Making the Grades
Jack Black’s acting resume reads like a Who’s Who of bumbling, goofballs in films like Be Kind Rewind, Kung Fu Panda, School of Rock, and Nacho Libre. Yet despite their ineptness, his characters are usually well intentioned and often become the hero in spite of their eccentricities. And so it is in Gulliver’s Travels.
Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, an underachieving, i.e. lazy, mailroom clerk at the New York Tribune, who spends almost as much time playing Guitar Hero in his office as he does delivering letters to other people’s desks. He talks big but is short on action. When a new employee (T.J. Miller) challenges Gulliver’s lack of follow through, the pudgy postman decides to ask travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet) out on a date. Instead he ends up applying for a writing assignment and finds himself on a boat headed for the Bermuda Triangle. There he washes ashore after a huge ocean storm breaks his ship apart. When he wakes, he discovers he is tethered to the ground by a pint-sized General Edward (Chris O’Dowd) and the rest of the Lilliput army.
Despite the Lilliputians understandable concerns over the intentions of the large castaway, he becomes a hero in the kingdom after rescuing Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) from a band of kidnappers and putting out a castle fire by urinating all over the flames and the inhabitants inside.
However helping others isn’t enough for this small-minded cart pusher. Suddenly finding himself as the proverbial big man on campus, Gulliver grossly exaggerates his achievements in Manhattan, creating all kinds of tall tales about his importance and positions. He also keeps the little people working feverishly to meet his gargantuan needs. In the kingdom’s downtown, he has carpenters recreate Time Square where he then plasters posters of himself all over the billboards including one in which his portly belly is replaced with rippled, rock-hard abs.
But all his talk about being honorable, noble and trustworthy becomes nothing more than lip service when King Theodore (Billy Connolly) and his citizens are attacked by their enemies, the Biefuscians. Just as quick to back out of a fight as he is to spin a yarn about himself, Gulliver shows what a small person he really is.
Unfortunately this script feels like nothing more than a vehicle for Black who cavorts, chatters and cracks jokes through the biggest chunk of this film—as well as exposing some of his posterior. Not only are the other characters in this story little, they have minimal development or purpose. Gulliver, himself, isn’t particularly likeable and the more he lies the less likable he becomes. And though we know we’re not supposed to cheer for the antagonist, General Edward seems to be the only character in the whole kingdom with a little bit of sense between his teeny, tiny ears.
With little resemblance to the classical literary work of Jonathan Swift, this is one film that should never show up in a high school English class as a study aid. Rather, Gulliver’s Travels is an unremarkable and tiresome travel log about a mail clerk who becomes too big for his britches.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Gulliver’s Travels.
After Gulliver is caught in his lies, does he change his ways? Why does he worry about letting the little people know who he really is? Does he do much to benefit them?
Does Gulliver experience any consequences for his plagiarism? What might happen in a real newsroom? What impact might this practice have on a student?
The Bermuda Triangle is a region of the ocean where many mysterious events have supposedly happened. The man who rents a boat to Gulliver has an explanation for the stories. What is it? What do you think might be behind the enigmas?