Gulliver's Travels is a 1939 American cel-animated Technicolor feature film, produced by Max Fleischer and directed by Dave Fleischer for Fleischer Studios about an explorer who helps a small kingdom who declared war after an argument over a wedding song. The film was released to cinemas in the United States on December 22, 1939 by Paramount Pictures, which had the feature produced in response to the success of Walt Disney's box-office hit Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The sequences for the film were directed by Seymour Kneitel, Willard Bowsky, Tom Palmer, Grim Natwick, William Henning, Roland Crandall, Thomas Johnson, Robert Leffingwell, Frank Kelling, Winfield Hoskins, and Orestes Calpini. This is Fleischer Studios' first feature-length animated film.
The film was the second animated feature film produced by an American studio, the first being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from Walt Disney Productions. The story is based very loosely on that of Lilliput and Blefuscu depicted in the first part of Jonathan Swift's 18th century novel, Gulliver's Travels.
On November 5, 1699, Lemuel Gulliver washes onto the beach of Lilliput, after a storm at sea and ultimate shipwreck. Following the calm of the storm, the Town Crier 'Gabby' stumbles across Gulliver and rushes to warn King Little. But Little and King Bombo of Blefescu are signing a wedding contract between their children, Princess Glory of Lilliput and Prince David of Blefuscu. All is fine until an argument starts over which national anthem is to be played at the wedding. The argument cancels the wedding and starts a war.
After failures, Gabby tells King Little of the "giant on the beach" (i.e. Gulliver), and leads a mob to the beach to capture him. There, the Lilliputians tie Gulliver to a wagon on which they convey him to the capital. In the next morning, Gulliver awakens and breaks himself free; but when they see that the invading Blefuscuians are intimidated by his size, the Lilliputians enlist his help against their neighbor, treating him with hospitality and making him a new set of clothes.
King Bombo, who has sent three spies, Sneak, Snoop, and Snitch, into Lilliput, orders them to kill Gulliver; whereupon the spies steal Gulliver's flintlock pistol, confiscated by the Lilliputians, and prepare to use it against him. Meanwhile, Gulliver learns of the war's cause from Glory and David, and proposes a new song that combines the two proposed by their fathers.
When the spies assure King Bombo that they can kill Gulliver, Bombo announces by carrier pigeon 'Twinkletoes', that he will attack at dawn. Gabby intercepts this message and warns the Lilliputians; but is himself captured by the spies and stuffed in a sack, who prepare the pistol. As the Blefuscuian fleet approaches Lilliput, Gulliver ties them together and draws them disarmed to shore. The spies fire at Gulliver from a cliff, but Prince David diverts the shot and falls to his apparent death. Using David's body to illustrate his point, Gulliver scolds both Lilliput and Blefuscu for fighting; but when they solemnize a truce, reveals that David is unharmed, whereupon David and Glory sing their combined song for everyone to hear. The spies released Gabby. Both thereafter build a new ship for Gulliver, on which he departs.
- Gulliver - Sam Parker
- Gabby - Pinto Colvig
- King Little, Twinkletoes, Sneak, Snoop, Snitch - Jack Mercer
- King Bombo - Tedd Pierce
- Princess Glory - Jessica Dragonette
- Prince David - Singing Voice Lanny Ross - Spoken Voice Cal Howard
- "All's Well"
- "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day"
- "Bluebirds in the Moonlight (Silly Idea)"
- "I Hear a Dream (Come Home Again)"
- "We're All Together Now"
The "Gulliver's Travels" score by Victor Young was nominated for a Best Original Score Academy Award, but lost out to "The Wizard of Oz". "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day", later became a standard theme used for on Fleischer and Famous Studios cartoon scores. "I Hear a Dream" was also very popular as well.
Max Fleischer had envisioned a feature as early as 1934. But Paramount vetoed the idea based largely on their interests in maintaining financial solvency following their series of bankruptcy reorganizations. However, after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Paramount wanted to duplicate the Disney success and ordered a feature for a 1939 Christmas release. When the story was first written in New York, Popeye the Sailor had originally been cast as Gulliver. This was scrapped, however, and the story was restructured once the West Coast team of Cal Howard, Tedd Pierce, and Edward Seward came aboard.
One of the major challenges for Fleischer Studios was the 18 month delivery envelope, coming at a time when Fleischer Studios was relocating to Miami, Florida. While Snow White was in production for 18 months, it had been in development for just as long, allowing for a total of three years to reach the screen. To meet this deadline, the Fleischer staff was greatly expanded to some 800 employees. Animation training classes were set up with Miami art schools as a conduit for additional workers. Experienced lead animators were lured from Hollywood studios, including Nelson Demorest, Joe D'Igalo, and former Fleischer Animators Grim Natwick, Al Eugster, and Shamus Culhane, who returned after working for the Walt Disney Studios.
