Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Fantasy/Adventure | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Celebrated abandonment of civilization, plus pirates and tigers and bears, oh my!

Anyone who enjoys animals and pirates, or who built a tree house during their childhood (or for that matter attempted to or wished they would have), will find Swiss Family Robinson a fine cup of tea. Based on Johann Wyss’s novel, this film is a remake of a 1940 version that Walt Disney himself purchased all the known copies of so none of his viewers could compare the two.

The live-action adventure follows the resourceful Robinson family, who flees Napoleonic oppression in their homeland and heads for New Guinea. The family includes stern Father (John Mills), proper Mother (Dorothy McGuire), strapping Fritz (James MacArthur), annoying and nerdy Ernst (Tommy Kirk), and fearless Francis (Kevin Corcoran). During their voyage, the family is left to fend for itself on a deserted island when the ship crashes in anti-climactic fashion. While their situation grows quite bleak, the Robinsons make the best of their new habitat by building the best tree house ever, which has since been recreated at Disney’s parks.

“You’ve never seen a house Swiss3as this one’s going to be,” Father tells Mother, likely thinking of the running water, oven, fridge, sunroof, windows, and organ housed inside. The film rectifies these appliances (or rather tries to) by showing the family strip the ship of all available materials (never mind the fact that they have no tools or carpentry skills).

In their spare time they go swimming in the various waterfalls, swinging on vines like Tarzan, or befriending various animals such as elephants, zebras, tortoises, lizards, monkeys, parrots, ostriches, and cheetahs (they do well to avoid the nasty sharks, tigers, bears, snakes, vultures, and hyenas). Things seem pleasant (eat your heart out Gilligan) until they realize ruthless pirates keep tabs on the island, thus keeping the family from signaling for rescue. But Father doesn’t seem too worried about it.

“Do you ever think that this is the kind of life we were meant to live on this Earth?” Father says. “Everything we need is right here at our fingertips. If only people could have all this and be satisfied, I don’t think there’d be any real problems in the world.”

Once Father steps down from his soapbox, mother responds, “This is wonderful for today, but what about tomorrow? What about our sons?”

Almost immediately after Mother suggests her sons need the experience of love and marriage, a woman (Janet Munro) escapes from the pirates and solves that problem. By then, however, the pirates have grown mega-super pissed, inevitably leading to a final showdown between the family and pirates (led by Bridge on the River Kwai villain Sessue Hayakawa). Parents need not worry about the battle, as it’s arguably the funniest moment in the film. The other moments of comedy come thanks to Kirk and Corcoran, who also appeared together in Old Yeller, whether it’s Francis capturing animals or Ernst making a new hat. Even though it’s cheesy and unbelievable at times (how do they always manage to have new outfits?), Swiss Family Robinson has aged surprisingly well and is a beloved family favorite (so much so that another remake is slated).

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