***This review may contain spoilers***
First of all, in response to Swiftian purists who were disappointed that Jack Black's version of "Gulliver's Travels" (hereafter GT) was not strictly faithful to Swift's ageless satire, I say, are you hopelessly naive? In spite of its fantastic locales and characters, GT really doesn't lend itself to cinematic treatment because of its episodic structure and laceratingly pessimistic satire of human nature. As Hallmark proved, GT is more suited to a mini-series approach, and while, I believe, Hallmark's GT (starring Ted Danson as Lemuel Gulliver) is the best (and probably the only) faithful adaptation of Swift's satire we will ever witness, even it had a contrived upbeat ending antithetical to Swift's themes. As movies go, I think a somewhat whimsical (albeit somewhat superficial) fairy-tale approach is the best way to deal with GT. Just about every GT movie version (animated or live action) does so, and I have enjoyed them all. That goes for Jack Black's "GT" too, which is about on a par with the others.
(PLOT DESCRIPTION: Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black), a boisterous, but surprisingly shy, mail-room clerk for a New York travel company, can't seem to advance professionally or romantically. He has harbored a 5-year crush on Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet) without acting on it. Gathering his courage one more time to ask Darcy out, he loses his nerve and instead pretends to be a noted travel writer looking for a better job. After Gulliver fabricates a plagiarized travel article on Mexico, Darcy gives him a Bermuda Triangle assignment. Gulliver goes to Burmuda, charters a sailboat, gets sucked into a watery maelstrom, and finds himself bound on the ground in Lilliput, a miniature kingdom of doll-sized people. At first their chained slave, Lemuel gains freedom and respect after saving the tiny princess (Emily Blunt) from a palace fire with his - excretions and the whole kingdom from an armada sent by Lilliput's enemy, the equally tiny kingdom of Blefescu. Lilliput celebrates the "giant" Gulliver as a hero and protector, all except the treacherous and jealous Lilliputian general Edward Eduardo (Chris O'Dowd), who schemes to take over Lilliput (and treasonously orchestrated the fire and armada attack) and resents the intrusion of the "big, hairy beast".
Feeling like a "big shot" for the first time in his life, Gulliver gets the royal treatment from the industrious and tech-savvy Lilliputians, who amazingly build him a seaside home, theater, and even miniature Times Square mockup, and cater to his every need. In the meantime, Gulliver regales the tiny folk with tall tales of his exploits, cribbing from "Star Wars", "Titanic", and other movies. But the facade quickly crumbles as Gulliver receives voicemail messages from Darcy, who has realized Gulliver's deception and threatens to fire him. Even worse, General Eduardo constructs a 7-foot metal robot (from a blueprint Lemuel accidentally brings with him) that humiliates, defeats, and exiles Gulliver to "the forbidden land", which turns out to be Brobdingnag, land of the giants (not named in the film). For a while, the demoralized Gulliver becomes the plaything of a sadistic little girl until the heroic Lilliputian Horatio (Jason Segel), Gulliver's best friend in Lilliput, finds him and convinces him to come back to save the kingdom. In the meantime, Darcy, who has set out to perform Gulliver's assignment, is also caught in the whirlpool and whisked to Lilliput, where she is also made prisoner. Gulliver finds her in the dungeon he used to occupy, along with the king (Billy Connolly), queen (Catherine Tate), and the rest of the royal retinue, frees them, and vows to save Lilliput from the usurper Eduardo and his Iron-Man like robot. With Horatio's help, Gulliver does defeat Eduardo and the robot and save the kingdom, and wins Darcy's love and a real job as travel writer. Also, Horatio finally overcomes his "base" origins and wins the princess's love. Gulliver and Darcy go back to New York. Whew!)
Now I'll admit that "GT" is far from a seamlessly perfect movie. It contains improbabilities and plot holes a Brobdingnagian could walk through (e.g. how did the medieval Lilliputians acquire enough resources and technological know-how to feed and house Gulliver?; why didn't Gulliver trample any Lilliputians with all his jumping around; why didn't the Blefuscudian cannons wound Gulliver like a pistol?, how did Horatio make it safely to Brobdingnag to save Gulliver?; how could Gulliver's phone have enough bars to receive Darcy's call?). The special effects and CGI were also wildly variable, from stunning to background projection phony. And no, "GT" does not address Swift's satirical themes at all. In spite of these shortcomings, I did enjoy the movie.
I guess Jack Black's Gulliver insidiously won me over. Sure, he's a chubby, fun-loving, energetic goof, but he is also (and not inconsistently) an endearingly diffident, uncertain guy with self-esteem issues. Even in Lilliput, he is initially intimidated by the tiny kingdom and general until he proves his worth. Even when he is exploiting and deceiving the Lilliputians (who reminded me of the Doozers in "Fraggle Rock"), Gulliver is sweet and gentle to all of them. He acts as a huge, funny Cyrano de Bergerac to Horatio by giving him song lyrics from Prince help him woo the princess. Gulliver doesn't want to hurt anyone; even when he faces the Blefuscudian armada, he tries unsuccessfully to cut a deal with the ship commanders and says he'll only pretend to attack them if they promise to leave. When Gulliver's fortunes fall because of his deceit and he sinks into despair, I think it's touching. When he regains his confidence and vows to be a genuine hero, to both Darcy and Lilliput, I think it's both touching and inspiring. Gulliver's tussle with the robot was also fun and even a bit hair-raising, as when the robot knocks Gulliver back and he (or maybe a stunt double) performs a temporary headstand (with no arm support). I guess I am part of the group that like's Jack Black's frat-boyish, exuberant, but basically decent persona (as I did in "School of Rock" and "King Kong"). "GT" showcases believable character growth and development.
Ultimately, "GT" is what it is: an engagingly silly but enjoyably lighthearted romp with gently-presented themes of integrity, courage, and self-improvement. And yes, I really mean that (even taking the butt-crack and urination scenes into account).