This has been stated in previous columns, but it needs to be put out there once more. When it comes to fam-friendly flicks, Twentieth Century Fox can do wrong according to audiences. And box office receipts solidify this. So no matter which path this review of Gulliver’s Travels takes, it really doesn’t have any influence when it comes to the above mentioned tag-team.
With that being said, we’re going to give it our best shot to guide you – the reader – down the right path in that quest for finding quality entertainment. Here’s how much one will get out of this 88 minute adaptation.
Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black) is a dreamer with no dreams. He’s stuck working in the mailroom for the New York Tribune and has absolutely nothing on the horizon. The guy lacks the desire to put himself out there, as noted by his new boss (T.J. Miller), who was promoted over Gulliver after just one day on the job. Gulliver does have one desire in mind though. He fawns over travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet). He lacks the courage to ask her out but comes up with a plan to grab her attention. After plagiarizing a bunch of travel related articles, Darcy becomes impressed and gives the grunge looking guy a chance. She sends him on assignment into the Bermuda Triangle. Spoiler alert, Gulliver disappears.
He ends up in a land where he is literally the big man on campus. In the kingdom of Lilliputian, Gulliver is a giant. He is eventually embraced by the King (Billy Connolly) and forms a strong friendship with a peasant Horatio (Jason Segel). The one person who becomes insanely jealous upon the big guy’s arrival is General Edward (Chris O’Dowd). Gulliver quickly becomes an idol of sorts, as he tells his new little friends about his past life. Which is essentially a bunch of lies taken from Star Wars and Titanic lore. The once popular General becomes enraged and it only gets worse when his reluctant bride to be in Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) also takes a liking to Gulliver and his pal Horatio. General Edwards resorts to a plan by siding with the sworn enemy of Lilliputian, in the hopes of ridding this world of the “beastly” Gulliver.
Although the story keeps the prevalent theme found in Jonathan Swift’s original 18th century novel, the way it projects the meaning out to the viewer slightly misfires. It seems that director Rob Letterman realizes this toward the end of the flick, for they haphazardly piece together a cookie-cutter sequence – complete with half-hearted dialogue – in a poor attempt to project the intended message before the credits roll. There’s absolutely no feeling for any of the characters. Compassion is not on this menu. What is available for selection are a few pop-culture shenanigans/references. Don’t get me wrong, these are funny moments. Yet there are only a handful of them. If there were more “live guitar hero” sequences, then this might have ushered in fresh comedic vibe to an already fabled story. Instead, it becomes too commercialized and negligible.
Stories such as Shrek found the perfect blend of mixing pop culture into a fairy tale setting. The hip nature of the script landed precisely where it should have in Shrek. By doing so, it didn’t have to worry about overshadowing the escapism from the fairy tale angle. With Gulliver, the flick can’t make up its mind. Of course the script was geared toward working in a modern perspective with a game Jack Black. Just seems the creativity couldn’t reach a high enough level to continuously entertain an audience. It won’t bore you, but it fails to truly get the an audience involved.
There are moments though. Chris O’Dowd’s take on General Edward is the crowd pleaser. Think of his character as the Sherriff of Rottingham from Mel Brooks’ Men in Tights. Jack Black is doing the same shtick again, but he eventually gets one to smile. The guy gave it his all. Too bad the writers did not. Everyone else gets into their roles and perform well enough to keep the younger viewers engaged. Speaking of those younger viewers, do not succumb to the pressure of them wanting to see this flick in 3D. There is not one scene where the 3D enhances anything. Nothing flies at you and the environment can be thoroughly appreciated in a normal 2D setting.
Overall, Gulliver’s Travels will not offend anybody. It may not entertaining anyone unless this is their first introduction to a Jack Black movie. The environment is fun to explore and the special effects (besides the 3D) are interesting to see. Younger crowds (single digits in age) will be all about exploring this. The rest of us will probably never visit this one again.
Gulliver’s Travels is rated PG and opens in the Tampa Bay market on December 25th.