Normally, I would launch into a diatribe about how some director or screenwriter has perverted a classic literary tale, and in doing so, exterminated its essence. This is not one of those instances. Gulliver’s Travels is such a brilliant satirical spin-off of the original story that it is almost beyond reproach. Let me tell you what is new, rather than what is retreaded. Prepare to have your appetites whetted.
Gulliver is a lowly worker in a mail room. His favorite hobbies are playing Guitar Hero and personifying Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker action figures. He is secretly in love with the travel editor at his company, whose name is Darcy Silverman (the exquisite Amanda Peet), and she is as demure and radiant as they come. Unfortunately, Gulliver is a chicken. On a quest to show his bravery by asking her on a date, he stumbles onto a job application for a travel writer in her department. Rather than relying on his abbreviated knowledge of wayfaring, our hero in the making copies and pastes various excerpts from travel websites to impress her. Sufficed to say, Gulliver gets the job, but not the date. Gulliver’s first assignment is to explore the Bermuda Triangle to prove it is not dangerous.
Comically but predictably, Gulliver’s boat, the H.M.S. “Not For Sale” is caught in an eddy (a whirlpool) and the drunken sailor is carried away to another reality. When he awakens, Gulliver is tied down and encircled by tiny human beings known as Lilliputians. He easily extricates himself from danger by simply standing up, and our adventure begins. During his time in Lilliput (their island), Gulliver convinces the denizens he is a king and a protector in his own land. He tells them his princess is named Darcy. Gulliver finds a friend in town, the lowly and imprisoned Horatio. Contradistinctively, he makes an enemy of the egomaniacal General Edward of Lilliput (Chris O’Dowd). Both Edward and Horatio are vying for the affections of a certain Princess Mary (Emily Blunt). The King is also much taken with Gulliver, and assigns him the role of protector of Lilliput. Let’s not forget that Gulliver had to save King Theodore (Billy Connolly) from the jaws of death to achieve this honorary position. When the King’s house caught on fire, Gulliver urinated all over the King and the General to extinguish the blaze, if you know what I mean!
While Gulliver is busy asking the Lilliputians to cloth him in royal garments, to create a barcalounger for his leisure, and to construct a new replica of Broadway with himself as the star, their enemies, the Blefuscudians, are plotting their next attack. At first ,Gulliver attempts to peacefully resolve their differences, until the Blefuscudian sailors launch tiny rocks at his stomach. Feeling spited and vengeful, Gulliver wrecks their entire seafaring fleet in mere moments by virtue of his fleshy tummy. As time goes by and as the laughs pile up nearly as high as a mountain, General Edward becomes jealous and filled with hatred over Gulliver’s ascendancy and fame. Vowing revenge, he decides to join forces with the Blefuscudians to unseat Gulliver.
One of the most clever twists in this new version of Gulliver’s Travels is the little people are technologically savvy. They are capable of creating/engineering almost anything. Along with the Blefuscudians, General Edward utilizes Gulliver’s blueprints to make a device capable of defeating even a giant (Jack Black is close to 5’5” in real life!). This is when Gulliver ceases to be a hero and becomes exposed for who and what he is. Edward challenges him to a duel dressed like R2D2. Once Gulliver overconfidently accepts, Edward transforms into an Autobot and kicks his ass. In spirit he is more of a Decepticon but appearances can be deceiving. The sound technicians imitate the Transformers’ noises perfectly.
Once Gulliver is expelled from Liliput, he is transported into the land of the Brobdingnags. In the Swift version of the story, Brobdingnagians are nearly seventy feet tall, just a shade taller than Gulliver. Adding to the hilarity is the position our adventurer finds himself in. In the span of one day he has gone from being a massive Broadway hero to being a prisoner in a giant girl’s dollhouse. Black sure does look pretty in women’s clothing. In the land of the giants Gulliver is the size of an ant. This makes his miniaturization when juxtaposed with the giant dollhouse a side-splitting spectacle of alliteration.
Gulliver’s Travels end on a happy note. Amanda Peet and Jack Black have been together before in Saving Silverman. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with. I could not imagine a better choice for the leading man in a parody on Gulliver’s Travels than Black. His bloated appearance and airy demeanor lend themselves to the role in a way that is both matchless and light-hearted. The best scenes in the movie are of Gulliver dispensing advice to Horatio on how to court the ladies. He is a bamboozling Cyrano de Bergerac rip-off. Let’s not forget when Gulliver landed on a Lilliputian soldier who went straight up the rectum, damned near killing him! In the end, everybody gets what they deserve. This includes your overjoyed reviewer, who needed a dozen bellowing laughs.
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