Gulliver Adaptations: Worst to Best

Those of you who follow me on Deviantart probably know that I’m making an animated adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels. Or you don’t. Because I didn’t announce it. Anyway, I’m making an animated adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.
ew go bathe
Okay, but everyone already knows this story. He’s the giant guy with the tiny people. Or they’re the ones who are tiny and he’s the giant? Whatever. What’s so great about an adaptation? Or what’s so great about Gulliver, in that matter?

Good adaptations not only stay true to the intent of the original story, but also present it in a way that wasn’t seen in the original material. Thus, a viewer gets a different experience viewing an adaptation that expands on the world of the original, but feels like it fits within the original’s world.

Gulliver’s Travels is a unique satire that is as identifiable now as it was around three hundred years ago, when it was first published. Yes, it criticized 18th century English authorities, but what makes it eternal and still popular to this day is it tackled the universal question of what it means to be human. That’s an extremely short and paraphrased version of why this book is so awesome. Gulliver’s story has inspired many, MANY adaptations, and here we’ll take a look at some of the ridiculously bad ones and some of the better ones.

What follows is a list of eight film adaptations ranked from not-so-favorite to favorite, in my opinion, and a short little review on each of them.

And yes, that means I sat through the Jack Black version. We’ll…get to it.

8) Gulliver’s Travels (1939), directed by Max Fleischer:
Or, as I like to call it, “Snow White and the Lilliputians.” This was my first exposure to Gulliver’s Travels before reading the book. Again, this version only covers Lilliput, and is made for kids. I sat through it anyway.

I do this for you.

In the typical fashion of 1930s/1940s cartoons, the silly side characters move like squishy sacks of squish with no bones, while the main characters are an ugly, weird design that is not very exaggerated and look like they belong in a different movie. The designs in this film were clearly inspired by Disney’s work, and had more appeal than the Richard Harris Lilliputians (see point 6), but not much.

And, I’m sorry, but I thought this was a story about Gulliver? We end up focusing on the prince of Blefescu (not even a character in Swift’s original) and the princess of Lilliput (NOT EVEN A CHARACTER IN SWIFT’S ORIGINAL) and the fact that they can’t be together. Is this Romeo and Juliet or Snow White and the Lilliputians or excuse me I thought this was Gulliver’s Travels why aren’t we concerned about the giant man who washed up on the beach, anybody, can we pay attention to the…geh…did you even READ the book?! Thirty minutes into the film and Gulliver’s still asleep on the beach. I’m not exaggerating. In fact, I rounded down for you. It’s more like…thirty-eight minutes. Not surprisingly, we find it difficult to empathize with this character, who is supposed to be our main protagonist. We see him from the Lilliputian point of view. He’s a very boring, friendly giant with no brains. And, because of rotoscoping, no soul.
(Copyright Fleischer Studios, 1939, distributed by Paramount Pictures)

I’m trying my best to find some good things about every version. That being said, there wasn’t much in this one, which is why it’s number 8 of 8. I will admit, one funny detail was when the Lilliputians lifted a sleeping Gulliver’s hand in order to make him press his finger on the very rope holding him down so that they could tie a knot. That was actually pretty funny, but not worth an hour and sixteen minutes of torment. And the horses are cute and fat. And it’s pretty cool that this was the second feature-length animation EVER, just after, you guessed it, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But I’m afraid that’s about it for good things.

The Character of Gulliver: It’s not as though we got much of it. He sounds like the woodsman from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and presents himself as an all-too-pleasant mid-20th century gentleman, who is more than happy to befriend the Lilliputians and act fatherly towards them, which is not surprising, when they’re acting like a bunch of kids. Gulliver is pretty much the only adult in the movie, which makes him feel out of place, but not in the way Swift had intended.
The Lilliputians come to trust him immediately, pretty much because he says he’s on their side. Therefore this movie has missed one of the core elements of Gulliver’s character. Throughout the book, he bends over backwards to please the kings he visits, even to the point in Luggnagg (Book Three) where he descends to licking the floor all the way from the chamber entrance to the Emperor’s feet, as is their custom. Never mind that sometimes that floor is laced with poisonous dust, and he is aware of this risk. This is how little Gulliver values himself. We get none of that in this version, as he is robbed of the opportunity to pine for the Lilliputian Emperor’s trust.
This Gulliver wins: Most soulless Gulliver.

