Reviews of Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and related work

Gulliver’s Travels (1726Text)

Jonathan Swift (writer).

Read in Swedish.

Guided heavily by its satirical purpose, which has not aged as well as the True History (ca. 175 CE). The criticisms of religion as a problem mainly in its petty details, and the caricature of science, are particularly poor. The misanthropy of the Houyhnhnms is easily the most interesting thought experiment: The only one that is transgressive and transformative enough for good science fiction.

References here: Fantasy with and without consistency, Castle in the Sky (1986).

text fiction

Gulliver’s Travels (1939Moving picture, 76 minutes)

moving picture adaptation animation fiction

Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon (1965Moving picture, 85 minutes)

Miyazaki Hayao (in-between artist), Ōtsuka Yasuo (key animator).

A boy finds old Lemuel Gulliver himself in the present day and goes on an adventure with him, in space.

One of many Toei children’s films of the period, now remembered only as a stepping stone in Miyazaki’s career. He was a lowly in-betweener who managed to have the ending altered, and animated that scene. When the film was released, he’d been with the studio for two years and was chief secretary of its labour union.

It’s much like the old Disney animated features, with musical sequences, funny animals and stilted symbolism. As usual, the producers at Toei subtract more than they add from this flawed template. Swift’s plot, its barest popular milestones recounted (a land of dwarfs, then giants), echoes only in a brief and unfortunate parody of science. The plot also dispenses with psychology. Miyazaki’s change of the ending makes no more sense than anything else. On the whole, the project seems to have lacked an artistic vision.

The aesthetics are those of UPA, the American distributor, with a range of fancier touches: Giorgio de Chirico meets pop art? Bauhaus without the playfulness? The side of a truck reads “Le Salaire de la Peur” in reference to The Wages of Fear (1953). The backgrounds are frequently abstract, the animation polished but fundamentally mediocre, the designs wooden, and much experimental chaff inserted here and there, perhaps for variety.

The final battle takes place amid rectangular grey blocks on a grey plain, under a simple gradient of a sky, with the hero wielding only a water pistol. It’s Suzuki Seijun’s anti-aesthetics without his hipness, probably a deliberate Brechtian effort in line with the other contemporary European influences. Perhaps it’s fear of the effects of realistic violence on the young audience—dead fish represent a lingering post-war fear of the atomic bomb and cold war—but then why use violence at all?

References here: Ghibli movie titles, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” (1971), Castle in the Sky (1986).

moving picture spin-off animation Japanese production fiction