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Saturday, March 08, 2014

Gulliver Travels To Blu-Ray

Gulliver's Travels Blu-Ray Cover Art As Designed by Stewart McKissick

Another Thunderbean Treasure Chest Of Animation

A forty year drought has ended. Gulliver's Travels is here with Blu-Ray presentation second to none since the animated feature last played to kid matinee audiences in the 70's. That's a latest sighting I know of, then-exhibitor Mike Cline informing me of Gulliver dates his theatre booked over the fifteen year period after a last reissue in 1958. Those 35mm prints were on IB Technicolor stock, several survivors of which were used by Thunderbean's Steve Stanchfield to render this definitive Blu-Ray. The just-out release is also a first home video venture for Greenbriar Picture Shows, in association with Thunderbean on this and an upcoming animation release. Experts Ray Pointer, G. Michael Dobbs, and Chris Buchman have contributed essays for a booklet accompanying the Blu-Ray, which also includes Greenbriar on Gulliver's 1939 release and reception. There are eight Max Fleischer cartoons in addition to the feature, plus oodles of extras. My screener arrived just yesterday and it's a marvel.

The bane of Gulliver's Travels has long been Public Domain status and damage exploiters did when cut-rating the Fleischer favorite on formats ranging from 8/16mm film to emerging VHS, then laserdisc, and later DVD. Many of these promised the moon in terms of quality, but none delivered. From mid-70's plummet to PD swamp, Gulliver's Travels sunk ever deeper till color/clarity of the 1939 original seemed but a memory exclusive to those on hand for first-runs or catch-up to 35mm prints in circulation from the 1958 revival. Anything we got at home, on television or collecting basis, was strictly birdseed. No one stood Gulliver-guard against ravage of time or scavenging, this not untypical of how mice scatter once an oldie goes PD. Who's to stop rats, after all, from copying your work for gravy anyone can scoop off retail counters? (see supermarket and flea market bins for glut of Gulliver nationwide)

This was hardly fate foreseen by Paramount merchandisers in 1939 when Gulliver's Travels came to market with banners flying. We can never know a thing so vividly as when it's new (although Thunderbean's Blu-Ray comes closest for reclamation of Technicolor'ed Gulliver glory). There were "nearly a hundred" licensing deals for Gulliver product, said Paramount (actually 63, according to Variety), and enough tie-ins to feature the character more prominently for Christmas '39 than Saint Nick himself. Toys were the least of it --- there were scarves, lamps, sculptures, radios adorned with Gulliver and friends --- a best evidence of Para-Power where applied to selling not only on behalf of their own 1,300 theatres, but countless ones affiliated with the company via season contract. Disney and RKO may have had superior product in Snow White and upcoming Pinocchio, but from marketing's standpoint, they were babes in wood beside the mighty Paramount.

There are those who've spent lifetimes collecting Disney tie-ins. I'd like to meet one to have done similar gather of Gulliver goods. Some are among extras illustrated in Thunderbean's Blu-Ray. But where are one of those music boxes that played from Gulliver's soundtrack? It was manufactured by the Wira Company, and looks sturdy, and not a little costly. How many sold that year? And more to point, do any survive? Never mind the "beautiful, hand-painted Berique pottery lamps" designed after likeness of Gulliver characters. These, I guess, were junked before Pearl Harbor ... but what if one of them found attic refuge and still resides there? There were boy's wallets and girl's handbags, not to mention shirts, board games, and glassware. If but one person had said, I'm going to have it all, and collected the lot of Gulliver merchandise, the way fans later would for Star Wars and such bric-a-brac, just imagine what a fascinating exhibit that could make. As it is, the only evidence such stuff existed is bally contained in the pressbook for Gulliver's Travels, itself a rarity.

Paramount looked also to hit-making of its Gulliver soundtrack. Known then, but part-forgotten since, was just how much music had to do with success of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. Virtually all of its songbook made Hit Parade. We still know the tunes partly for Disney's continued exploit, but of Gulliver's Travels, there seems but one of the "Eight New Hits" that rings current bells, at least for me, that being It's A Hap, Hap, Happy Day, itself reprised, as were others of Gulliver origin, for follow-up Fleischer cartoons with town-crier Gabby, two of which are included in the Thunderbean disc. One advantage Gulliver's Travels had was literary pedigree, being based, of course, on Jonathan Swift's "Classic Of Classics." This gave Paramount entree to schools, a most valued preserve where customers sat seated with eyes and ears at ready for sweet distraction, especially a feature-length cartoon their teacher might actually recommend they go see.

Coming Tomorrow: Stewart McKissick on designing cover art for the Gulliver's Travels Blu-Ray.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson on songs from "Gulliver's Travels," and other cartoon features:

"Hap-Hap-Happy Day" played on for decades as a heavily-used stock theme for Famous / Paramount cartoons. The rest of the songs from "Gulliver's Travels", so far as I can tell, faded away completely (outside of a handful of shorts featuring Gabby and other Gulliver characters). The score of "Mr. Bug Goes to Town" didn't even have that much afterlife.

A pity, because there were some catchy tunes in both movies. And odd, compared to how heavily MGM and Warner drew on their song libraries for cartoon scores (still a little startled to hear "The Trolley Song" under a Tom and Jerry chase). Only Disney was reticent about using songs from their features in shorts, perhaps became their library was still very small, and/or they didn't want re-release audiences to associate "Wish Upon a Star" with a gag in a Goofy toon.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

Thanks for all the examples of Gulliver merchandise. I had no idea that the film was merchandised so heavily. I wonder how much Paramount made on those items and if that was a factor in giving the Fleischers approval for a second feature?

7:33 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Most of the songs in "Gulliver's Travels" were composed by Paramount songsmiths Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, who wrote "Love in Bloom" (later Jack Benny's theme song) and "Thanks for the Memory" (ditto Bob Hope). But "Hap-Hap-Happy Day" was co-composed by Winston Sharples, who had arrived at Fleischer after Van Beuren shuttered. After Fleischer became Famous, Sharples became music director and would use that song frequently.

And speaking of Tom and Jerry, I recall "The Truce Hurts" used no less than three songs from "The Wizard of Oz."

9:13 PM  

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