This summer, Filmusik—a collective of local musicians, composers and voice actors, which performs live soundtracks to classic films—is taking on the 1939 Paramount Pictures animation of Gulliver's Travels, recreating every line, song, and sound-effect in front of audience's eyes and ears at the Hollywood Theatre.
I spent 95 percent of the show grinning ear-to-ear, completely absorbed in the sounds, songs and silliness being created so vividly around me, and the other five percent trying to figure out a way to use the word “magic” in my review without sounding like a prat. I failed.
The show is magic.
The Hollywood is the perfect setting to lose yourself in one of the first films of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood animation—the smell of old-fashioned, hot-buttered popcorn and the grand art deco interior instantly recreate the grandeur and sense of occasion of a night at the movie theater
that has been lost in these days of overpriced candy bars, cheap broken seats and Justin Bieber soundtracks. As it was built in an era when all films were accompanied by live music, the acoustics make for an aural experience that just can't be matched by even the most advanced modern digital surround sound system.
Under the guidance of director and composer Galen Huckins, Filmusik has meticulously re-scored the entire film, and the live chamber ensemble and choir do a stellar job of keeping in-sync with the film being projected behind them. The team of local vocal talents breathe new life into the cartoon's old characters, with a stand-out performance from professional voice-over artist James Dineen as the film's comic relief, the bumbling town crier Gabby.
But the real stars of the show are the foley artists, who create the sound of every foot-step, back-slap, gust of wind, door opening and skirt ruffle with everything from the classic coconut shell horse clops to splashing buckets of water, shaking old umbrellas, crumpling paper and crashing cymbals.
The cartoon itself isn't exactly the biting libertarian commentary on power, corruption and colonial empires of the original Jonathan Swift novels, but it's an entertaining enough story based loosely on the first book, in which the strapping seaman Gulliver washes up on an island of tiny people. There, he watches in (quite patronizing) amusement from above as the island's inept but well-meaning king and his dim-witted subjects fight, dance and sing about petty quarrels with a neighboring empire.
There's enough slapstick and silliness to have even the most cynical youngster giggling and glued to their seat
, while adults will appreciate revisiting an era when animated features weren't all about expensive CGI effects and celebrity cameos.
The show's only real weak point comes at the very end, with an awkward bouncing-ball sing-a-long session. Some members of the crowd gave it a good crack, but the film's slow, schmaltzy songs don't really lend themselves to audience participation.
Still, it was all in the fun and spirit of “anything can happen” live performance, and most importantly, it didn't kill the—gag—magic of this very unique and entertaining movie-going experience.
Gulliver's Travels will be shown and performed again at 7 pm Wednesday and Friday, July 21 & 23.