March 23, 2009
In the 1930s, Walt Disney’s most formidable competition was the Fleischer brothers, Dave and Max. They pioneered numerous innovations in animation as is evident in the short films that they made about Popeye and Superman. In the ‘30s, they embarked on their most ambitious project to date: a feature-length animated adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1939). With financial backing from Paramount Studios, the Fleischers and their staff worked for over two years, using 12 tons of paint and 39,000 pencils to create over 639,000 celluloids and 115,000 composite scenes. The results: a breathtaking visual masterpiece.
The year is 1699 and Lemuel Gulliver is sailing the South Seas. During a violent storm, he is tossed overboard and washes up on a remote island. He passes out and later awakens to find that the citizens of Lilliput have banded together to ties him down while he was unconscious – no easy feat considering his size in comparison to them. He finds himself embroiled in the middle of a war between the land’s two kings despite the impending marriage of their children – a prince and princess. Gulliver decides to help out the island’s inhabitants by preventing war and reuniting the prince and princess.
The scene where the Lilliputians scale Gulliver and tie him down is impressively staged and realized with all kinds of action taking place in the fore, middle and background simultaneously – a technique not very common at the time. Interestingly, Gulliver is rendered realistically while the Lilliputians are more cartoonish looking. It is a nice contrast that plays well off each other.
Gulliver’s Travels espouses a peaceful resolution to violent conflict which was rather timely back in 1939 with World War II looming. Along with the incredibly rendered animation, the Fleischers’ film is as good as anything that Disney produced at that time. Gulliver’s Travels has never looked better and this new DVD restores their work to a level of standards befitting of its classic status.
“Swing Cleaning” and “King for a Day” are two animated short films consisting of outtakes from Gulliver’s Travels. These too are restored and look great.
“The Making of a Cartoon” is a fascinating vintage featurette that provides insight into the Fleischers’ groundbreaking animation process.