A lot of times I forgot I was watching Gulliver’s Travels. Not a jot of the feeling of Swift’s original was captured, nor any real aspect of the original whatsoever. It’s like someone said, “Ey, did you hear that story about Gulliver, the giant guy with the tiny dudes?” “Eh, no, I haven’t, but that would make a great movie! I’ll get to work!”

Seriously. An hour and sixteen minutes wasted.

I do this for you.

7) Gulliver’s Travels (2010), starring Jack Black:
Yeah. I don’t think anyone expected this to be all that high on the list. It was extremely predictable, took the concept of the book, but didn’t really stay true to the spirit of Swift’s original at all. It transformed the text to a point of being unrecognizable and sort of went full swing in its own direction. If you’re going to do that, make it about a different character. Just don’t call him Gulliver.
The best part of this movie was Jason Segel being adorable. That’s pretty much it.
Jack Black Gulliver
(Copyright Dune Entertainment, Davis Entertainment Company, 2010, distributed by Twentieth Century Fox)

The Character of Gulliver: Much as I love Jack Black, he was Jack Black. The character was nothing like Gulliver, to a point where it was actually jarring to hear his name. In fact, the only similarity he bears to the original is that he does not value himself, and tends to mask this with a false sense of pride. Still, the character arc Gulliver goes through in the original was believable. This…was not.
This Gulliver wins: Most not-Gulliver Gulliver.

Though there were a few enjoyable moments, in general, I don’t have too much to say on this one. None of the characters behaved naturally (thus I can say it was bad writing), and I didn’t really find myself empathizing with anyone. It cheapened the text substantially and I can be thankful it was not too terribly long a flick. But at least Gulliver wasn’t soulless. He just wasn’t Gulliver.

6) Gulliver’s Travels (1977), starring Richard Harris:
This adventure, like many others, only covers Lilliput. The Lilliputians are portrayed using 2D hand-drawn animation, and are mixed with live action footage of Richard Harris and some cartoony-looking models for Lilliput. In my opinion, the cartoons were not blended very well with the live action footage, so it seemed like Gulliver had not only reached the land of the little people, but had also reached the land of cartoons, but somehow failed to comment on this.

Skyresh Bolgolam, Gulliver’s main antagonist in Part One, is portrayed with a peg leg, for some reason, which was interesting but did not really add anything. The designs of the Lilliputians spanned from medieval European to Middle Eastern to Egyptian, but not smoothly. It just looked like someone had grabbed a bunch of characters from different movies and dropped them into Lilliput. Oh, and let’s not forget pirates. Skyresh looks like a pirate. Oh. And a lot of the hats make the Lilliputians look like dildos. Which is okay. Because their capitol, Mildendo, is a joke of Swift’s: an anagram of “dildo men.”
dildo men
(Copyright Belvision, 1977, distributed by Arrow Films)

Unfortunately, from an animation perspective, the character designs for the Lilliputians lacked any appeal whatsoever, and were simply hideous to look at.

I’m not here to entirely bash this piece. I will admit, there were some interesting elements I hadn’t seen in any other adaptations before, like a few Lilliputians running away from one of Gulliver’s large coins that had begun spinning on the ground. The map of the islands of Lilliput and Blefescu were portrayed as two lands that had once been one and had broken apart, which was an interesting touch, and the shape the two islands would have made when joined was an egg. It was a rather blatant reference to the cause of the division between these two nations, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Lilliput and Blefescu

I did laugh a few times. Okay, only once. It was when the Emperor was thinking of how to punish some traitors and he says, “It may take me a little time, but believe me, I shall devise something diabolical!” It was the way he delivered it. You had to be there.
The ending gave a cute tribute to the next world Gulliver visits, Brobdingnag, in which he is the comparative size of Lilliputians and is surrounded by giants.
The film also stuck to the minute computations and measurements seen in the original, but this was a quality Swift had attributed to Gulliver. In this film, a new character is introduced, named Subtracto, who quickly sputters out the numbers. He also spins around like a hallucination at some points, making me question my very existence. Or why I’m even watching this version. The extremely cartoony antics of the Lilliputians made me think this was probably a version of Gulliver’s Travels that was meant to be entirely for kids. But that doesn’t explain the dildo men.