Several West Coast techniques were introduced in order to provide better animation and greater personality in the characters. Some animators adapted while others did not. Pencil tests were unheard of in New York but were soon embraced as a tool for improving production methods. And while the majority of the characters were animated through conventional animation techniques, rotoscoping was used to animate Gulliver, Glory, and David. Sam Parker, the voice of Gulliver, also modeled for the live-action reference.
The rushed schedule seemed to take precedence over quality, and overtime was the order of the day. Even with the rush, deadlines were compromised with Paramount considering canceling the film. Relations with the Technicolor lab were strained due to these constant delays largely associated with the remote location of Miami. With all of this drama, it looked as though Fleischer would never meet the delivery date.
Fleischer Studios delivered Gulliver for Paramount’s planned Christmas release schedule, opening in New York on December 20, 1939, going into general release two days later. Considering the potential demonstrated in the two Popeye specials, Gulliver’s Travels seemed a lesser experience. This much-anticipated feature produced by Max Fleischer was still met with by an eager public and started out well, breaking box office records in spite of the inevitable comparisons to Snow White.
Based on the overwhelming business success of Gulliver’s Travels in its opening run, Barney Balaban immediately ordered another feature for a 1941 Christmas release. In spite of running over the original budget, Paramount made a profit of at least $1,000,000 domestically.
The voice cast consisted of a variety of performers. The voice of Gabby was provided by Pinto Colvig, who had previously worked at Disney's. Colvig had previously been the voice of Goofy, provided vocal effects for Pluto, was the stern Practical Pig in The Three Little Pigs, and voiced Grumpy and Sleepy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Jack Mercer, who portrayed King Little of Lilliput, was a story man for Fleischer's who lent his voice the gruff Popeye the Sailor. In addition to voicing King Little, Mercer was also the voice behind Bombo's spies, Sneak, Snoop, and Snitch. Mercer was a regular voice heard in Fleischer and Famous Studios cartoons, and worked for Paramount until Famous Studios was dissolved. Jessica Dragonette and Lanny Ross were both popular singers of the day, and were hired to sing for Princess Glory and Prince David, respectively. Sam Parker was a radio announcer in the 1930s who won the role of Gulliver in a radio contest. When the Fleischers met Parker, they felt that his appearance was suitable for him to also perform in the live action footage that would be rotoscoped to create Gulliver's movement. Tedd Pierce was a story man hired away from Leon Schlesinger Productions to join Fleischer in their trip to Miami. Pierce, who would occasionally do voices for some of the characters in the cartoons, played King Bombo.
Like Snow White before it, Gulliver was a success at the box office, earning $3.27 million in the United States during its original run, even as it was limited to fifty theaters during the 1939 Christmas season. This box office success prompted the order of a second feature set for a Christmas 1941 release Mr. Bug Goes to Town. Following its domestic run, Gulliver's Travels went into foreign release starting in February 1940.
In spite of the profits earned domestically and internationally, Paramount held Fleischer Studios to a $350,000 penalty for going over budget. This was the beginning of the financial difficulties Fleischer Studios encountered as it entered the 1940s.
When the Fleischer film library was sold to television in 1955, Gulliver's Travels was included and became a local television station holiday film shown during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It was also re-released theatrically in Technicolor prints for Saturday matinee children's programs well into the mid 1960s.
Home video releases
Due to the film's public domain status, it has been released by many distributors in various home video formats. E1 Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray Disc on March 10, 2009, but received strong criticism for presenting the movie in a stretched and cropped 1.75:1 format, as well as applying heavy noise reduction. In March 2014, Thunderbean Animation released a superior restored version of the film with several Fleischer Studios shorts in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack titled Fleischer Classics Featuring Gulliver's Travels.
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:
- Victor Young for Best Music, Original Score
- Ralph Rainger (music) and Leo Robin (lyrics) for Best Music, Original Song for the song "Faithful Forever"
The film was spun off into two short-lived Fleischer cartoon short series: the Gabby series and the Animated Antics cartoons starring the three spies, Sneak, Snoop and Snitch and Twinkletoes (the carrier pigeon).
- Barrier, Michael (1999). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516729-5.
- Maltin, Leonard (1980, updated 1987). Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-452-25993-2.
- Pointer, Ray (2016). "The Art and Inventions of Max Flesicher: American Animation Pioneer". McFarland & Co. Publishers. ISBN 9781-4766-6367-8