Gulliver Returns Is Missing The Magic

Marcy (Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld) and Gulliver (Wayne Grayson) in Gulliver Returns. Courtesy of Shout! Factory.

Gulliver Returns is inspired by Jonathan Swift’s classic satire, Gulliver’s Travels, but the film lacks the magic in this unnecessary sequel.

Listen, I don’t like panning films. I especially don’t like panning films where a portion of the proceeds will aid Ukraine. Things have changed in Gulliver’s (Wayne Grayson) return to Lilliput. For starters, he does not appear as a giant. It’s like the writers have decided to take what they like and throw out the rest. In doing this, they certainly get rid of what makes this story so appealing to audiences.

Let’s start with the fact that Gulliver is no longer a giant in Lilliput. What were they thinking? It might appear to be a fresh approach in theory but this betrays everything that the satire represents. There are some good ideas here that would work…if they were in a different film altogether. The other thing is that this film is a musical. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but it is not even apparent in the film’s marketing. This doesn’t even begin to take the film’s animation into account. It’s largely forgettable at the end of the day.

The gist of the film is that Gulliver is returning after receiving a letter asking for help. In the time since his departure, a new king (Billy Bob Thompson) has also taken over in Lilliput. Because they wish to speed up his arrival, he’s decreed that every week must have a year-like day where one experiences all four seasons. Preposterous? You bet. Gulliver is short on friends with only Marcy (Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld) and Frelock (Tyler Bunch) providing any sort of aid.

Has anyone stopped to consider why the direct-video sequels of Disney’s animated films don’t do as well as the original films? It’s because they are in new territory of having to write a sequel to classic stories that, for the most part, didn’t get sequels. When stories are enough to stand on their own without a sequel, making a sequel movie is largely unnecessary. Sometimes, said sequels can provide more damage to the IP on their own. This film certainly isn’t a case of taking advantage of the merchandising unlike the Disney movies. In making a sequel to a story that wasn’t asking for one, the filmmakers fail because it lacks the magic of what makes Gulliver’s Travels such a timeless and classic satire.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is among the people credited with coming up with the film’s story. Knowing this is what also drew my interest in checking out the film. Tony Bonilla serves as the film’s animation director. You know how some films will market a film as being “from the producers of?” In this case, the studio is pushing his previous Disney work in marketing the film. He was only an animator for the Disney films and didn’t serve as a director or a producer for them. And yet, the marketing is pushing “from the team behind.” When one does this, it certainly tends to imply a film’s producers, not a single animator on the film. This is bad marketing in hopes of selling the film and it does a major disservice.

I applaud Shout! for donating a portion of the proceeds to benefit World Central Kitchen in Ukraine. Unfortunately, that’s about the only positive thing I can say about the animated cartoon. None of the music is memorable enough to catch on with an audience.

Gulliver Returns may benefit organizations helping out in Ukraine but the film is really lacking what audiences love about the classic Jonathan Swift tale.

DIRECTOR: Ilya Maksimov
CAST: Wayne Grayson, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, Tyler Bunch, Billy Bob Thompson, Tom Wayland

Shout! Factory releases Gulliver Returns on Digital on July 26, 2022 and August 9 on DVD. Grade: 1/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.