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Movie Review

Gulliver's Travels

MPAA Rating: PG for brief rude humor, mild language and action.

Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Genre:
Adventure Comedy Satire Adaptation
Length:
1 hr. 25 min.
Year of Release:
2010
USA Release:
December 25, 2010 (wide—2,400+ theaters)
DVD: April 19, 2011
Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation Copyright, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
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Kid Explorers
Adventures in the rainforest! Learn about the Creator of the universe by exploring His marvelous creation. Fun for the whole family with games, activities, stories, answers to children’s questions, color pages, and more! One of the Web’s first and most popular Christian Web sites for children. Nonprofit, evangelical, nondenominational.
Featuring: Jack Black (Lemuel Gulliver), Jason Segel (Horatio), Emily Blunt (Princess Mary), Amanda Peet (Darcy Silverman), Billy Connolly (King Theodore), Chris O'Dowd (General Edward), T.J. Miller (Dan), more »
Director: Rob Letterman
Producer: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Davis Entertainment, Electric Dynamite, Jack Black, more »
Distributor: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation

“From the studio that brought you ‘Night at the Museum’”

Thomas Jacob Black (aka Jack Black) was once quoted as saying “I’d rather be the king of kids, than the prince of fools.” Unfortunately, I think he may be quickly approaching the latter, especially if he continues to accept roles like this one in “Gulliver’s Travels.” Known for his antics in movies like “Nacho Libre” and “The School of Rock,” Black clearly demonstrates his ability to poke fun at himself—but the laughs are fewer and farther between. Judging by today’s opening-Christmas-Day-family audience—the laugh meter never reached higher than a 3 on a 10 point scale. If you have money “to travel” with over this holiday, you might want to skip “Gulliver” and wait for the DVD—if at all. As to the 3D part of it, you’d be missing nothing, except a disorganized story emphasized in an extra dimension.

For those of you who may be wondering about the tie-in of this film to the classic piece of literature written by Jonathan Swift, let me be clear: there is virtually no resemblance on almost any level. The only thing that might be the same, but for entirely different reasons, may have to do with referenced nuances in current society. In various editions of the book Gulliver’s Travels, there are often footnotes to explain the meaning of various jokes, and the sarcastic wit and humor he used to refer to groups or individuals in Irish or British Society. The same would be true if this movie were to be seen only a decade from now, as many of the pop cultural references made in this film, which are hardly funny—as currently used in the movie (e.g. the lyrics of a Prince song used to court a princess), would be nearly unknown to most young viewers in the future—and therefore need to be explained via subtitles. It’s been said by some critics of Swift’s writing, that if one has to explain his humor to the reader, then it probably isn’t that funny to begin with. Probably not the best comparison, since Swift’s intellectually biting wit is really not on the same wave-length as the adolescent material in this film, but the point is made: If it has to be explained, it probably isn’t funny. In any case, this is where the similarities between the two mediums part ways.

The Plot

Gulliver (Jack Black) is an overgrown adolescent who plays with Star Wars figures, spends hours playing Guitar-Hero™, and who laments being one of the “little people” at the big city newspaper where his sole job is—to deliver the mail to all the “important people.” In between time, he fantasizes about his “crush,” the travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), whom he tries to impress by plagiarizing some articles to use as a qualifying writing submission, in order to get an assignment in the Bermuda Triangle and leave his lowly post in the mailroom. She falls for it, and off he sails, alone, to write “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Why couldn’t he just have told her the truth? Well that’s the lesson he must learn in Lilliput when he awakes there—bound by the “little people” (like his former self) where he quickly becomes the resident star. Once the Lilliputians overcome their prejudice and declare him truly valiant, his pride begins to surface. New problems arise with the boastful advice he begins to hand out to those like his new found friend, Horatio (Jason Segel) and Horatio’s “crush” Princess Mary (Emily Blunt). [Okay, veiled references here to British Society and its political misgivings in addition to Swift’s consistent use of paradox between the pride of man in the Age of Reason (Proverbs 16:18) and their “beastly” instincts to return to their baser selves do apply (they refer to Gulliver as ‘the beast’), but they are short lived (Proverbs 26:11).]

