Gulliver's Travels (1939 film)

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Gulliver's Travels
Produced by Max Fleischer
Written by Dan Gordon
Cal Howard
Tedd Pierce
Edmond Seward
Isadore Sparber
Based on Gulliver's Travels 
by Jonathan Swift
Starring Pinto Colvig
Jack Mercer
Sam Parker
Jessica Dragonette
Lanny Ross
Tedd Pierce
Music by Victor Young
Leo Robin (songs)
Ralph Rainger (songs)
Al Neiburg (songs)
Winston Sharples (songs)
Sammy Timberg (songs)
Cinematography Charles Schettler
Studio Fleischer Studios
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates December 22, 1939
Running time 76 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Gulliver's Travels is a 1939 American cel-animated Technicolor feature film, directed by Dave Fleischer and produced by Max Fleischer for Fleischer Studios. The film was released on December 22, 1939 by Paramount Pictures, who had the feature produced as an answer 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 Paramount's first feature-length animated film.

Gulliver was the second cel-animated feature film ever released, and the first produced by an American studio other than Walt Disney Productions. The story is based very loosely upon the Lilliputian adventures of Gulliver depicted in Jonathan Swift's 18th century novel Gulliver's Travels.


On November 5, 1699, Gulliver (voiced by Sam Parker) washes up on a mysterious island after his ship sinks on a stormy night. It is revealed that the island, Lilliput, is inhabited by very small people. While scouting the forest, the town crier, Gabby (voiced by Pinto Colvig), comes across Gulliver's unconscious body and takes him as a giant, so he rushes off to warn the ruler of Lilliput, King Little (voiced by Jack Mercer). At this time, Little and his friend, King Bombo (voiced by Tedd Pierce) of the neighboring and equally minuscule island of Blefuscu, are planning a wedding between their children: Princess Glory of Lilliput (voiced by Jessica Dragonette) and Prince David of Blefuscu (voiced by Lanny Ross). Things turn sour between the kings, however, when they argue over which song to play at the wedding (Little wants to play the song "Faithful" while Bombo wants "Forever"), and Bombo soon declares war.

Gabby manages to tell King Little about the "giant" (i.e. Gulliver) on the beach and is sent to capture him. Gabby leads a mob to the beach but is surprised to find Gulliver is not there; the mob begins to scorn Gabby until they all realize that they are standing on Gulliver's belly. The Lilliputians tie Gulliver down to a wooden platform and wheel him into the village—a task that takes them until daybreak. By then, Gulliver awakens and manages to break free which frightens everyone away, but when they see that the invading Blefuscuians are also intimidated by his size, the Lilliputians decide to enlist his help to fight against their rival 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, realizes the threat that Gulliver will pose to him, so he leaves them to find a way to kill Gulliver. The spies steal Gulliver's flintlock pistol, confiscated by the Lilliputians and dubbed "Gulliver's Thunder Machine", and prepare to use it against him. Meanwhile, Gulliver learns from Glory and David, who are still deeply in love with each other, that their people are fighting because of their disagreement over two songs, so he proposes they create a new song that combines the two.

The spies assure King Bombo that they will kill Gulliver, so Bombo sends a message by carrier pigeon, Twinkletoes, that says he will attack at dawn. Gabby intercepts this message before it reaches the spies and rushes to warn the Lilliputians. As he tries to find Gulliver, however, he is captured by the spies by putting him in a bag, and they prepare the pistol. As the Blefuscuian fleet of ships makes its way to Lilliput, Gulliver manages to reel all the ships in and pull them to shore. Gabby is still in the bag but runs from the house to try to warn Gulliver but is unable to see. At this time, the spies prepare to fire at Gulliver from atop a cliff, but Prince David grabs onto the gun's barrel just in time, only to fall off the cliff to his apparent death.

Using David's body to illustrate a point, Gulliver rebukes both Lilliput and Blefuscu for fighting over the songs they wish to sing. However, it is revealed that David is alive and well, and he and Glory sing their combined song to the two peoples. The three spies decide to set Gabby free by cutting the bag open, but he attacks them, not knowing the war is now over. King Little and King Bombo reconcile and work together to build a new ship for Gulliver, which he uses to depart from the now unified islands.



