Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

“There’s a giant on the beach!”

Gulliver's Travels Poster

When a sailor named Gulliver washes ashore on the island of Lilliput, he finds himself in the midst of a rivalry between the King of Lilliput and the King of Blefiscu.


Gulliver’s Travels holds historical distinction as the first feature length animated film made by a studio other than Disney. Unfortunately, the heads of Fleischer Studios (responsible for Popeye and Betty Boop) were pressured into trying to repeat the success of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and this film comes across as a mostly pale imitation. The narrative is irredeemably weak, the songs are instantly forgettable, and — as in the Fleischer Brothers’ second and last animated feature, Hoppity Goes to Town (1941) — there isn’t a strong central protagonist: none of the Lilliputians are particularly appealing, and Gulliver himself doesn’t even speak until nearly halfway through the movie. On the other hand, there are a few redeeming elements in the film, including the unusual rotoscoping process used to animate Gulliver himself, and the sequence in which the Lilliputians collectively work to haul Gulliver off the beach. Ultimately, while Gulliver’s Travels falls short of status as a true classic, it remains must-see viewing simply for its place in animated cinematic history.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The Lilliputians using remarkable teamwork to tow Gulliver off of the beach
  • Interesting early use of rotoscope animation

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical status.



One Response to “Gulliver’s Travels (1939)”

  1. A once-must, for its place in animation history.

    Hadn’t seen this since childhood. I don’t recall whether or not I read ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ so I can’t speak about the film as an adaptation.

    But I’ve just watched the blu-ray of it and, overall, it’s a fine – if not wildly memorable – achievement. (Budding ffs should get enough of a kick out of it, especially together with their adult counterparts.) It’s true that it does seek somewhat to ape the Disney model but that kind of thing is so common in the modern arts. (Having just read ‘The Wrecking Crew’, I can’t help but note how The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson went bananas over Phil Spector’s hit single ‘Be My Baby’ and turned around to produce ‘Don’t Worry, Baby’ – in several ways almost the same song.)

    As mentioned, a highlight of the film is the complex and painstakingly detailed sequence in which the Lilliputians tie up Gulliver. But I at least like one of the musical sequences – ‘Bluebirds in the Moonlight ‘ – in which one of the kings is seen dancing with Gulliver’s hand (as a partner), to a refreshing swing rhythm.

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