When one thinks of early animation, one generally thinks of Walt Disney and his early animated shorts and films. And that isn’t a bad thought to think of actually!
But when one studies the history of animation, at least in the United States, one finds that Walt Disney wasn’t ever one of the founding fathers of animation nor was he an early pioneer of the field! He was preceded by a plethora of animation pioneers whose names generally go forgotten by the masses. These include Winsor McCay, J. Stuart Blackton, John Bray, Earl Hurd, Paul Terry, and Max Fleischer amongst others! And yet if it wasn’t for these men, animation as an art and film medium would probably have been virtually dead by now!
So I thought I should pay tribute to the early days of animation and take a look at the second full-length American animated film.
No, it’s not a Disney film, believe it or not! It’s actually a film made by the last name that I mentioned in the paragraph above: Max Fleischer. The film is called “Gulliver’s Travels”, based on the book of the same name, and we’re gonna take a look at it!
Let’s talk a bit about Max Fleischer first.
He was one of the early pioneers of animation from as far back as 1914 through the late ’40s. His famous animated characters include Betty Boop,
Popeye the Sailorman,
Fleischer was also a technological innovator and created many inventions and animation techniques such as Rotoscoping (the process of an animator tracing over live-action footage),
the Rotograph (a device that allowed animators to put an animated character in the real world),
a turntable camera (that allowed for “3D”-seeming shots), and probably his most popular invention: the use of a bouncing ball in sing-along songs!
As you can see, Max Fleischer along with his brothers Dave and Lou, were innovative and important animators of their days. And being animators, they were interested in producing a full-length animated film after hearing that Walt Disney was planning on doing one. But Paramount Pictures wasn’t interested in the idea; most people thought that nobody would want to sit through an hour and a half cartoon!
But after Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” proved to be a hit, Paramount Pictures immediately agreed and actually pushed the Fleischers to make an animated film. After brainstorming for a while, they decided to make the film based on the novel, “Gulliver’s Travels”, and the film itself was a hit and caused the Fleischers to make another animated film a few years later!
Enough introduction, let’s take a look at our film in question!
The film only focuses on the Lilliputian aspect (Gulliver meeting people no more than a few inches tall) of the “Gulliver’s Travels” novel. Gulliver washes ashore on the island of Lilliput after a stormy time at sea and is unconscious for the first 40 minutes or so of the film.
Gabby, the town crier, finds Gulliver (the giant) on the beach and reports it to his king, King Little. After the order is passed, the villagers tie up and capture Gulliver (who remains unconscious throughout this whole endeavor) and bring him back to the village. After waking up, Gulliver becomes friends with the Lilliputians after their initial fear of him dies down.
They then enlist his aid against King Bombo and his armies!
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention! There’s another island named Blefuscu which also has a population of Lilliputians living on it. Their island is run by a king named Bombo.
King Bombo and King Little have a son and daughter, Prince David and Princess Glory, respectively. They were both to be wed to each other, but a dispute over which island’s national song to play at the wedding resulted in King Bombo calling the wedding off and declaring war on Lilliput! Ok, now you’re up to date!
So what’s good about this movie? Umm…
Ok, what’s bad about this movie? Well, as much as the film is called “Gulliver’s Travels”, Gulliver is unconscious for the first half or even longer. And when he finally wakes up, he doesn’t really do much; yes he saves the two regions from warring with each other about their wedding/song fiasco, but for the most part he’s just hanging around Lilliput smiling!
Secondly, the Princess and Prince are barely in the film as well! There’s no story leading to their romance, they just appear when their engagement is announced then they sing their respective songs! And every so often in the film, they sing their songs again! The Princess doesn’t even have a spoken line of dialogue! The Prince has like only 1!
Thirdly, Gulliver was animated via the rotoscope process that Max Fleischer invented. This makes him look extremely weird and unrealistic, especially when he’s immersed with the regularly animated Lilliputian characters.
Finally, one can see that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” influenced this movie a lot, especially in its songs! The initial song that the prince sings to the princess seems like a mirror image of the Prince singing to Snow White!
The town crier sings a catchy tune, “All’s Well”, while carrying a lantern, which reminds me of “Heigh Ho” from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”!
There’s a “Bluebirds in the Moonlight” song which is pretty much a silly song just like the silly song from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”!
And lastly, there’s a song called “It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Day” which sounds so darn akin to “Whistle While You Work”! Instead of being sung when cleaning a house, the song is sung by the Lilliputians when they’re making an outfit for Gulliver!
So back to the original question: what’s good about this movie? Honestly, despite its many flaws, it’s enjoyable! It kept me interested and wanting to watch the film to the end! It kept me smiling, I laughed a few times! “All’s Well” is an instantly catchy song! The animation, bar the rotoscoped Gulliver, isn’t bad! Summing up, it’s no masterpiece, but I’m glad I watched it. And I think everyone should see it at least once! The film appears to be in the public domain, so it’s been posted by users on Youtube. Below is the video if anyone’s interested in viewing it.
Now to rank this movie! This time, I’ll be comparing it with other early animated films.