Director: Rob Letterman
Cinematographer: David Tattersall
Starring: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segal, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
As an adult, it’s difficult to see the 3D, big-screen adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels as much more than a denigration of the source material. The wit of Jonathan Swift is replaced by Jack Black getting a Lilliputian stuck in his butt crack and putting out a fire by peeing on the king.
But for the target audience, Black’s silliness is greatly preferable to a satirical look at modern government, religion and humanity. My kids were happy see giant Gulliver taking full advantage of his hero status and the Lilliputians’ skills by ordering up a luxurious palace with a platoon of soldiers as a marching masseuse. And the script had its clever moments: pop-culture geek Gulliver directed recreations of Titanic, Star Wars and Avatar, claiming them as his own exploits. He even had his little servants dress up as the members of Kiss so he and his pal Horatio (Jason Segal) could play a version of Guitar Hero. The movie’s best gags were references to the world Gulliver left behind, but there was no critique to go with it.
And this is where it’s hard to give Gulliver’s Travels a pass for being a kid’s movie. Jack Black is uniquely funny, but his Gulliver is the worst kind of Jack Black loser: He plagerizes Frommer’s to get his original travel-writing gig, he claims to be president (with Yoda as his vice-), and he advises Horatio to be aloof with his true love so she’ll think he’s cool. His redemption involves no difficult moral choices other than a single act of bravery. And in the end, he inexplicably gets the girl (Amanda Peet!) while his ambitious co-worker is reduced to mail-room slacker facing Gulliver’s condescension.
Thankfully, Emily Blunt and Jason Segal nail the mix of Victorian earnestness and awakening sense of freedom that Gulliver’s influence brings. If there’s a message, it’s that people were stuffy before movies and video games, and women shouldn’t be forced to court uptight megalomaniacs. The film’s shallowness is only highlighted by the depth of an original that bravely took its power structures to task. In the end, Gulliver averts another battle by singing Edwin Starr’s “War” (“what is it good for?” “absolutely naught!”). When Amanda Peet is reduced to a ridiculous dancer in an abysmal finale, you know you’ve just watched one giant mess.