by Jason Mitchell
Our resident public domain and creative content expert, Jason, is back to share his vast knowledge of early animation.
I’ve talked about Fleischer Studios before, and I will undoubtedly talk about them again. The studio was a major force in the early years of animation, and they are largely forgotten today.
Walt Disney did the unthinkable in 1937, releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated film. Just two years later, Fleischer Studios released the second with Gulliver’s Travels.
Max and Dave Fleischer, the brothers who co-founded Fleischer studios, had wanted to produce a feature-length animated film since Disney announced production of Snow White in 1934. Paramount, their distributor, refused to allow such an ambitious project until Snow White proved to be successful. Paramount’s desire to have Gulliver ready for a Christmas 1939 release meant that it had to be completed in a third of the time Disney took to produce Snow White. Other issues also troubled the production, including a relocation of the animation studios from New York to Miami after a labor strike in 1937. As a result, the film falls short of the technical achievements of Disney’s animated features. Nevertheless, Gulliver was a box office success when it opened in 1939.
Gulliver implements some of the Fleischers’ animation innovations. The character of Gulliver was animated using a rotoscoping technique. The actor Sam Parker was filmed performing as Gulliver, and then the film of his performance was traced as an animation reference. This technique gave Gulliver’s movements a very lifelike quality, which contrasts with the cartoon-like Liliputians.
The opening title sequence features realistic footage of a three-dimensional ship. Max Fleischer’s Tabletop 3D Setback invention was capable of photographing actual 3D background sets to be incorporated in animation. The device was used more prominently in some of Fleischer Studios’ animated shorts. Play Safe has an especially cool sequence with a train maneuvering through some cliffs and into a tunnel. Disney’s competing multiplane camera wasn’t in use until three years after the Setback was introduced.
Gulliver’s Travels included several songs that became popular outside of the film and were used in later Fleischer shorts. The character of Gabby also was given a series of spin-off shorts. Mel Blanc, noted voice actor responsible for voicing many Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera characters, portrayed Gabby in Gulliver’s Travels and the later shorts.
Gulliver’s success would lead to the production of Mr. Bug Goes to Town, the Fleischers’ second feature-length film, but a growing feud between Max and Dave, along with growing financial issues for the studio, led to the studio being absorbed by Paramount in 1941. Today, many of the films Fleischer Studios produced are in the public domain, including Gulliver’s Travels.
CaptionMax has recently added a captioned, video described, and Spanish translated version of the film to the CaptionMax YouTube page. Check it out to see if you notice the rotoscoping & 3D Setback techniques that made this a groundbreaking film.