Lemuel Gulliver, an ordinary sailor, finds himself shipwrecked on the island of Lilliput, where the people are tiny enough to fit in his hand. There, he finds himself drawn into a potential war between Lilliput and their neighbours of Blefescu.
The story starts in Lilliput, where King Little (of Lilliput) and King Bombo (of Blefescu) are signing the wedding contract for their children Princess Glory and Prince David, respectively. At first it all looks to be going on smoothly, but then the two kings find that they can't agree on which song is to be played at the wedding: is it to be the Faithful, the anthem of Lilliput, or Forever, the anthem of Blefescu? What seems like a minor detail ends with King Bombo declaring the wedding off and condemning war upon Lilliput.
Elsewhere, a shipwrecked giant named Gulliver has landed on the beaches of Lilliput. Of course he doesn't know he's a giant yet, as he's busy being unconscious. While fast asleep, he is discovered by Gabby, a citizen of Lilliput, who immediately rushes off to tell the king and gather as many Lilliputians together to "capture" Gulliver.
Gulliver wakes up in the main square of the Lilliput town, and though at first the Lilliputians are terrified of him, they soon learn that he is a friendly sailor-giant. The Lilliputians celebrate, for as long as Gulliver is there, they are safe from Blefescu's attacks. King Bombo, undeterred, orders his spies in Lilliput to find a way to dispose of Gulliver.
Eventually, thanks to Princess Glory and Prince David, Gulliver learns about the true reasons behind the war. Right then he makes a vow to help end it.
This movie, sometimes referred to as Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels, came hot on the heels of Walt Disney's success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Indeed, the animation styles of the two movies are eerily similar in places, as are the storytelling sensiblities. I'm not saying that this movie is a copycat, because it isn't. The Fleischer studios were already well-established in the animation genre and Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels provided a stepping stone into the feature film industry that was different from Disney's choice to go with the classic fairytale of Snow White.
I grew up with this movie, so it was my first introduction to Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. This version, along with that ground-breaking Three Worlds of Gulliver that came out around a few years later helped tone down the darkness of the original story and gave Gulliver's adventures the light-hearted interpretation that most people are familiar with. Ask anyone about Gulliver and they'll know about the tiny people of Lilliput for sure. Sometimes people also remember the giants of Brobdingnad, but usually the other places that Gulliver visited are forgotten. Such was the power of these childhood movies.
Of course, this animated version of Gulliver's Travels embellishes quite a bit, what with the introduction of the star-crossed lovers of Princess Glory and Prince David. Both of these characters have the personalities of damp handkerchiefs, but they provide the ever-so-crucial romance needed to make a movie like this work. It's things like that, along with other little character touches that gives this aged movie so much charm. Thought was given into how the Lilliputians would cope with having a giant in their kingdom -- and I doubt any live-action medium will be able to portray these adaptations with quite the same cheekiness.
Gulliver's Travels also introduces us to one of Fleischer's famous characters, Gabby. He may not be as immortal as Popeye or Betty Boop, but the snappish everydayman Gabby lived on past this animated feature in various smaller tv specials and cartoons.
Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels has its place in animated movie history as the second full-length animated feature ever, and the first not produced by the Walt Disney company. Sure, the story is a little dodgy by today's standards, but the animation quality is surprisingly vibrant considering that they didn't many of the resources that are now commonplace. If any movie should belong firmly in the memory lane of ground-breaking animated features, it would be this one.