Gulliver’s Travels director Rob Letterman previously worked on animated films Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens, and it’s probably best to imagine this latest adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s classic novel as a live-action cartoon. Based extremely loosely on the most famous segment of Swift’s story, in which explorer Lemuel Gulliver finds himself stranded amongst tiny human beings on the island of Lilliput, the new movie features Jack Black at his Jack Black-iest playing Gulliver as a hipster doofus rather than an accomplished sea captain.
Black’s Gulliver is a loser who works in the mailroom at a New York City newspaper and pines away for the travel editor (Amanda Peet). Eager to impress her, he takes an assignment writing about the Bermuda Triangle, where he veers off course and ends up in Lilliput. There, he’s first imprisoned and then celebrated by the tiny inhabitants, including a princess (Emily Blunt), a jealous general (Chris O’Dowd) and a commoner (Jason Segel) who becomes Gulliver’s best friend. Any of the social commentary that was in Swift’s original version is completely lost, and it’s replaced not by more up-to-date satire but by lazy pop-culture references and tired Jack Black antics (yes, he ironically belts out a classic rock song). The special effects look cheap (even more so in 3D), and the finale somehow involves a giant robot. It’s not a cartoon, but it would probably be more forgivable if it were.