Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gulliver’s Travels (1977)

          Interesting mostly for its mixture of animation and live action, this lightweight adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s classic fantasy novel should actually be titled Gulliver’s Travel, singular, since the only adventure depicted onscreen involves the title character’s time in the land of Lilliput, which is inhabited by miniscule people. Since the tale is familiar to most audiences, suffice to say that gigantic and good-hearted Gulliver is perceived by the tiny Liliputians as a god, a hero, a monster, and a political pawn while Swift cycles through various elements of satire and whimsy. Flesh-and-blood Richard Harris plays Gulliver while cartoons are used to represent the diminutive persons with whom Gulliver interacts. Meanwhile, backgrounds and props are a mixture of live-action and cartoons. Yet the meshing of these elements is far from seamless.
          Gulliver’s Travels was made in the days before dimensional shading was a regular feature of mainstream animation, so the hand-drawn characters feel flat, even during scenes when only animated characters are onscreen. Occasionally, the filmmakers achieve a decent effect—for instance, a nighttime scene during which silhouetted cartoon characters drag a giant cart bearing live-action Harris—but for the most part, the whole enterprise looks cheap and unfinished. (This is especially true of fully animated scenes, which suffer from limited animation and unimaginative character design.) The integration of a sticky-sweet song score is equally problematic. Following a brief prologue in England, which is shot entirely live-action, the movie transitions to a title sequence featuring a chirpy song performed by a chorus. Then, later, tunes appear at random intervals, culminating with the predictable upbeat number that Gulliver sings while beguiled by Liliput’s charms. As such, Gulliver’s Travels is not a proper musical, since songs do not drive the plot.
          The only quasi-impressive scene in Gulliver’s Travels is the live-action storm sequence during which Gulliver gets caught in a shipwreck, because director Peter Hunt and his team nimbly combine shots of a main-deck set getting besieged by giant cascades of water with detailed miniature shots of a ship hitting rocks amid a turbulent sea. Since Gulliver’s Travels was made for children, however, it’s useful to concede that some young viewers might delight in shots of Gulliver tied to a beach in Liliput, or of Gulliver stomping through the streets of a Liiputian city like a rampaging giant. And, of course, the pacifist themes of the screenplay are admirable. Still, even with Harris delivering an endearingly restrained performance, nothing in this movie truly dazzles.

Gulliver’s Travels: FUNKY

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