When you consider how abysmal this year’s children’s films were, movies that would otherwise be easy to scoff at begin to look pretty damn good in comparison. Maybe it’s because Furry Vengeance, Yogi Bear, Marmaduke and The Rock fluttering around in a pink tutu in Tooth Fairy all still haunt my dreams, but I found the latest kiddy flick, Gulliver’s Travels to be easily tolerable. It’s not good, but it’s not unwatchable either and in this state of children’s films, I’ll take whatever I can get.
A modern update of the classic tale by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels stars Jack Black as Gulliver. He works in the mail room at the New York Tribune where his days are spent covering the rounds and dropping off packages. Working as a reporter at the paper is the girl of his dreams, Darcy, played by Amanda Peet. In an effort to impress her, he mentions that he likes to write in his free time and. It’s a hobby of his that he never really pursued in the job world. When she hears this, she gives him a chance to prove himself and enthusiastically asks for a writing sample. The problem is he lied and has no idea where to begin, so he instead turns in a plagiarized article. Unaware of this and impressed by his work, she gives him an assignment, a little one that will get him started. It’s a fluff piece about the Bermuda Triangle, so he hops in a boat and sets off in that direction. But suddenly, he runs into a strange whirlpool that stretches into the sky. Next thing he knows, he’s in a kingdom called Lilliput, a giant in a world of tiny people.
There’s nobody onscreen today that fits this role more than Jack Black. In all his kooky glory, he approaches the role with his trademark rock ‘n’ roll style and gives it all he’s got. He brings a certain vivacity to every movie he’s in. Sometimes, it doesn’t work (King Kong), but he’s never vexing. He has a personality that I find approachable and fun and it comes through full force in Gulliver’s Travels. His excitement bleeds through the screen and he manages to squeeze laughs out of some of the lamest jokes thanks to his excellent delivery.
The problem of the film is not in Black; it’s in pretty much everything else. It’s set in a new, undiscovered world that is devoid of whimsy or charm. Its tiny inhabitants, the most prominent of whom are played by Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, are uninteresting and their problems are slight. It’s less than an hour and a half, but it still feels too long. It utilizes “barely there” 3D technology that does nothing to make the visuals pop. And those are only the most noticeable problems. Once Gulliver decides to put out a fire by urinating on it (despite there being a giant ocean nearby), you realize that the film has no greater aspirations than to make kids laugh with the barest and most immature tactics available.
As I sit here and struggle to come up with kind words to say about Gulliver’s Travels, I find it increasingly difficult. The nicest thing I can say about it is I didn’t hate it, which is due to no particular reason. It’s not like the screenplay is any good or the acting award worthy or the cinematography exquisite. Rather, it’s an alarmingly bland film by traditional film critiquing standards, but to compare this to The Godfather would be silly. One cannot expect excellence in a kid-targeted film starring Jack Black at his goofiest. If you can keep that notion floating in the back of your mind as you watch it, you might come to enjoy the zaniness in what may be the best “just for kids” movie to be released this year.
Gulliver’s Travels receives 2.5/5