The Character of Gulliver:
This is probably the sassiest Gulliver I have ever seen. Not only does he demand food in the beginning whilst tied down on the beach, but he threatens to sneeze and cough on his captors if they do not do as he requests. He often laughs at the Lilliputians and their antics. He always seems like he’s in control, not the least bit worried about anything. At one point, when he’s walking into a death trap set by Skyresh and the General (a deviation from the book), he is mildly concerned. Otherwise this is just a pleasant tour with pleasantly colored buildings and pleasant people.
Back at home, he’s weirdly open with his love. He even has the line, “I love you. I love everyone.” I literally cackled when I heard this.
Okay, lemme learn you some Gulliver.
Lemuel Gulliver is not a man who is open with his emotions. Throughout the book, he constantly distracts himself with details and measurements and does not spend any time reflecting on what he has perceived; he merely absorbs it like a sponge. This is not a man who is open with his feelings, if he cannot even admit them to himself. To see a horse milking a cow (in Part Four of the book) and think nothing on this ridiculous scene but, “Oh wow, what dexterity!” is the sign of a man so trapped in his own head that he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, express his love to anyone. He never, at any point in the book, admits to loving his wife or children, so how could he outright say he loves everyone? Have I justified my cackle?
This Gulliver wins: Most sassy Gulliver.

Oh, and did I mention that this version is a musical?! I know. I was just as confused as you. Gulliver has his own theme song:

It’s catchy. It’s really catchy. I see you singing it in the shower.
You missed a spot…
He even has a song where he sings about how tiny everyone is. Gulliver? No, seriously. Turn down the sass. The little seamstresses making him a rainbow robe also sing. It’s Gulliver and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Still. At least I felt like I was watching a rendition of Gulliver’s Travels.

5) Gulliver’s Travels: Learn English with Animated Stories by Little Fox:
This is self-explanatory. It’s a retelling of Gulliver’s Travels with Flash animation and is read slowly and with a lot of articulation, for non-English speakers to better understand the story. It only goes through Lilliput and Gulliver never leaves Lilliput (apparently?), for it only contains three four-minute parts.

Strangely enough, this has a lot of good things going for it. It sticks directly to the story and has a pretty appealing look to its character designs. It’s also the first time I’ve seen that the Lilliputians don’t speak English (Gulliver has to learn Lilliputian in the book), and because this is a series made for students learning another language, Gulliver’s reason for learning Lilliputian is that he is, “interested in people from other countries.”

It also made some interesting conjectures about Gulliver’s character in the beginning. It supposed that Lemuel Gulliver had been named after his grandfather, and that his reasons for going into medicine were to please his father, who wished him to become a doctor. I’ve never actually seen a version that did that before, SO I’M COUNTING IT.
Little Fox Animated Stories
(Copyright Little Fox, 2014)

4) Crayola Kids Adventures: Tales of Gulliver:
This was a kid’s show back in the nineties that had a cast made up entirely of children. They did a Gulliver segment in which the absurdities of Dr. Lemuel Gulliver’s travels were translated into things kids would find absurd. For example, the Laputans have a rule, that you must eat three square meals a day. When Gulliver takes a look at the food, he finds that the meals are all shaped like squares. Later on, he’s able to convince the Pasha of Laputa that circle foods are awesome too. Like pizza. And what kid can argue with that logic?
The Land of the Houyhnhnms is portrayed with dogs instead of with horses, and Gulliver is chained up on a leash and treated like a pet, which successfully weaves in the way he was treated in Brobdingnag, without doing a segment on that particular world. The visual gag of a dog walking a human is also implemented, and can communicate to a kid the same sort of feeling Gulliver had in the book when seeing a horse on a cart pulled by four humans.
Crayola Kids Adventures
(Copyright Crayola, Hallmark Entertainment, and Alliance Atlantis 1997)
This version also gives information about the original book at the end and encourages kids to read it. How awesome is that? They even gave a brief definition of satire, and successfully implemented it throughout their own retelling.

The Character of Gulliver: Though he’s played by a kid (Adam Wylie), Gulliver’s skills as a doctor are brought into play, and he exhibits an appropriate sense of befuddlement at his surroundings. He offers advice, as he does in the book, and insists that his tales are true, and that there can be a lot to learn from them. It was a lot like seeing what Gulliver would have been like as a child. Thus, it was a pretty accurate portrayal.
This Gulliver wins: Most appropriately confused Gulliver.

All in all, this was a pretty good version. The absurdity of the text was translated to a kid’s audience without dumbing it down. Rather, it was made more identifiable to them, and the kid actors seemed like they had a great time on set, because everyone was giving off a good vibe. The kids were super excited to talk about the original at the end, so I feel as though the adults working with them had them read a few segments of the original, likely the more absurd and fun parts. A TV show that encourages reading? I miss Reading Rainbow.