Predictably this becomes a plot about unrequited love, and “be true to your self,” complete with Darcy showing up in Lilliput on her own—so that Gulliver can make things right. Will he or won’t he succeed? Meanwhile, the antagonist, General Edward (Chris O’Dowd), the thwarted love interest of Princess Mary, takes on Gulliver for control of Lilliput in nothing less than a robot outfit that assembles itself like something out of a “Transformers” film. I’m not kidding. The story digresses from there with a series of ever more ridiculous “made for Jack-Black vignettes” (like Jack in a lady’s dress inside a dollhouse forced by a “giant girl” to kiss a male doll) that grow tiresome after a point and culminate with an ending that is laughable, and I mean—not in a good way. If you want to imagine the worst anti-war dance number ever created (done to none other than the blatant 1969 anti-Vietnam War song called “War” by Edwin Starr) to make a point about war’s futility, then see the ending to this film, and imagine no more.

Content for concern and spiritual summary

Overall, this film sort of lost its way from the beginning, not being sure of what kind of movie it wanted to become. The PG rating is definitely lax, since the scatological humor along with wedgies, buttocks (you see Jack’s butt crack which eventually falls on top of a Lilliputian soldier) and excessive fat jokes are not appropriate for the younger kids, nor is the cleavage of the 18th century royalty, or the sexual innuendoes like “tell her she’s sexy” and General Edward pointing to Emily’s breasts as two reasons he loves her. She responds with, “That’s not appropriate,” and the boys in my audience chuckled with a muffled laugh. There are the Lilliputians hired for Gulliver’s amusement to perform “Kiss” songs, and freeze on command with tongues hanging out, that are disturbing—just one more scene, like many others, which seem out of place. These things combine with the contrived title of “lameass”—said several times in jest—as a supposed honorable title (from Gulliver’s world) all added to material which borders PG-13 in terms of rating. Also noted in my darkened theater scribble, were two OMG’s or a variation thereof.

Finally, there is one scene that is—more than distasteful—where Gulliver drops his pants and puts out a fire in the King’s chamber by urination. While a similar event did happen in the book, the circumstances were not even close in resemblance, and he certainly didn’t spray all over a host of the Lilliputians for a cheap laugh as is done in the film. I read once of one 4th grader’s response to this “fire extinguisher scene” when the teacher read this aloud to her class. “That’s not funny! That’s despicable. No one will like that!” said the boy. To which she replied, “Well, maybe a few boys would.” That’s about what it was, a few laughs, but mostly disgust from the audience today. [In the book it was the Queen’s apartment and was thought by many to be a reference to Swift’s extinguishing the flames of Catholicism while defending Protestantism in the name of Queen Anne.]

Why anyone would want to take this classic story by a satirical, yet thoughtful Christian apologist from the Age of Enlightenment, who challenged himself along with all of his contemporaries to think soberly about all their actions in life (be they great or small), and turn it into a wannabe family film is beyond my understanding.

On the other hand, the fact that so little inappropriate language is used (other than what was mentioned) and no sex scenes (other than a kiss and the innuendoes mentioned above) make it more tolerable than it would have been had it gone full-on “Jack Black.” There is a positive romantic spin at the end for both couples, and the plagiarism and lying is confronted head on in the resolution, which is refreshing. Unfortunately, it just isn’t enough to pull this into a truly acceptable family film category. It is morally “average” for this genre, which means it is “somewhat offensive” and is generally not recommended by this site.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Mild


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Our entire family (kids ranging from 10-21) went to this movie on Christmas day. It was exactly what we’d hoped: a fun, funny movie. We laughed; we enjoyed our time there. It was light-hearted and purely enjoyable fun!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Misty Wagner, age 34 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—It was just an OK movie, but nothing much to recommend it. As the review said, there was plenty of crude humor. No bad language. It’s pretty typical Jack Black. I don’t think Jonathan Swift would be pleased with it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Joe, age 62 (USA)
Neutral—I had heard things about this movie. Good, bad, it didn’t matter. I wanted to see this movie and I thought it would be a good rental movie. Boy was I in for a treat. The film has a nice story, and the acting is alright, but the humor is over the top and should not have appeared in a children’s movie, to say the least. The character development was very little, except for the main character Gulliver.

