'New' Gulliver's Travels a great re-release
By G. Michael Dobbs
The DVD column goes animated with three new cartoon releases.
The Real Ghostbusters, Vol. One
Animation in the 1980s has been either the object of affectionate nostalgia from people who grew up during the decade or disdain from older animation fans -- such as myself -- who saw little good on the Saturday morning offerings.
Nostalgia is a strong emotion, though, and I can only assume that is what has motivated the people at Time Life to issue a five-disc set of the first 30 episodes of the animated version of the hit 1984 live action comedy.
The "making of" featurette describes the creative path the series had to follow including the interesting wrinkle of maintaining the same characters from the film but with new faces and names. The show was written here and animated overseas, which made its production slightly more interesting. The look of some of the characters varies from scene to scene and the voices and mouth action don't line up all the time.
It's a bit of a mess and I didn't find a new viewing of the show particularly funny or involving.
You might wonder why the cartoon is called "The Real Ghostbusters." A decade previous to the production of the film there was a live action Saturday morning show entitled "The Ghostbusters." Columbia Pictures had to license the title from Filmation, the company that made the show.
Fast forward 10 years and Filmation is now cashing in on the success of the movie by making a cartoon version of its show, "The Ghostbusters." Two years later Columbia puts its animated version of the movie on the air and uses the title "The Real Ghostbusters" to make sure kids know which show they are watching.
Either way I'd rather be watching vintage Popeye, Bugs Bunny, or Rocky and Bullwinkle shorts.
South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season
Or, I would rather watch "South Park." After 12 years, one might think that Trey Parker and Matt Stone might be running our of ideas for their show featuring the boys of South Park, but this collection shows the satiric edge of the program hasn't been dulled with time.
For instance, I wasn't expecting an homage to the 1981 animated movie "Heavy Metal" in a show where the boys learn that breathing in cat urine vapors will get them high. Of course with six cats in my house, if this was real, I'd be hallucinating every time I cleaned the litter box.
And I wasn't expecting that on the show airing the day after the election to learn that Barack Obama is in league with John McCain as the two of them are actually jewel thieves plotting to steal the Hope Diamond from the Smithsonian!
The uncensored episodes aren't for kids, but are for adults who don't mind humor that can shock you or make you think.
The extras on the collection show how the show gets made in six days, enabling the creators to be topical in a medium that takes months of productions time.
Max Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels
With the success of "Snow White" in 1937, many Hollywood studios were pondering animated features, but only one producer created such a film -- Max Fleischer.
The innovative animation producer who brought Betty Boop and Popeye to the screen was under pressure from his distributor, Paramount, to make a film in time to be released at Christmas of 1939.
The studio did so and "Gulliver's Travels" was such a hit that MGM brass mused that perhaps the live action "Wizard of Oz" should have been a cartoon!
The film was sold in the 1950s to a television distributor, which did re-release the movie to theaters, but along the way the film's copyright was not renewed and it fell into the public domain.
With the advent of home video, dozens of different versions of "Gulliver's Travels" have been in the marketplace, most often muddy and splicy second generation prints.
I'm very prejudiced when comes to the works of Max Fleischer and his talented studio and I do like "Gulliver's Travels" a great deal. A simplified version of Jonathan Swift's classic, the film centers on Gulliver settling the differences between two kings who cannot agree which national song should be played at the wedding of their children. The musical score is bright and bouncy in the tradition of 1930s musicals and there are some great moments of animation.
While it's not the studio's best work " the 20-minute Popeye specials are more entertaining and their second feature, "Mr. Bug Goes to Town," is better realized -- it certainly is charming and has entertainment appeal today.
Now E1 Entertainment (formerly Koch Entertainment) has released a new "restored" version of the film on DVD. The film has clean and crisp images and the color matches -- to the best of my memory -- to the 35mm Technicolor prints I've seen.
There is one troublesome thing though, and that is the film has been formatted for wide screen television even though the original film was not shot in a wide screen format. Although the image is letter-boxed, it technically should be window-boxed -- with a band of black defining the original screen image. I'm not sure if there is a missing image area, as I really need to compare it to the original print. It does look much better than any other DVD or VHS tape I've seen.
For copyright purposes, there have been extra sound effects added to the film -- that way a "new" version has been created. I find these additions to be unnecessary, but at least they are not intrusive.
The film has three extras -- two of the subsequent seven-minute shorts featuring the character Gabby from the feature and a segment from a "Popular Science" short that is a mini-documentary about the studio. The two cartoons have been window-boxed but are shown without their credits -- a lousy thing for a "restoration" to do -- and there is no explanation for the documentary footage.
These complaints aside, this presentation of "Gulliver's Travels" is the closest I've seen on home video to the intent of its creators.