Gulliver's Travels (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Gulliver’s Travels (2010)

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ANDREW LIKELet me go on record by noting that Jack Black is severely underrated.  Maybe we got our fill of elastic-like perpetual energy machines once the Jim Carrey craze faded out.  Or maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that barely any roles bother to try and use him outside of that admittedly hard to deal with over a long period of time niche.  Gulliver's Travels works.  Dear God does it work and, to be fair, it doesn't have everything to do with Jack Black but the fact that he toned it down a bit does not help.

Now, another admission, I haven't read the original Jonathan Swift stories that this movie is based on.  I have seen the 1936 rotoscoped animated version of the story and the first episode of the four part mini-series that aired in the 90's starring Ted Danson.  I've also seen any number of generic cartoon shows tackle the same basic story and with each incarnation, I've been roused to little more than light amusement.  I don't particularly know what anyone gets out of the story, I'm not familiar enough with the historical context to give it any social weight (ok, except as maybe a sly warning about a possible American Revolution), and the strangeness of the story is somewhat eclipsed by Alice In Wonderland (though that was released a hundred years later).

The special effects look tailor-made for a Disney ride at times, but service some pretty good visual gags.

This new rendition tacks on an introductory ten minute sequence of events that introduce us to Gulliver (Jack Black).  He works in the mail room at a publishing company and spends his time being a Guitar Hero-playing, Star Wars quoting but ultimately laid back kind of guy.  Gulliver wants more, namely to ask his coworker Darcy (Amanda Peet) and show the new guy Dan (T. J. Miller) around.  Very quickly, Dan sizes up that no one runs the mail department, gets a promotion, and makes some pointed observations about how much Gulliver wants to be with Darcy.

A quick note about T. J. Miller, he was in the similar "not nearly as bad as I was expecting" Yogi Bear.  His insane enthusiasm for being a park ranger was one of the genuinely funny things about this film.  Now in Gulliver's Travels, he takes a quick role that could have been mean (since he does berate Gulliver a bit) or just not funny (if he decided to play it straight).  But he does it with a joking, supportive manner that turns out to be very funny and somewhat memorable at the same time.  Since I actually remembered him from Yogi Bear and he's managed to turn in great roles in The Goods, Get Him To The Greek as well as adding a strange bit of life to a four minute role - I think this guy's gonna be worth paying attention to.

But the gist of these opening segments is Character Motivation 101.  Ben's prodding leads Gulliver to do a bit of Dadaist (or plaguerizing) work for the publishing company.  He's sent on a trip to the Bermuda Triangle where the basis of all these stories kicks in.  Gulliver finds himself on an island with tiny people, the Liliputians, who are at constant war with other little people, the Blefuscians.  Gulliver sets himself up as the hero of his home land, which isn't hard since he stands 6 feet to everyone's six inches.  Then there's some attempt at dramatic tension as to if Gulliver will be able to get Darcy to forgive him for stealing, or if the Liliputians will catch on to his lies, or if the scheming General Edward (Chris O'Dowd) will be able to overthrow the kingdom and so on.

Jason Segel doesn't go to waste. His Horatio wouldn't be out of place in The Princess Bride.

Now the plot proceeds as needed, so let's discuss why these scenes in Liliput are so damn funny.  Everyone is Liliput has tuned their performances to the Nicholas Cage school of over-acting.  There is no scenery left unchewed as King Benjamin (Billy O'Connoley, with such John Cleese-like timing I had to double check to make sure it wasn't Cleese himself) who would rather sing his countries beloved national anthem than open a window to keep himself from dying in a fire.  Or his daughter Princess Mary (Emily Blunt), who spends the whole time during her attempted kidnapping breathily yelling "Oh no, I am to be kidnapped" then helpfully alerting "I have been kidnapped".  Then there's that fantastic General, who has a habit of overextending his attempts at heroism and front-flips into danger instead of helping, then unenthusiastically plots revenge against his kingdom in a number of hilariously dry sequences.

Really, the supporting cast is beyond phenomenal and I didn't get to Jason Segel, Catherine Tate, or James Corden.  The script isn't anything terribly special, and the special-effects look really bad at times, but that's all part of the charm.  Sometimes a total lack of "maturity" is just what a film needs to blossom, especially if it's a comedy as charmingly well delivered as Gulliver's Travels.

So there you are.  I laughed.  I reported why.  I have fulfilled my duty as a honorable and truthful film critic.  Any other complaints can be registered below.

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Gulliver's Travels (2010)

Directed by Rob Letterman.
Screenplay by Joe Stillman and  Nicholas Stoller.
Starring Jack Black,  Emily Blunt, and Chris O'Dowd.

Posted by Andrew

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