If you’re looking for a clean family film, this isn’t it. There’s just way too much potty humor to recommend it. Please save your money and read a book, or go take your family to see the movie “Rio” instead.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 2½
Alexander Malsan, age 21 (USA)
Neutral—I watched this movie with my almost 15 year old daughter. She said throughout the movie that she could not believe it was not rated PG-13. For one, Jack Black’s bum crack was shown as his pants were being ripped off by the little people that were trying to pull him down. But I would say that more than half of his bum showed and a little person was on the ground, and when Jack Black fell, it appeared the little person went in his bum crack. That was so not a PG rating.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Bethany, age 39 (USA)
Negative
Negative—This movie is a total disaster. I did not find any humor it… tried to express, but rather very offensive. It is a no-brainer waste of money. A nobody became somebody without God, is still a nobody. It sent a wrong message to the youngster that we can be someone, in spite of God. I would not take my children to watch this movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—I-Ting Chu, age 50 (USA)
Negative—I was completely floored when this PG movie, right from almost the very start, was pushing the limits (and surpassing limits). Between seeing a large portion of Jack Black’s behind and then a tirade of cussing… we turned the movie off and returned it to the rental company. Would definitely not recommend for children under 10 or 12.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Monica, age 34 (USA)
Negative—too ornery for kids. too dumb for adults.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Dave Hart, age 41 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—In my opinion, the biggest theme that my little sister took away from this movie, is that telling the truth matters. Throughout, there was one scene where the women’s breasts we’re talked of, but she immediately said that was inappropriate—I thought this was fantastic, because it showed that physical appearance did not matter, it was what was in her heart and who she was.

There were parts of the movie, like when Jack Black took down his pants to pee on the fire, that were not necessary- or the crude way that he sat on a Lilliputian in the beginning, but beyond the little bits of crude humor, cleavage that could be distracting (as the queen definitely does not hide anything), there is a great moral behind it.

For teens, i would say this is a really good movie, minus a few parts of crude humor, but it is good—because it shows how important truth is. The reason i went to watch, was to see if i agreed with this review or not. And I would rate it much higher, because I was and am able to resort back to this movie about how important telling the truth is. Even through this type of movie, God can work—and He did!

I was hesitant to spend money on this movie, but at the end- God even taught me the lesson of how important truth is, and that is priceless. I would say that kids under 10 years old should not go to watch it, it’s not entirely family friendly, and we want to be careful of what little eyes see. But if your child has been exposed to movies beyond their age already, I think this movie speaks words to them about how wholeness is important, because they will be able to see beyond the little bits of crude humor. That’s how it was for my little sister, she is able to see past the crude humor that she has seen in so many movies, and she was able to take away the importance of truth in the movie more than anything else. That’s important, and I rate this movie higher than any other movie I’ve seen of Jack Black’s.

I do strongly suggest talking about the movie and the importance of truth on the way home from the movie, if your with teens or older kids. But don’t take the younger ones, they don’t need to see Jack Black sitting directly on a Lilliputian, that’s unnecessary for them to witness at their age. Hope this helps!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 2½
—Sinikka, age 17 (Indonesia)
Positive—I think that the reviewer was much too hard on this movie. In terms of offensive content, it was much better than most movies. Overall, it was a really good movie with a lot of laughs. It’s worth buying.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Caleb And Ryan, age 13 (USA)
Comments from non-viewers
Negative—I would not recommend this movie to anyone (not even an adult). My mom got this movie for my 10 year old brother and I (I am 13), and we both agreed to shut it off 30 min. in to it.

First of all, the plot really was very shabby. The beginning of the movie starts off with Gulliver waking up and getting out of bed. However they did this in such a way that made you feel that he was a no good dirty bum. Especially when he was playing with the star wars figures and making a “joke” about how Princess Lea kissed Luke Skywalker (her brother) That was really not called for and I felt like that was the writers just trying to get laughs. They then go on to tell of how he is in love with this girl, and how he gets depromoted. Since they had been showing you that he was a bum, the entire time you couldn’t feel sorry for this guy. And once he gets to the little people, they start pounding the movie with bad words (ass), cleavage that was not needed, and just dirty jokes.

Looking at the reviews on this site I am so glad I turned it off, because it looks like it only gets worse. I feel that there is no reason to fill your head with dirty things like this just because you want to watch a movie. Even little kids when they sing the little song that has the verse “oh be careful little eyes what you see,” tells you this is wrong. When I saw all the christians that liked this movie, I was shocked. I may be younger, but seriously??? I can’t believe that adults were glad their kids saw this movie.
—Kaylee, age 13 (USA)