3) Jajantaram Mamantaram (2003), starring Javed Jaffrey:
Excuse me, but a Bollywood version of Gulliver’s Travels? TWO things I love?
This adaptation is probably the funniest adaptation I’ve seen. It follows the adventures of Aditya Pandit in the land of Shundi, but openly admits its influence from Gulliver. Aditya asks, “Hey, are you guys Lilliputians? That chap Gulliver, has he ever been here?” The film immediately sets itself up as influenced by Gulliver, but definitely takes its own route with the story. That route includes a soldier falling in love with a princess and Aditya playing matchmaker, a supernatural giant attacking Aditya with a sword that can turn into a snake, and an evil magician who wants to be king. And unlike the Jack Black version, this story runs wild with the tale, but stays close to the satire and swashbuckling adventure of Swift’s book, and doesn’t pretend to be Gulliver. This is not the story of Gulliver and the Lilliputians. This is Aditya and the Shundians.

Jajantaram Mamantaram
(Copyright iDream Productions, 2003)

One of the most fun aspects of this movie is that it moves Gulliver up into the modern era. Aditya addresses everyone as “dudes” and “little dudes” and even shows them a Walkman. He spends a lot of time having fun with the people of Shundi, but also sticks to the satire of Swift by criticizing Indian culture. When his lowly soldier friend Jeran is banned from seeing the princess specifically because of his status, Aditya recognizes that these two were “practically made for each other” and argues for their love, saying, “Listen, dude. I’m going to say something and I know you’re not going to like it because the truth is always bitter. All this nonsense of colour, caste, creed, status, it’s a whole load of crap, and that’s the cause of all this death and devastation, this murder and mayhem. I’m sick of it.” Being that this is a children’s movie, it feels like an expression of hope towards the next generation.

We do see a contraption built for the transportation of Aditya, but rather than in malice and securing his captivity, as in the original, the contraption is built in order to help Aditya, who has suffered severe wounds from battling a supernatural giant created to oppose him and take over the kingdom. Thus, when watching the Shundians work on transporting him, I had this weird sense of redemption washing over me. Or maybe it was the music. Ah yes, this is a musical, but you knew that. It’s Bollywood. It was awesome.

The Character of Gulliver Aditya: This is a very playful take on Gulliver. Aditya uses wit and humor to save the Shundians from a cannibalistic giant who is normally offered human sacrifices. He’s a Groucho Marxian sort of clown character with a 21st century reaction to these strange events, making him a bit more identifiable to people who have trouble accessing the 18th century Gulliver character. Aditya is a very caring individual who easily befriends the Shundians, especially Jeran and the children. He has a good heart like the original Gulliver and can be playful and mischievous, and unlike the original, we get to see him form a loving relationship with the people of Shundi, despite his size. He takes on the role of protector, and even gets emotional about it, wiping away manly tears. It was gorgeous.

Jajantaram Mamantaram

And sometimes it was just plain silly.

Jajantaram MamantaramJajantaram Mamantaram

This Gulliver wins: Most Sentimental Gulliver.
This is the most touching portrayal of the relationship between Gulliver and the Lilliputians I have ever seen. Jeran and the princess even make Aditya lean down as they see him off at the beach, just so they can kiss him on the cheek. His response is, “Please, don’t do all this.” He is actually tempted to stay. I have never seen that in a Gulliver adaptation before, especially concerning the Lilliputians, who are violent and petty, and though they are portrayed as petty in Jajantaram Mamantaram, the Shundians show that they can learn from Aditya and will implement a new form of law, in which a soldier can marry a princess, and caste does not matter.

2) The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960), starring Kerwin Mathews:
This version only covers two of Gulliver’s worlds and the original had four so cut out two and you have the…three worlds of…Gulli…ver?

You do the math.
I suppose his third world is England, which is, of course, where we begin.

