"Swiss Family Robinson" is an entertaining spectacle for
kids through the early teen years, with excellent
cinematography. However, it is too wholesome and
episodic, and lacks depth.
A European family escaping the terror of Napoleon Bonaparte
is shipwrecked on a lush deserted island. After narrow
escapes from pirates and carnivores, they adapt and live
in grand style. A teenage girl joins their clan, sparking
rivalry between the two teenage boys. The pirates return
and must be fought off.
The problems with the movie begin with the premise.
A ship is abandoned by its crew, leaving as its only
passengers a family unit. Their ship happens to wreck
on an island's reefs, and that island somehow has no
inhabitants but has a very wide variety of African animals.
The youngest son, impish Francis, is supposed to provide
comic relief but his one-note acting performance of
enthusiastic shouting is quickly tiresome. Mother (pop singer
Dorothy McGuire) and Father (John Mills) are perfect parents
who never lose their temper. Somehow the family constructs
marvelous treetop penthouses, displaying unusual architectural
and engineering talent. Where did they get the tools?
The pirates are scary but impotent. One can't help but
notice the Caucasian adults are brave and heroic, while
the vile and cowardly pirates are of undetermined ethnic
The sibling rivalry between older son Fritz (James MacArthur)
and Ernst (Tommy Kirk) is the most interesting part of the
movie. One can identify with both Fritz's condescension and
Ernst's desire for the respect and privileges of birthright.
Still, a lesser Disney production that sugar coats what
could have been an interesting character study of adaptation
Copyright © 1996 Brian Koller