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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Gulliver's Travels

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service

"Gulliver's Travels" (Fox) answers the question whether a movie rated PG can be considered morally offensive.

Yes, it sure can.

It's not because the project is a mediocre effort attempting to cash in on the elusive comic abilities of Jack Black, who plays a modern riff on the traveler Lemuel Gulliver, hero of Jonathan Swift's classic novel, first published in 1726. It's because this film was made and is being marketed as family entertainment, and so has to be held to that standard. Presumably, this is an entertainment for children to consume.

By that measure, it's the cinematic equivalent of toxic lunch meat. Director Rob Letterman and screenwriters Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller have produced a sour, slapped-together botch with a noxiously cynical message: You can plagiarize and lie without penalty and still end up with the girl -- and the job -- of your dreams.

Black's Gulliver, a mailroom clerk at a New York newspaper, is a lazy schlub who dreams of becoming a writer to impress travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet). He works up enough courage to ask her for an assignment, but when she requests writing samples, he produces a couple of articles by cutting and pasting from travel websites.

In the real world, that's no joke—such an underhanded act means lost jobs and derailed careers. In this story, it earns Gulliver an assignment that has him piloting a small watercraft in the Bermuda Triangle, where a huge storm and waterspout transport him to the Kingdom of Lilliput, a vaguely British island populated by a race of people only 4 inches tall.

Gulliver, famously first tied down and imprisoned by the Lilliputians and called The Beast, eventually becomes a defender of the land ruled by King Theodore (Billy Connolly) and his princess daughter Mary (Emily Blunt).

Gulliver's first heroic act is to extinguish a palace fire by urinating. But the onscreen incident goes way beyond the somewhat indecorous potty humor of Swift's account, degenerating into queasy imagery as many Lilliputians, including the king, are knocked down and drenched by the fire hose-intense stream.

Gulliver also aids a romantic subplot between Princess Mary and commoner Horatio (Jason Segal), but this isn't sustained well enough to generate interest. Gulliver spins whoppers to convince the Lilliputians that he's an American president ("President Awesome") and is rewarded for his heroism with Gulliver-sized accommodations, including an entertainment center in which Lilliputians costumed as the band Kiss provide a live-action version of the video game Guitar Hero.

Although Darcy catches up with Gulliver's plagiarism, the deeply flawed moral takeaway remains intact: Theft and falsehood can be a path to achieving your dreams. That's a harmful lesson for children and an unwelcome message for adults.

The film contains skewed moral values, graphic scatological humor and some intense action scenes. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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John Vianney: A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision: He wanted to become a priest. But he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies. 
<p>His failure to comprehend Latin lectures forced him to discontinue. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring. After a lengthy battle with the books, John was ordained. </p><p>Situations calling for “impossible” deeds followed him everywhere. As pastor of the parish at Ars, John encountered people who were indifferent and quite comfortable with their style of living. His vision led him through severe fasts and short nights of sleep. (Some devils can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.) </p><p>With Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet, he established La Providence, a home for girls. Only a man of vision could have such trust that God would provide for the spiritual and material needs of all those who came to make La Providence their home. </p><p>His work as a confessor is John Vianney’s most remarkable accomplishment. In the winter months he was to spend 11 to 12 hours daily reconciling people with God. In the summer months this time was increased to 16 hours. Unless a man was dedicated to his vision of a priestly vocation, he could not have endured this giving of self day after day. </p><p>Many people look forward to retirement and taking it easy, doing the things they always wanted to do but never had the time. But John Vianney had no thoughts of retirement. As his fame spread, more hours were consumed in serving God’s people. Even the few hours he would allow himself for sleep were disturbed frequently by the devil. </p><p>Who, but a man with vision, could keep going with ever-increasing strength? In 1929, Pope Pius XI named him the patron of parish priests worldwide.</p> American Catholic Blog The most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold on to. –Pope Francis

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