Now, because it isn’t fully fledged out in the book exactly what leads Gulliver into leaving England in the first place, a few adaptations have offered their own ideas. In this 1960 version, we see Gulliver at work as a doctor at home, but allowing himself to be bossed around by his patients and even his wife. At one point he’s not even offered money, but a chicken, and laments that his life has come to chasing chickens. Unfortunately, instead of delving into how this could be a sign of how little he values himself, he desires more and becomes more of a character who gives his medical talent in order to help people, and often does his work for free.
The theme of finding a paradise and not being content with what one has pervades the entire film. Gulliver’s biggest fight with his lover Elizabeth (her name is Mary in the book) is over money. “If I stay here, I’ll still be in the same grinding rut tomorrow, the next day, and always. Without money, nothing changes…I am a doctor, and I want to help the sick without being sick inside myself with worry and debts.” This provides proper incentive for Gulliver to leave and try to make a better life for himself, thus setting up the theme of looking for paradise wherever he goes, only to find that it is here at home in England with Elizabeth, and has been there all along.

Speaking of setting things up, the screenplay is fantastic. Absolutely wonderful writing, appropriate quips between the characters, and a new look at the original while maintaining a bit of the Swiftian feel. Aside from that, the soundtrack by Bernard Hermann is also fantastic. I may just go off and buy the soundtrack.

I’m back. Soundtrack bought. The Lilliputians and their designs look the most like how they were described in the book, with European, Middle Eastern, and Chinese influences, but with very English behavior. The script delved into the specifics of Swift’s satire, suggesting that before tight-rope walking, competitors for public office once had mud-slinging battles, but it was soon determined that these were too messy.
Brilliant. And very Swiftian.
The 3 Worlds of Gulliver
(Copyright Columbia Pictures, 1960)

There was also a wonderful antagonism between Flimnap the Treasurer and Rendersal, our handsome devil right here:
much sexy
Excuse me while I stand here sexily.

Gulliver even proves himself a powerful ally when defending Rendersal from Flimnap’s conspiring minions who seek to foil Rendersal’s attempts at becoming prime minister. And what was charming about this is that Gulliver defends Rendersal the way only a giant can. During the competition, when Flimnap’s minions attempt to shake the rope on which Rendersal is balancing, Gulliver pretends to sneeze in their direction, blowing them off of the ropes (but somehow Rendersal keeps his balance? He’s Sinbad and Aladdin all in one!).

It got really interesting in Brobdingnag. Though Lilliput stuck mostly to the book (aside from our classic Hollywood romance between Rendersal and I Dream of Genie), a lot of liberty was taken in Brobdingnag, where it is discovered Elizabeth (our Mary character, the love interest of Gulliver) has been housed by the king in a little doll house. When Gulliver reaches Brobdingnag, he sees a pair of people sitting on the beach and requests their help. When they don’t respond, he touched them, only to have them fall over, revealing that they are dolls. A large shadow with pigtails appears over him. That shot in itself was bloody magic.
Bloody magic.
I thought it was neat, at any rate.
There is an antagonism between Gulliver and a medieval alchemist, and Gulliver defeats him with his superior 18th century knowledge of physic. (Never mind that it was a common 18th century medical practice to blow air up a drowning person’s anus in order to revive them. Not with the mouth, nasty; they used a special set of bellows. You’re disgusting.) Thus, when Gulliver wakes up with his wife on the shores of England, they conclude IN THE PREACHIEST WAY POSSIBLE that the pettiness of Lilliputians and the staggering ignorance of Brobdingnagians exist here, in our hearts, and serve as constant warning to living the right way. Yay. Hugs and kisses for everyone. It was all a dream.

The Character of Gulliver: Gulliver shows himself to be very clever amongst the Lilliputians. He quickly equates himself to their Emperor by saying that he’s different, as is the king, and being that they’re both different, they’re the same, “Which makes you a giant,” he says to the king. Still, he very quickly shows that he can be of enormous help to the Lilliputians, and sets to work gathering fish for them, uprooting trees to build for them, and spouting out two-dimensional concepts of love and humanity. He is thus presented as a knight without fault, which is not who the original was. Yes, he’s money conscious, yes, he’s working class, but he comes in as a sage for the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnagians. He’s already perfect. This is not the kind of man whose name is the awkward “Lemuel Gulliver” (okay, just let that role off your tongue for a moment, or rather stumble off); he’s far too handsome. And this is not the kind of man who would go into explicit detail about his own excrement, followed up immediately by the statement that he wouldn’t be going into this kind of detail unless his cleanliness were pulled into question, as it has been brought to his attention many of his “maligners” have. We get none of that bodily insecurity here.
And how could we, when we have the charming Kerwin Mathews, who had played Sinbad only two years before, portraying our awkward Gulliver?
This Gulliver wins: Most Inappropriately Flawless Gulliver.
Too much handsome
Look at this handsome mother.
And horny. I want to address, for a moment, that when he’s in Brobdingnag and Mary Elizabeth won’t have sex with him because they’re not married, Gulliver shouts to wake up Glumdalclitch and gets her to wake up the Brobdingnagian king so that they may “marry immediately.” And then, with the doll house in Glum’s room, apparently they get it on.
Excuse me.
Could you wait?