  • "Faithful/Forever" (Music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin)
  • "I Hear a Dream (Come Home Again)" (Music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin)
  • "We're All Together Now" (Music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin)
  • "Bluebirds in the Moonlight (Silly Idea)" (Music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin)
  • "All's Well" (Music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin)
  • "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day" (Written by Sammy Timberg, Al Neiburg and Winston Sharples)

"All's Well", "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day", and "Faithful Forever" all later became standards of Fleischer, and later Famous Studios, cartoon scores. The film's song "I Hear a Dream" was also very popular as well.[1]


A scene from Gulliver's Travels.

Max and Dave Fleischer had wanted to produce a feature as early as 1934 (shortly after Disney announced it was to produce a feature film), but Paramount, who distributed Fleischer's Popeye, Betty Boop, Screen Songs, and Color Classics cartoon shorts, vetoed the idea. However, after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Paramount agreed to allow the Fleischers to make a feature.[2] Paramount offered to build the New York City-based Fleischers a new state-of-the-art animation studio in Miami Beach, Florida, away from the union influence which had polarized the Fleischer Studio after a bitter 1937 labor strike. The Fleischers agreed, and began development on Gulliver's Travels in spring 1938 as construction began on the Miami studio. The Miami Fleischer Studio opened in fall 1938, and the Fleischer staff moved their production headquarters there. A few individuals, including voice actor Mae Questel, opted to remain in New York and did not follow the Fleischers to Miami.

Paramount wanted Gulliver ready for a Christmas 1939 release, meaning that the film would have to be produced on a timetable that was one-third of that for the production of Disney's Snow White. To meet this deadline, the Fleischer staff was greatly expanded, to the point that the once-spacious new building was overcrowded with employees. Local Miami art schools provided graduates to be trained as ink-and-paint artists and in-betweeners. Animators were lured from the Hollywood animation studios, including Cal Howard, Nelson Demorest, Joe D'Igalo and Tedd Pierce from Leon Schlesinger Productions, and former Fleischer employees Grim Natwick, Al Eugster, Frank Smith and James Culhane, who had all migrated over to the Disney studio. Factions developed between the East and West Coast animators, who were unaccustomed to each other's habits. The two sides grew further apart after Howard, Pierce, and the other Hollywood storymen decided to discard the New York regime's storyboards, crafting the film's plot over again from scratch.

Rotoscoping, an animation technique originally developed by the Fleischer Studios, was used throughout Gulliver's Travels to animate Gulliver. The process involves tracing live-action footage frame-by-frame; Sam Parker, the actor who performed the voice of Gulliver, also modeled as the character's live-action reference. This was in an attempt to differentiate the animation style of Gulliver from the more comical Lilliputians. Popeye the Sailor had originally been planned to "portray" Gulliver, but these plans were scrapped during pre-production.

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 (1933), 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.[3] 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. Other vocal credits by Pierce include the voice of "Babbit" to Mel Blanc's "Catstello", and that of Bertie in Chuck Jones's Hubie and Bertie cartoons.[4]


Like Snow White before it, Gulliver was a success at the box office, and led to the production of another Fleischer/Paramount feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town. However, business-related problems which arose during the production of Mr. Bug, the studio in debt from unsuccessful cartoons and the simmering feud between Max and Dave reaching new heights: including Dave wanting to write the score for the film,[5] would result in Paramount's absorption of the Fleischer Studio in 1941 becoming Famous Studios.

Home video releases[edit]

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 an egregious amount of noise reduction.[6][7][8] In March 2014, Thunderbean Animation released a restored version of the film with several Fleischer Studios shorts in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack titled Fleischer Classics Featuring Gulliver's Travels.[9][10]


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"

Popular culture[edit]

A couple of scenes from the film are briefly seen in two episodes of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: "The Incredible Shrinking Town" and "Flippy".

Spin-off cartoons[edit]

The film was spun off into two short-lived Fleischer cartoon short series: the Gabby cartoons starring the Pinto Colvig-voiced Lilliputian sidekick of the film, and the Animated Antics cartoons starring Sneak, Snoop and Snitch (the three villains) and Twinkletoes (the carrier pigeon) from the film.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]