Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #13

Re: Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

My problem with the Fleischers’ version of Gulliver’s Travels is that it seems to have cut out most of Swift’s social satire—much of which is still on target today—and concentrated on the cuteness of the Lilliputians.

Of course, social satire wouldn’t have fit the bill for what the Fleischers, and Universal, wanted to achieve, i.e., a successful follow-up to Disney’s Snow White. One might reasonably argue that Disney’s greater success began right from the start, with a better choice of source material.

Not that the absence of Swift’s social satire would have mattered much had Gulliver replaced it with solid storytelling, characters, humor and so forth. Ultimately, a film stands or falls on its own merits, not on how it relates to the source material.

But when a film jettisons the substance of its source material and fails to come up with something compelling in its place, it’s natural to wonder why they chose that source in the first place, and why the filmmakers cut out what worked about the book without any clear idea how to make the film work without it.

Ultimately, I think it reflects a lack of vision on the Fleischers’ part. As gifted as they were in many ways, they just didn’t understand what Disney was doing, and what made Snow White work as a feature film. They thought they could replicate it at the same level of the work they were doing. They were mistaken.

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