Movie Review – “Gulliver’s Travels” (1939)

The second full length animated feature released in America is out on a variety of DVDs.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Sam Parker as Gulliver (voice and rotoscope acting).
Pinto Colvig as Gabby
Jack Mercer as King Little
Jessica Dragonette as the “singing voice” of Princess Glory (even though she never has any non-singing dialogue)
Lanny Ross as the “singing voice” of Prince David (who, like Glory, never opens his mouth except to sing.)

Novel by Jonathan Swift.

Screenplay by Dan Gordon, Cal Howard, Tedd Pierce, Edmond Seward, and Izzy Sparber. Directed by Dave Fleischer.

Complete information is available from the IMDB.

Buy from:
in any of a number of editions. The one I have doesn’t seem to be listed, so I’ve linked to one that seems to be the one which claims to have restored the film, but there are several other versions to pick from.


Lemuel Gulliver has his ship wrecked, and washes up on the shores of Lilliput, a land of very tiny people. This, like many adaptations of the novel, includes only the trip to Lilliput. (In the as yet unreviewed novel, this is merely the first of four voyages.)

High Point

Using a finger to tie the knot.

Low Point

Where are the rest of the travels? I mean, you could at least head to Brobdingnag…

The Scores

It’s an adaptation, so we know what that means for originality. Still, it was the second American feature length cartoon, and the first not by Disney, and it includes the technical wizardry that the Fleischers were so bloody good at. (They invented rotoscoping! Man, do I wish someone would start rounding up their stuff and giving it Disney Treasure/Looney Tunes Golden Collection kinds of treatment. They were great.) I give it 4 out of 6, but most of that originality is in the production technique, rather than the writing.

The animation was excellent. The characters move a little slowly compared to today’s standards, but that’s just the style of the time. The rotoscoping method (where a live actor is filmed, and then traced into the cartoon) is quite successful in bringing a realistic Gulliver into the fantasy world of Lilliput. It’s a very impressive feat, at least on par with the Disney material of the day. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story is decently done. We’ve got spies, love, learning, comedy and all of the other light-toned elements we look for in children’s entertainment. The resolution is predictable, to be sure, but we’re there for the ride, and it’s a fun one. I give it 4 out of 6.

The voice acting is very good. Sam Parker plays Gulliver with more than a hint of amusement at the squabbles of the small-minded Lilliputians. Pinto Colvig was one of my favourite voice actors, though you’d never hear this voice and recognize the voice of Goofy. Similarly, if you don’t read the credits, you’d never know that King Little was voiced by Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye. These people knew their craft and honed it well. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is quite good. This is an amusing story even without Gulliver’s presence. There is some genuine humour to be enjoyed here, particularly with the spies and the Lilliputian devices. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is excellent. There is a huge variety of painted backdrops in use, which allow them to use a similar variety of camera angles, and in cases, a moving camera. The production quality exceeds some of Disney’s work from the 1960s, let alone the 1930s. The Fleischers did things properly, or not at all. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, this little gem is a pleasant surprise, and well worth looking at, particularly given the copyright-expired nature that has led to the availability of numerous low cost editions. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Gulliver’s Travels receives 34 out of 42.

One reply

  1. 1939?
    Yikes! I remember watching this movie when I was little and thinking that the style and animation seemed a bit dated, but I never would have imagined that it was that old. I had always thought held well for a movie of the seventies, even if it was fraying around the edges. That it’s been holding up since 1939 has officially blown my mind for the evening. I might as well go to bed now because I won’t be able to think about anything else.

    1939. The year before 1940. When my grandfather was in high school. 1939. The same year as Gone with the Wind. Back when Hitler was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. 1939. People at the theater were trying to decide between this film and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 1939. Only 39 years after the turn of the century. Ninteen thrity-frelling-nine.

Comments are closed.