1) Gulliver’s Travels (1996), starring Ted Danson:
This was a made-for-TV movie by Jim Henson Productions and is about three hours long in its entirety. If I were to note everything I like about this version, it would take up an article all its own. This piece is by far the best adaptation I have seen, and not simply because it covers all four parts. It remains true to the core of the story and to Gulliver’s character, while adding scenes and details that make the adventure new and exciting. It focuses on the heart of our protagonist and on the realities of the trouble his family would suffer at his ridicule. And in the end, we get what Swift had not decided to give Gulliver, but what the character had been crying out for throughout the book: the ability to be a father and a loving husband.

What is interesting in this version is that we begin with Gulliver coming home from his adventures. Rather than returning home at the end of each part, as in the Swift version, he has remained at sea for nine years and experienced all four voyages before returning to England. While his family and fellow countrymen react to his ravings of fantastical worlds, he is taken into custody and is forced to constantly defend his word, which no one takes seriously. At least, no one but his son.
Throughout the film, we experience flashbacks of his travels blended seamlessly (I mean seamlessly…the transitions were ridiculously smooth) with his examinations, culminating in the land of the Houyhnhnms, and appropriately set in a medical trial. This means that, from the very beginning, Gulliver’s troubled psyche is addressed, which is a legitimate issue in the book, but is hardly ever explored in other adaptations.

Copyright Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson Productions
Copyright Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson Productions

Time out.
Time. Out.
Can we just, for a moment, appreciate the cast choices made here?
Peter O'Toole as the Emperor of Lilliput
Peter O’Toole as the Emperor of Lilliput.
Shashi Kapoor as the King of Laputa
Shashi Kapoor as the Raja of Laputa.
Omar Sharif as the necromancer
Omar Sharif as the Necromancer of Glubdubdrib.

Excuse-a-bookin’-pardon-me, but just take a moment to absorb how awesome this is.


The worlds of Gulliver’s Travels felt alive in that all the design choices were specific to each world and the side characters had their own stories, and were portrayed as very human. They were fun, spontaneous, and very likeable, yet not distracting. There is a balance between how much side characters take over the attention and how much we stay inside one character’s head. To me, this adaptation struck a chord right in the middle.
The Lilliputians are portrayed as an exaggeration of the English, which is appropriate, since they were used in the original to criticize the 18th century English authorities. The section of Lilliput also successfully delved into Gulliver’s self consciousness, specifically concerning his body. When he kisses the Empress’s hand, he accidentally gets some spit on her fingers, which happens normally, but when her hand is so little, it’s a disgusting deal. She screams at this, and Gulliver apologizes, clearly not having intended it.
For Brobdingnag, we get the appropriate humiliation Gulliver experiences in the book. He is put on display, he is treated like a pet, and this section is set up to directly mimic the feeling we get from the original, that this world of giants is tiring Gulliver out. We feel the exhaustion by the end of it, and it provided a great contrast to Lilliput. Again, appropriate to the original.
In Glubdubdrib with the Necromancer, Gulliver uses his wit to get out of a terrifying/creepy/drugged-out/hypnotic situation. Though Gulliver is not held prisoner by the Necromancer in the book, it did often feel like Swift had glazed over an amazing opportunity with such a creepy character. This, of course, was not his focus, but it was wonderful to see it enacted in this version.
In the land of the Houyhnhnms, the Yahoos were very well done, and, a step up from the original, not racist, yay! They were even funny at times, but successfully made the audience conscious of the behaviors of humankind, which is exactly what Swift intended. When Gulliver is attacked by two female Yahoos in heat, he gets covered in their mud and takes on more of their appearance. This was magnificently done.

