Mr. Big Upstaged by Scrat
Becoming the hero, protector and chief entertainment impresario for a nation of tiny people -- who first take him prisoner -- is a far cry from working in the mail room back in Lemuel Gulliver’s normal life. But that’s what happens to the insecure title character played by Jack Black in Gulliver’s Travels. After reluctantly accepting a writing assignment in Bermuda to impress his lovely boss (Amanda Peet), Gulliver finds himself shipwrecked in the miniscule land of Lilliput and tries to make the best out of his weird new state of affairs. Talk about a fish-out-of-water tale! Actually, this one seems more like an elephant-in-the-anthill saga.
Is Gulliver’s Travels (inspired by Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel) one of Black’s best films? No. And yet there are some funny bits many youngsters will probably enjoy, especially when our hero suffers humiliation at the hands of an enormous young girl. Unfortunately, a couple of crude scenes should have been cut, which makes me wonder how the movie managed to earn a “PG” rating. Plus the filmmakers missed some terrific opportunities to add musical numbers in several sequences. When the entire cast joins Black in a rousing rendition of “War. What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing” toward the end of the movie, we can’t help thinking how much better Gulliver’s Travels would have been as a musical. (Disclaimer: I confess to believing almost every film would be more entertaining as a musical – but this one practically begs for that kind of treatment.) For example, there could be stirring march songs by the tiny soldiers, a romantic ballad by the Princess (Emily Blunt) and her love-sick suitor (Jason Segel), a dramatic dirge for the villain (Chris O’Dowd), spirited jigs by the little villagers, and – well, you see what I mean.
As a Jack Black fan, I expected to laugh more at his performance here. Although it’s fun to see his Gulliver change from a shy guy afraid to venture out of the mail room into a giant in charge of practically everything Lilliputian, Black’s amazing comic energy -- as seen in films like School of Rock and Nacho Libre -- seems a bit muted in this role. Perhaps the movie’s emphasis on special effects and 3-D hampered its humor potential.
Speaking of 3-D, I’m not sure Gulliver’s Travels needed it. In fact, very few of the movie’s sequences appear to benefit from this process. Still, a cartoon starring acorn-obsessed Scrat (shown before the film) looks fantastic in 3-D -- and is much funnier than the main event. Which gives me an idea for the next Gulliver adventure. I think the now famous travel writer should take a trip back in time to visit Scrat and all those other marvelous Ice Age characters. It must be a musical, of course.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and rated “PG” for brief rude humor, mild language and action.)
For more information about Gulliver’s Travels, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.