No, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON is not just a B ticket attraction at
Disneyland. Boy, that dates me. It is also an excellent 1960 live
action Disney movie for the entire family, and it is available on
video. It has atmosphere, wild animals, pirates, and most of all, an
awe inspiring sense of wonderment about creativity in general and about
inventions in particular. Director Ken Annakin fashions an imaginative
and special movie.
The Robinson family consists of a father (John Mills), a mother
(Dorothy McGuire) and three boys, Fritz (James MacArthur), Ernst (Tommy
Kirk), and Francis (Kevin Corcoran). They are in a boat that gets hit
by a rock in the ocean. This causes them and a large load of
miscellaneous domestic animals to have to abandon ship and go to a
nearby deserted island.
As soon as they get there, they drop to their knees and thank the
Lord for saving them. This, of course, is a dead giveaway that this is
an old movie. Today's screenwriters would only include a mass prayer
scene in a film if it was either about a cult and the people in
question were all about to commit suicide or about some religious
fanatics who were about to be involved in some heinous crime. In this
screenplay by Ian Hay and based on the novel by Johann David Wyss, the
prayer is nothing more than honest worship of their god.
The show is fun for the whole family, and it teaches a list of
good values so long they are hard to count. These include
resourcefulness, inventiveness, loyalty, bravery, thankfulness,
creativity, honor, spirituality, and the list goes on. Don't get me
wrong; this is not one of those pedantic and overly earnest stories
where nothing happens, but at least it is completely wholesome. This
show is filled with action. The family is forced to contend with
everything from pirates to wild animals (tigers, elephants, hyenas,
monkeys, ostriches, you name it).
In one of many of the action sequences, they are attacked by
pirates who are blasting them with cannon. They too have a cannon, but
only enough powder for a single shot. What do they do? They hoist the
quarantine flag to make the pirates think someone on board has the
plague. Okay, this may not be realistic, and yet, it shows how
imaginative solutions are rewarded. When you see the movie, give it
some space and think about the approaches taken and not the
plausibility of the actual solutions. This is a kids' movie, remember.
In a sweet scene there is a great visual of them using a large
turtle to pull them and a lot of cargo from the sinking ship to the
shore. Watching it, it is hard not to have a warm smile on your face.
What a delightful movie you will find yourself thinking.
When they find out that they must be safe at night from the
tigers, the father devises a plan for a large tree house about which
the mother is dubious. He tells the mother, "The world is full of nice
ordinary little people who live in nice ordinary little houses on the
ground. Didn't you ever dream of a house in the trees?" Doesn't every
kid? Although they view their island as paradise on earth, the mother,
for one, is convinced that it can't go on, reflecting, "It's wonderful
for today, but what about tomorrow?"
This show continues to speak to the most fundamental aspects of
childhood. If watching this show does not kindle some extra interest
in creativity in you kids, I'll be surprised.
Although the video has the colors faded some, the lush
cinematography (Harry Waxman) and imaginative sets (John Howell) are
still striking. It is supposed to be on an island near Asia, but was
actually filmed on Tobago in the Caribbean. Tobago is very near St.
Vincent where my wife and I took eleven wonderful vacations when we
were in our 30s and early 40s. The lushness of the setting brought
back fond memories. Finally, the music (William Alwyn) is classic
movie music from that era with an heroic score.
SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON runs 1:50. It is rated G and there is
nothing to offend anyone. Other than a tiger coming out of a jungle
and other such natural scenes there is nothing to scare young children.
My son Jeffrey, age 7, loved the picture, but warns that kids under 4
might be scared by the wild animals. I recommend this film to you and
your whole family, and I give it ***.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes