Do you remember back in 2004 when Around The World In 80 Days was released and it was really nothing more than an excuse to have fun with Steve Coogan being onscreen while Jackie Chan pulled off all of his usual moves? I liked Around The World In 80 Days. I knew it was about as close to the source material as the Rush Hour trilogy but I still liked it, being a big fan of both Coogan and Chan.
Well, along comes Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black in the leading role and it’s a movie along the same lines as that previous example. Really nothing more than an effects-driven comedy allowing Jack Black to do what Jack Black usually does, supported by the likes of Jason Segel, Emily Blunt and Chris O’Dowd (in a role that finally makes the most of his comic talent onscreen). I like Jack Black and everyone else involved and, as far removed from the source material as it was, I liked this movie.
Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a mailroom worker and *shock, horror* slacker who is a bit put out when the latest mailroom worker (played by T.J. Miller) turns out to be a much quicker mover than he ever was. Desperately trying to impress the woman he has had a crush on for years (the lovely Amanda Peet playing Darcy Silverman), Gulliver pretends to be an aspiring travel writer and so gets sent on an assignment that will end with him waking up and surrounded by little people in the land of Lilliput. From that moment on the movie is a series of gags based around the comparative gigantic size of Gulliver and how he regales the little people with stories of his past (mostly lies based on the likes of Star Wars, Avatar and rock music). He befriends tiny Jason Segel, and ineffectually tries to help the little man woo little Emily Blunt, but he makes an enemy of Chris O’Dowd’s tiny general as he moves the kingdom of Lilliput further and further away from its former glory.
What does that mean then for those who aren’t big fans of Jack Black but who want to see a big-screen adaptation of the classic Jonathan Swift novel? Well, it means that they would probably be best avoiding this film like the plague. This movie is for those who enjoyed the likes of Night At The Museum and who just wished it had contained a bit of Jack Black lunacy. Jack Black does his loopy dance moves, he sings occasionally, he uses his now-standard rock vocabulary and he does his Jack Black act. Sign up for that or don’t say that you weren’t warned.
The rest of the cast do just fine. Jason Segel is a bit underused but certainly acquits himself well enough, Emily Blunt is believably adorable as the princess, Billy Connolly has a few amusing moments, Catherine Tate and James Corden seem to be there to . . . . . . . . . . . . . well . . . . to not do very much, really. Amanda Peet and T.J. Miller are both just fine but the real laughs and entertainment value come from Chris O’Dowd, absolutely hilarious whether he is speaking in a far too flowery manner or making an absolute mess, unknown to himself, of his courtship time with the princess.
The other stars would have to be the special effects workers who have made everything believable enough to provide more amusing spectacle than obvious distraction. The differential size concept is really little more than a gimmick, of course (and has been ever since the likes of Swift’s tale and Tom Thumb, etc), but it’s a fun one and this movie is all about nothing more than a bit of fun, something director Rob Letterman keeps at the fore with his way of letting the movie simply coast along on the appeal of the main stars and the size-related shenanigans.
It’s unsurprising to see that co-writer Joe Stillman (who created the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller) was also a writer on the likes of Shrek, Shrek 2 and Planet 51 because many things about this version of Gulliver’s Travels practically cry out to be in animated form. You have to wonder, with almost every scene so full of creative CGI, why they didn’t go down that route. Heck, there’s even the obligatory song and dance moment near the very end a la pretty much every animated movie released since Shrek. Yet I STILL enjoyed it.
So let’s just check through everything for those in two minds. An adaptation far removed from the source material? Check. Jack Black doing his Jack Black thing? Check. An effects-filled movie that feels like it should have been an animated film? Check. Heed the warnings or find yourself, like I did, actually enjoying the whole thing for the simple fun it sets out to be.
DIRECTOR: ROB LETTERMAN
STARS: JACK BLACK, CHRIS O’DOWD, JASON SEGEL, EMILY BLUNT, AMANDA PEET, BILLY CONNOLLY
RUNTIME: 85 MINS APPROX