Walt Disney himself reportedly stated, “We can do better than that with our second-string animators,” this after viewing the 1939 animated adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels. That’s not entirely fair, even if the basis of it all is true. The Max Fleischer style is wildly different, focused less on precision than on a more care-free, open piece of work.
Characters are animated without a strict sense of reality, bending and stretching freely, the animator’s hands more concerned with the cartoon qualities than the finest hand-painted stroke. That’s fine, and leaving Gulliver’s Travels distinct as the only non-Disney animated feature up until that time.
It’s important to have that bit of competition, even if Gulliver hardly ranks an icon, more of a memorable curiosity. The music is bland and the story can be sluggish (Gulliver doesn’t even wake up until over 40-minutes in), two strikes against the feature and that’s before discussing the rotoscoping. Long before Robert Zemeckis took us into a land of digital people, there was Gulliver, where the idea was to trace over a live-action actor to create better, more recognizable movement.
While it does separate Gulliver from his tiny village folk in a way other than size, it’s just not fun anymore. While the King bends in awkward ways and others get into those classic animated fisticuffs by scrunching into a ball, there’s this giant man in the background who is completely real. It’s a strange blend, the rotoscoping taking away the charm and ingenuity of the process, replacing it with something cold and static.
Despite the other issues, the latter is what hinders almost everything in Gulliver’s. Admirable as it may be to make such a lavish attempt at standing out, the end result is not that pleasing to the eye, and takes away from the opportunity to see an added layer of skill from the massive team that put this together. The original idea was to feature Popeye, the other hallmark of the Fleischer studio, in the lead role. That was dropped, leaving the finished product as a “what could have been” as opposed to a “what is.”
When someone asks a Blu-ray reviewer what the worst disc ever released to market is in terms of video, the answer should always be Koch’s Gulliver’s Travels. This is by far the most deplorable, disgusting, slap-dash, hacked together transfer the format has ever been given. Not a single aspect is positive, even with the outdated choice of codec, a paltry MPEG-2 affair. The aspect ratio is wrong, the image not just cropped to fit within a 16×9 frame, but stretched horizontally with drastic results to the original animation.
Any marketing material from Koch is nothing short of a blatant lie, much like all of those public domain discs that claim the chosen feature was “digitally remastered.” You know what that means in the literal sense? It was put onto a digital format, i.e., a disc instead of tape. Every conceivable problem you could imagine exists on this disc. The colors are awful, wildly fluctuating whenever something moves. Even though they are obviously faded, color bleed is horrific. Almost nothing stays within the confines of the lines.
From the, “why not?” category comes a heaping helpin’ slathering of DNR, so horrendously applied it takes entire lines with it. At a distance, the mouths and eyes of characters become one. Masses of soldiers marching to war, already fairly mundane in terms of the animation, are nothing but blobs. Background paintings are muddy, looking like digital watercolors created in Microsoft Paint, and even that is generous.
There is no definition, and certainly no clean up. There are reel markers left on the print with some kind of weird star pattern inside them, like someone was marking them for later but forgot. There are specks and minor scratches throughout, the least of the worries for a potential viewer though considering everything else. You’ll often hear the phrase, “It looks better than the DVD!” when justifying a Blu-ray release, and 99.9% of the time, that is true regardless of how minor the difference will be. Here, this barely rises above some VHS copies out there. From the fuzzy nature of the line drawings to the abuse done to the colors, there is nothing of value here. Oh, and there’s even some extensive banding against the nighttime sky, ghosting on a consistent basis, and halos all around.
The audio is somewhat serviceable, at the very least distinctive compared to whatever the video was trying to be. There are multiple flavors, all Dolby Digital. A 5.1 mix is fine, if loaded into the center with some brief excursions out into the stereo channels for the music. The 2.0 is sufficient, but the mono mix is the best of the group.
The latter doesn’t make the level of distortion quite as noticeable, leaving the audio in a more natural state. Dialogue is faded regardless of which track you choose, but again, it sits where it should within that mono mix. The music doesn’t hold together well either, fluctuating in spots, rarely holding firm. There is some general hiss, and some fairly severe popping as Gulliver speaks around 1:12:40. None of these are great, and maybe it’s sympathy towards the audio that is has to somehow enhance that video presentation, but at least it does what it’s supposed to do.
Two animated shorts starring Gabby are included as extras, oddly in the right aspect ratio, if still suffering from the rest of the problems mentioned above. A vintage look inside the Fleischer studio is here too, running under six minutes as the animation process is described. The DNR is heavy here as well.