Film Review: Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels is very much a film for the most ardent Jack Black fans, but even these may be disappointed. As a comedy adventure, there simply is not enough humour to elevate the film out of its mediocrity.

Mail room worker Gulliver attempts to get out of his comfortable rut by trying his luck as a travel writer. After being given an assignment in Bermuda, he gets lost at sea. Gulliver ends up on the island of Luliput, where he is a giant compared to the inhabitants…

Based loosely on Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver’s Travels mixes comedy with fantasy adventure. The film is played for laughs, yet it is not actually that funny. It functions as a vehicle for Jack Black, but his familiar routine adds little comedy value. Some humour is derived from the various references to movies and songs, but the film would never be described as hilarious. Without the comedy, the film has little else going for it.

The introductory segment of the film sets Gulliver up as a bit of a loser; too scared to ask Darcy out and wiling his days away in the mail room. The narrative is as much about Gulliver finding confidence and becoming himself as it is about the events that occur on the island of Liliput. Gulliver’s metaphorical journey is nothing but rudimentary, however. There is nothing imaginative or interesting about it. While Gulliver’s Travels aims to attract to a family audience, there is little appeal for either adults or children.

The only commendable aspect of the film is the production design. Liliput is wonderfully crafted; a medieval-style locale that becomes more contemporary as Gulliver’s influence spreads. The effects are good overall, with most interactions between Gulliver and the Liliput citizens appearing quite natural. The product placement is glaring, however, with Coca-Cola and Apple seeming like sponsors rather than innocuous products in the background.

Jack Black plays himself in Gulliver’s Travels, as he seems to do in pretty much all of his movies. Emily Blunt is poor as Princess Mary, a little disappointing from an actress who has impressed in the past. Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd are the only ones who seem to be having any fun with the material. Catherine Tate is underused as Queen Isabelle, perhaps she and the other comedians could have brought a few more laughs to the fore.

Gulliver’s Travels may keep young children content (depending on how particular they are), but it is unlikely to do the same for older viewers. Director Rob Letterman’s foray into live action suggests he should have stuck to animation.