Last night I had a great time catching up with one of my favorite animated features of all time, Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels (1939). However, it was not to the newly released Koch restored version we mentioned in this post last month.
I started watching the Koch DVD (they sent me a review copy) and I must admit, for a minute or so I was delighted with the crystal clear soundtrack and the brighter picture. But right away, during the opening shipwreck sequence I could tell something was wrong. I pulled out my one-dollar public domain copy to compare — and upon examination here’s what I concluded: #1 The Koch version squeezed the original 1:66 screen ratio to a 1:85 “letterbox” picture. All the picture information is there, but flattened – all the characters are squat, fatter. #2 The Koch restoration removed frames from the animation. The characters move less fluid in the Koch version. This is particularly noticeable in any fast moving action or dancing sequences. Like the Ladd “colorization” shorts, it must have been cheaper to “clean up” less frames, and digitize the movie “on threes” (to keep sync with the soundtrack). #3 The DVNR has softened the picture, particularly blurring the elaborate background paintings.
I don’t have a perfect copy of the film to compare this “restoration” to – but I do have production stills (in black & white). These are photographs of the original cels and backgrounds, released for publicity purposes in 1939. Below (click thumbnails to see enlarged images) compare the black & white still of a cel (center, below) with a color frame (left, below) from the Koch DVD. Note how everything in the color frame is now squat and fuzzy.
If you want to see more frame grabs and the technical specs from the Koch version, head on over to DVDbeaver/HD Sensei, or get a second opinion over at The Blu-Ray Blog. Me – I’ll keep enjoying the copy I bought for a buck, and hope that someday the original neg is restored by the corporation that holds it. In the meantime, while I’m in my Gulliver mood, I’ve taken the occasion to post an excellent four page publicity story from Good Housekeeping (click thumbnails below to read). Enjoy!