Gulliver’s Travels (1939) Dir. Dave Fleischer

“My my !”  
Gulliver’s Travel’s is my favorite of the Fleischer animated features.  For those who don’t know, Max Fleischer was Walt Disney’s biggest competitor, and gave us some great iconic characters including Popeye the Sailor, Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, and in the 40’s the Superman cartoons.  His studio also created what would become a technical innovation in animation known as rotoscoping, where the a live actor was traced over to create more life-like animation.  This was used to create believable human animated characters.  Walt Disney pushed this innovation further in the animation for Snow White and the Prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  It hasn’t always had the best results, but for Gulliver’s Travel’s, the Fleischer’s were smart enough to hire Grim Natwick, who was the supervising animator for Snow White, to do the animation for the difficult animation of the Prince and princess characters in the film.  
While Max and Walt were strong competitors, the thing I love about Fleischer is how his cartoons had their own significant style of humor.  Animator historians have commented that while Walt came from a kind of farm/ midwestern background, the Fleischer’s were from New York, and you see a lot of the urban city style.  The gags were also a little less PC, a little racier, and I suppose you could say….more adult, especially with characters such as Betty Boop.  But they were great cartoons.  Gulliver’s Travels was the 2nd American animated feature ever produced, which was the studios response to Snow White.  Compared to Snow White, the story is not quite as tight with sections of the film that stretch out a bit long…they are centerpieces to showcase a series of gags, such as the Lilliputians tying up Gulliver, or the scenes where they’re making, new clothes for Gulliver, giving him manicures, a shave, etc. which seem like they take more time than they should.  It takes time, but once the film gets going, it’s a very charming and enjoyable ride.  I don’t think Max ever intended to break into features the way Walt Disney did.  Walt spent years developing and motivating his animators to push the boundaries of animation to bring it to a higher level.  Tightening the story was everything to him as well.  The Fleischer’s were probably motivated to respond after the success of Snow White.  But while the drawing skill of Max’s animators might not have been on the same level, they were still great animators in their own way.  They knew how to be funny. 
The realistic Prince and Princess, for the most part have little to no personality, but one of the great things about Gulliver’s character is that while he is a “straighter” character (animated with realisim through rotoscope) compared to his more cartoony costars, I think Gulliver has far more personality than Snow White.  One of my favorite scenes in the film is the Lilliputian King dancing with Gulliver’s hand.  It’s just really funny to watch, showing a more playful side to Gulliver.  Gulliver also has a scene where he brings the Prince and Princess together, and as they kiss, Gulliver gets this amused look of “looking away” while the kids do their thing, which is hilariously funny.   The Fleischer’s just had their own style of humor that was wonderful, and in a lot of ways I think many of their cartoon shorts were a lot funnier than the Disney stuff.  They didn’t have much success later on in the feature department unfortunately, and I would have been very curious to see them develop their own house style of feature animation had they gotten to make more films.  But for their first time out, Gulliver is a very good film.  There is even a sense of tension and danger built when the spies get their hands on Gulliver’s pistol to use against him.  And while the death “fake out” at the end doesn’t necessarily have the emotional impact of Snow White’s, they do change it up a little bit so its not a direct copy.  
Gulliver also features some great voice talent, including Pinto Colvig (who was the voice of Goofy, and Grumpy in Snow White)…here he’s the voice of the town cryer, Gabby.  Another voice talent is Tedd Peirce as King Bombo.  Peirce was a cartoon writer/gag man for several Looney Tunes shorts in the 40’s and 50’s.  If you have never seen Gulliver’s Travel’s it’s available on public domain anywhere online and on Netflix as well.  When you watch it, don’t try to compare it too much to Disney…if you can see it as its own thing, it is a unique and solid film, and a great piece of entertainment.     ‘

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