in the art of its active illustrations.
The brothers fell prey to parent company Paramount who wished to ride the wave of success churned by Disney's Snow White in 1937. Gulliver, the ambitious result, shows the stress of its short turnaround time and the Disney-esque limitations the studio pressed upon them. The subtle fluidity of movement and the individuality of the Fleischers' own creations were lost in the race. Gabby and the mass of his fellow Lilliputians are Popeye/dwarf grafts and the young lovers seem to be weak clones of Snow White, leaving only Gulliver as remnant of the remarkable Fleischer style.
Some might view the use of Max Fleischer's own invention, the rotoscope (a device used to trace an actor's movements directly from live-action film), as animation heresy, but these might be the same people who have gobbled up computer-enhanced cartoons now for decades. Although I had not seen this film in many years, I had powerful childhood memories of the "realistic" characters I'd seen. Gulliver fascinated me like no other animated human I can remember.
The film opens with beautifully rendered illustrations that echo the blockprint style of the Japanese Ukiyo-E masters, in the stormy scenes of Gulliver's shipwreck that embody the glorious Fleischer style. But the look and feel soon disintegrates into a Disney-style cartoon, laden by song after song—reminiscent of how Warner Bros.' "Looney Tunes" was born. Gulliver washes up on a dark and welcomed beach, and does not move (by himself) for the next 35 minutes.
In Lilliput Castle, King Little and King Bombo plan the marriage of Princess Glory to Prince David. All is well until they argue over what song will play to mark the occasion. Their jovialities turn to declarations of war, and the young lovers are soon parted.
Meanwhile, the sleeping giant is discovered by Gabby, the (obnoxious) town crier, and is laboriously captured by the island's tiny inhabitants. There are songs and battles and songs and spies and songs and, finally, an anti-war moral before Gulliver sets sail again. Besides the wonder of the rotoscoped hero, the one true delight in the second half is the use of the bluebirds to mimic the emotions of the lovers.
Gulliver's Travels was the only feature-length animation the brothers Fleischer ever completed. Although considered a landmark, they returned to shorts and brought some of out most beloved characters to the screen over the ensuing decade until the studio was sold and all but forgotten.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: This transfer is most likely the best we will ever see again of this film, only the second feature-length animation ever created in original 35mm nitrate Technicolor. It screens at 1:37:1, which translates as a few pixels cropped off the bottom edge—this is only apparent in the original Paramount logo and the title frames, it does not seem to detract from the feature itself in any noticable way. Gratefully, the most care and attention has been paid to the truly memorable scenes—those that feature the magnificent details of the title character. There are signs of time and neglect, and the transient blues and violets have lost their regal depth. Still, there is nothing unforgivable in its imperfections and the result is worthy of this rare, non-Disney classic.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: I applaud the folks at Image for presenting us with a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack that is more than sufficient here. The songs croon as tunefully as they likely did in the original theater runs, and I cannot imagine the horror of any attempt to split the sound into the surrounding channels! The volume is consistent throughout and the dialogue is clear. I especially enjoyed the subtlety of the ambient music and the "true" sound of the original Foley work. Simple and well suited to this lovely little story.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The original 1939 trailer is in somewhat less restored condition than the film, but retains the style and sound of the era that makes it a worthwhile addition to this disc.
From 1941, It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day (07m:08s) was also included on The Great Animation Studios: The Fleischer Studios disc from Winstar that I recently had the pleasure of reviewing. The two seem in very similar condition.The Color Classic animated short stars Gabby, the well-meaning town crier from Gulliver's Travels, as the annoying Lilliputian wheedles his way into joining the Mayor's camping adventure.
The menu design is spare and unremarkable.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsI have fond memories of viewing Gulliver as an anticipated event throughout my childhood. While it has its moments, it has its lulls that are a bit more difficult to defend as an adult. Still, I loved it, and the high points I carried in my mind all these years did not disappointment me.
Recommended for children of all ages who can still appreciate its sweet and lovely message.
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