Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #13

Re: Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

When I was a child, I loved the animated Gulliver’s Travels — they used show it on one TV station or another every year, and I must have watched it five or six times. A number of years ago, I watched it as an adult and was less impressed, but I still saw the attraction of it. You may be speaking more for today’s audiences in your evaluation than for the audiences that originally watched it.

Nope. The Fleischers’ Gulliver’s Travels was unsuccessful with both critics and audiences in its own day. The obvious comparison to the earlier Snow White — not an unfair one, as that was the inspiration and the model — showed up the same shortcomings I noted from the start.

Unfortunately, the Fleischers didn’t learn from their mistakes. Their second feature film, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, offers a similar mixture of the Fleischers’ strengths and weaknesses, and met with the same critical and popular failure — ending the Fleischers’ careers, alas. Universal canceled their contract, though it retained some of their lead animators for shorts work. (It didn’t work. The shorts produced after the Fleischers left were pale imitations of the Fleischers’ work, just as Gulliver was of Disney’s work.)

For what it’s worth, I appreciate Gulliver’s appeal too. It’s not bad work. But it’s animation-short thinking in a feature-length film. (For the record, the early Disney canon has at least one film with that same shortcoming — Dumbo — though Dumbo partially compensates with sympathetic characters and situations and genuinely catchy music. It’s still not a very good movie, though.)

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