Gulliver looms over Lilliput.


Original Medium: Prose fiction
Adapted into animation by:
First Appeared: 1726
Creator: Jonathan Swift
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Once Disney had shown, with Snow White, that it was possible to animate a feature-length movie and, what's more, make a profit at it — making an animated feature became a mark of prestige among Hollywood studios. Those that had animation studios associated with them, like Warner Bros. and Universal Studios, made at least tentative moves in that direction. But only Paramount, which distributed the cartoons …

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… of Disney's arch-rival, Max Fleischer (Betty Boop, Popeye) actually had such a feature on screens nationwide within a couple of years of Snow White. The first non-Disney Hollywood cartoon feature was Paramount's Fleischer production Gulliver's Travels, released December 22, 1939.

Following the usual practice in adapting Jonathan Swift's 18th-century prose fiction into modern media, the Fleischer version used only the first of Lemuel Gulliver's four voyages. That's the most visually appealing anyway, making it a natural for a visual medium like animation. Comics, too — communities of people about the size of Lilliputians (1/12 scale), such as Bill Donahey's The Teenie Weenies and Walt Scott's The Little People have been around since the beginning. The same theme was used in Fleischer's second feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, except there, like in Bucky Bug, the tiny people weren't precisely people-shaped.

It's also a common modern practice to substitute a new storyline to replace Swift's biting satire of situations that were au courant at the time but are a bit on the obscure side these days. The "ordinary man in a land of tiny people" situation is timeless, but Swift's exact sequence of events doesn't have as much relevance to our generation as it did to his. Accordingly, Paramount/Fleischer personnel such as director Willard Bowsky, writer Edmond Seward, animators Seymour Kreitel, Otto Feuer, Al Eugster, Shamus Culhane, etc. etc. etc., were free to craft a mostly-original story about romance and intrigue between Lilliput and its neighboring kingdom, Blefuscue, full of new characters like Princess Glory (no relation), Gabby, Sneak, Snoop and Snitch; and new songs like the break-out hit "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day!".

The figure of Gulliver was rotoscoped (a Fleischer invention, by the way) from a live performance by actor Sam Parker, who also supplied the character's voice. Parker's other credits include the Clark Kent voice in Fleischer's Superman cartoons. Princess Glory and her enamorata, Prince David, were voiced by singers Jessica Dragonette and Larry Ross, neither of whom is well-known for other cartoon voice work. Gabby was Pinto Colvig, best known for Goofy, but is also one of several actors who did Bozo the Clown.

Gulliver was a modest success on both the critical and commercial levels — but not on anything even approaching the scale of the picture that inspired it. Licensed products like books, sheet music and the like were once quite common, and are still frequently seen in the collector's market.

It was finanical over-extension related to its second attempt at a feature that wound up sinking the studio.


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Text ©2008-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Paramount Pictures.