Lemuel Gulliver (Black) is the head of the mail room for a New York magazine. He has a crush on the travel editor (Peet) but doesn’t have the courage to ask her out. Instead, he pretends to be interested in a scheme for new writers, takes an assignment in Bermuda, but ends up on the island of Lilliput where he towers over its tiny citizens. There he becomes a favourite of the royal court, but his huge size causes as many problems as it solves.
GULLIVER’S TRAVELS is based on Jonathan Swift’s satirical novel written in 1720s. This version, like many adaptations of the story concentrates on the first section, the adventures in Lilliput; most of the satire has been stripped away and the story has been turned into a children’s tale. Add the crazy, but PG-flavoured antics of Jack Black and you have a family film that will entertain kids of all ages this holiday season.
Or to put it another way, if you and your kids enjoyed Jack Black in SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003), then head for your multiplex and grab a tub of popcorn – you are very likely to be amused by GULLIVER’S TRAVELS. It doesn’t have the heart of a SCHOOL OF ROCK, but does have many opportunities for Black to let loose with his shtick. He is in every scene and gets a variety of gags, riffs and routines to perform. If this is what you’re after, then read no further and book your ticket.
If however, you’re a Jack Black fan who also enjoyed his work in ORANGE COUNTY (2002), TROPIC THUNDER (2008) and with his band Tenacious D, then you may not find what you’re looking for in this movie. Black usually plays variants on himself and he is brilliant at it. His appearance in an episode of TV’s COMMUNITY, his cameo as Jesus in the video PROP 8- THE MUSICAL, these are the places where Black shines. It’s where he is reined in by the straightness of the role, say in KING KONG (2005) or THE HOLIDAY (2006) that he tends to be less entertaining.
PG-rated Jack Black doesn’t necessarily feel like the man at his best. The talented team behind SCHOOL OF ROCK (including Mike White) helped to make that version of family-friendly Jack Black mostly watchable.
GULLIVER’S TRAVELS director Rob Letterman wrote the animated feature SHARK TALE, one of his co-writers, Joe Stillman was on the writing team for SHREK 1 and 2. All these films rely heavily on media and pop cultural references and so does GULLIVER’S TRAVELS. The kids in the screening I saw loved the gags that name-checked the Star Wars characters.
Curiously the other co-writer on this is Nicholas Stoller who directed FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (2008) and wrote and directed GET HIM TO THE GREEK (2010). Perhaps if he’d been in the director’s chair, he might have brought some of his comedic skill to the overall result. I say this because the rest of the talented cast is given almost nothing to do; Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Catherine Tate, Billy Connolly and Chris O’Dowd are sadly underused.
The result is a diluted Rom Com with a soggy centre; a story that rips off Jonathan Swift’s original concept but replaces the wit and satire with product placement gags about Guitar Hero and Nikes. This movie isn’t terrible, but is best watched when one is filled with holiday cheer.
GULLIVER’S TRAVELS runs for 93 minutes. It opens in Australia on the 27th of December. I rated it 2.5/5.