Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gulliver's Travels - A Marketing & Release History

Hello friends, I just had to post here after reading my friend Kyle J. Ostrum's wonderful new blog entry on Disney feature logos through the years, ( I figured, I would follow suit and analyze the various ways that 1939's Gulliver's Travels has been marketed to consumers, be it on the big screen or home video. Now since this film is in the public domain, it would be impossible to document every release, so only the most important ones are covered. Lets begin.....

 Here is the original title card, I have always loved this font and, if I knew how to create fonts, I would try to construct a free font based on it and upload it to dafont. What I like about it is, it looks like a typical Fleischer font, which were usually very poppy, and charismatic. It has a nautical quality to it, while simultaneously conveying the old tyme period in which the film takes place. Many DVD's of the film have tried to redux this logo, but none are better than they are here.

The original 1939 poster is lavish and perfectly emulates the fairy tale look of the film, With that said, the font chosen leaves much to be desired, while it is nice, it simply does not show the epicness of the film it is trying to advertise. The curves of the letters are a nice touch though. The main attraction for you is Gulliver himself, who looks awesome, albeit a tad off model. His figure blends in nicely with the cartoonish and otherworldly background. I love the trail of Lilliputians behind Guliver, he is clearly the leader of the pack, though Gabby doesn't look too pleased. Though the font is not as striking as I would like, the brilliant and colorful art makes up for that, and I would love to have a reproduction poster hanging up in my room.

By comparison, NTA's 1957 reissue poster is rather bland, no trace of color save for the orange background. The artwork is lifted from an old piece of publicity art created for the original '39 release. Newly painted artwork would have been most welcome. The hyperbole is in full force, that tagline, while epic, is not film specific. I could place it on a poster for Heavy Metal and it wouldn't be out of place. The font chosen for the title is boring as nails, and no effort was made to fully sell this to the masses. It is almost as if NTA bought the film, and didn't know how to market it. NTA, by the way, being the main distributor of Fleischer product, mostly for the television market. I will give them some slack, given they were a very low end film distributor, and perhaps didn't have the funds or experience to distribute a film theatrically. Also note the scroll, listing everything found within the film, making it almost an exploitation film, and the rather hilarious misspelling of King Bombo's name (NTA called him "Bongo").

The 1999 WinStar Home Video release, for the film's 60th anniversary, was the first in a long list of restoration attempts. It is, in fact, the first version of the film I ever viewed. I owe a lot to this release, and still hold it in high regard, given the fact the Thunderbean release has surpassed it in clarity. The sound was enhanced in 5.1 Dolby surround, with minor effects alterations. The sound created a marvelous experience for yours truly, so much so that it led me to establishing a now, five year friendship with the man responsible for the restoration, the multifaceted Dr. Thomas R. Reich. The picture quality was also head and shoulders above any other release of this title at the time. The cover is striking, and the font is possibly my favorite of all of the home video releases. The calligraphy is beautiful and the gold shimmer is used to nice effect. I love the shading on the characters, giving them depth that the posters lacked. An interesting side note, this release was Roger Ebert's video pick of the month in 1999, and I am glad to still have this edition to this day and look back on it with fond nostalgia.

In 2009, Dr. Reich attempted a second restoration effort to much less success. the 2009 DVD and Blu-Ray release, from Koch/E1 Entertainment, is still considered by many collectors and picture-purists as one of the biggest travesties to ever hit high definition.I must stress, from talking with Dr. Reich, that it was not (I repeat NOT) his choice to convert the film to widescreen from its original full frame ratio. That was the choice of the distributor, and Tom was contractually obligated to carry out the mastering per Koch's specifications. Tom even tried to compromise by having both the full frame and widescreen editions on the disc, but Koch stood their ground. On a positive note, the cover is very pretty, and I wouldn't mind having a poster of it hanging in my bedroom. The font is kind of meh, in my eyes, and I wish they used Max Fleischer's signature. Otherwise a nice looking cover, for sadly, one of the worst Blu-Ray releases in history.

The 2014 Thunderbean DVD/Blu-Ray release is widely considered to be the definitive edition of the film. The picture achieved a clarity unseen since 1939, and looks splendid when projected on a HD-TV. I take problem with the overall look of this cover. I think it would have been served better by just simply calling it "Gulliver's Travels - The Hap-Hap-Happy Special Edition", or something of that nature. The "Fleischer Classics" banner outsizes the title of the film itself (the font of which mimics the on screen logo). In a perfect world, the Koch cover would be used for this release. The actual artwork was very well done, but Popeye, Koko and Betty Boop seem out of place. Not my favorite cover, but the contents within more than make up for that.

So there you have it, every major release of Fleischer's underrated masterpiece, documented in one article, Aside from the anecdotes of Dr. Thomas R. Reich, most of what has been written here, has been the author's personal opinion, and is not meant to be taken as fact. I hope you have enjoyed this all too brief look at one of animation's forgotten gems. Be sure to follow my Facebook page for the film ( Happy trails.

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