The New Gulliver (1935)
aka Novyy Gulliver
Article 5477 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Aleksandr Ptushko
Featuring Vladimir Konstantinov, Ivan Yudin, Ivan Bobrov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: The Lilliput adventure, Soviet style
While listening to a reading of the Jonathan Swift novel, a young boy falls asleep and dreams that he’s Gulliver in Lilliput.
This early movie from Russian fantasist Aleksandr Ptushko surprised me in a couple of ways, though I really should have seen at least one of the surprises coming. The first surprise is that most of the movie is stop-motion animated; the Lilliputians are animated creations rather than real people, and I don’t think I’ve encountered Ptushko using that technique before. The other surprise that shouldn’t have surprised me was to find the Gulliver story had been retooled as a work of Soviet propaganda; Lilliput is a dictatorship where the workers have been enslaved, and Gulliver becomes the hero of a worker’s revolution. I should have seen this coming; all of the other work I’ve seen by Ptushko is from the fifties onward, but this one was made in 1935, and movies from this era were expected to have a heavy dose of communistic philosophy. Not that I really expected a faithful rendition of Swift’s novel; after all, “Gulliver’s Travels” was never really a children’s book to begin with, but a satire, and I expected the movie to juvenilize the book like all of the other versions I’ve seen. For what it’s worth, this movie does retain some of its satirical bite; the scene where a bickering Congress meets while a prime minister puts words in the mouth of a grinning idiot king is rife with satire, and it’s perhaps my favorite scene in the movie. But once we meet the enslaved underground workers, I knew exactly how the rest of the movie would play out; once you know what the message is going to be, you lose the element of surprise. Still, it was fun to see some early Ptushko, and much of the movie is quite entertaining.