The Character of Gulliver: This is the closest portrayal to the original I have ever seen. When riddled with flashbacks from Lilliput and simultaneously conversing with his son, Gulliver begs, “Do not be afraid of me.” He is frightened, self-conscious, and deeply troubled. His family suffers because of this, and this is clearly shown. Thus his family plays a much larger role than in the book.
When asked in Brobdingnag why he doesn’t like to be touched, Gulliver says, “I just don’t. I don’t need a reason why.” This is very true to the original, for though it is not outright stated in Swift’s version, a man constantly in his head and with a medical understanding of the body, intense self-consciousness towards it, and with an inability to express emotion or affection, would not like to be touched, would he?
Gulliver’s occupation as a doctor came into play more so than in the book, which was a welcomed detail, as it is very easy to forget his medical skill set in Swift’s original, because he never uses it. This is due mostly to Swift’s treatment of the character in that he was writing a satire, not necessarily a story in the way we understand them nowadays. In presenting the body of work to a 20th century audience, we like characters with whom we can empathize. We like character arcs and journeys and phoenixes rising from the ashes. This adaptation gives us just that. In this adaptation, Gulliver gets a heart.
Throughout the film, Gulliver battles against his own countrymen who cannot open their minds to see past what they deem to be impossible, and this is emphasized especially when Gulliver’s wife Mary defends him in his medical trial. When asked if she believed his stories, she says, “I believe in him…What if his stories are true, what if they’re not? What does it matter?…Who are we to judge him?” She defends him beautifully and sees through to his heart to see that he is a good man, a gentle man, one who has been made a better man through his travels.
This Gulliver wins: Most Swiftian Gulliver.
The Gulliver Family
(Copyright Hallmark Entertainment in association with Channel Four Television, Jim Henson Productions, 1996)

I was in tears by the end. It is rare that a Gulliver adaptation looks beyond the petty calculating and bodily embarrassments and sees through to Gulliver’s heart, and heals him in the end. It does not surprise me in the slightest that this adaptation won five Emmy Awards. One of the most wonderful things about this piece is that Swift does not give Gulliver a happy ending. In the book, Gulliver slowly descends into madness and comes to be disgusted with humanity, and himself. In the Jim Henson version, Gulliver is able to come back from his self-loathing and accept who he is, and take his place as husband and father once more.

This version did something even Swift did not do. It made Gulliver beautiful.

I will be happy if I can make anything half this good.
Here’s to hoping.
Kid Pile

And now something to punish you for making it all the way through.

Gulliver is SJ. You learn something new.


UPDATE (Sept. 14, 2015):
I am no longer attempting an animated Gulliver series but have moved it to the world of comics, only with a special twist. This project became a collaboration between me and a loved one, and is our first time writing something together. I will say nothing on the project until we have released the first chapter online. The comic will be released chapter by chapter, so the pacing of the comic will be properly experienced.
I look forward to surprising you all. But for now…keep it hush-hush. Word.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. billionsix says:

    I really look forward to seeing what you come up with. I agree, the Ted Danson version is really really awesome. I have in on DVD on my shelf. You’ve made me curious about some of the other versions, like the Bollywood one.

    1. Squonk Hunter says:

      The Bollywood one was surprisingly good. And yes, the Ted Danson one felt the most like the text coming to life. I should get the DVD myself. It’s seriously worth owning.

      1. billionsix says:

        Actually, what I got was a sort of double feature DVD. The other movie was The Odyssey starring Armand Assante.

      2. Squonk Hunter says:

        Found the DVD itself on Amazon.

  2. I think yours is a great idea … however, have you listened to any of the radio drama versions of Gulliver (for example the BBC version from 2012 starring Arthur Darvill)?

    1. Squonk Hunter says:

      No I haven’t! I’ll give it a listen!

  3. Ron says:

    I think a few deserving ones have been left out…. like I remember one movie, in which there was a relatively modernised Gulliver(I’m not even sure if his name was Gulliver), and also a monarchial yet modernised lilliputian city with steam engines. In one scene, a train hits the head of the giant man. I don’t think that the movie contains oceans and all that. But can anybody tell me the name of the movie please?

    1. Squonk Hunter says:

      Interesting! I haven’t heard of that one, but now you’ve got me intrigued. If anyone knows the title, please let us know.

  4. Steven says:

    I haven’t read the whole book (I listened to the first half on tape once), but I love the Ted Danson version almost as much as you do. I love how it’s the only adaptation that adapts all four parts, and it gave the story a happy ending.
    Speaking of which, are you planning to adapt all four parts? I assume you are, judging by the sketches in your DA gallery.

    1. Squonk Hunter says:

      This project may not happen for a while, but if I were to adapt it, I would indeed do all four parts. It’s just not complete without all four.

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