Monday, June 10, 2024

Disney Watch: Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

Watched:  06/10/2024
Format:  Disney BluRay
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Ken Annakin

A long time ago now, Stuart gifted me a BluRay of Swiss Family Robinson (1960), a kind-of-hard-to-secure item.  I'd expressed to him my fondness for the live-action Disney films that more or less informed a lot of the spirit of Disney in a certain era, from this film to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Treasure Island to Johnny Tremain and more.

Most of these I saw on The Wonderful World of Disney and a collection of other places.  

I'm not at all surprised I took a shine to this movie as a kid.  It had too many pets (including two Great Danes), it's shot in a beautiful location (Tobago), has a lot of zoo animals from tigers to elephants to zebras, a set that's so cool, they recreated it as a great attraction at Disney World and Disneyland, which was a must-do for me as a kid (and adult, when it was turned into Tarzan's house or some nonsense).  

But the basic set-up is that a Swiss family is moving to New Guinea - somewhat fleeing Napolean and what's happening in Europe - and wind up shipwrecked somewhere in the "East Indies" which I put in quotes not because it's not real, but that's a pretty big area to guess about.  

There's pirates about, tigers in the woods, etc...   The two elder boys seek to circumnavigate the island when they stumble upon a Captain and his cabin boy, held by pirates.  Of course the cabin boy is a girl (it is so obviously a girl), which they discover after liberating her.  And with no other women or girls on the island who aren't their mother, they make their way home, while tensions mount.

Eventually the pirates find them, and they fight them off, getting support from the Captain.  Happy endings all around.

Very, very loosely based on an 1819 Swiss novel - which had many versions and iterations - the movie takes some things for granted that we took for granted back in the day.  Colonialism was still treated somewhat matter-of-factly, and so it is here.  Gender politics are what they are, and the movie has to tap dance the threat of pirate-rape and murder for the kids in the audience, while also wanting to show pirates getting their asses handed to them by the Robinsons (the family that slays together, stays together).  And, it's interesting that they actually do seem to have cast largely Asian actors as the pirates, as would make sense in the region, and made at least scale models of ships of what I think is Chinese design.

Jamie rightfully pointed out:  this movie is too long.  There's a "let's traverse the island" section in the middle that really drags.  But it is book-ended by pretty decent stuff, and a nice vibe at the end that should please kids who like Home Alone.  

I won't get into the unlikelihood of a single East Indies island having hyenas, zebras, ostriches and more likely occupants like an elephant and tiger.  Just consider it the friendly chaos of the film.

The movie stars Hayley Mills' dad, Sir John Mills as the kind-hearted and industrious father, alongside all-purpose mid-century actor Dorothy Maguire as the mother.  The guy who was Dan-o on Hawaii-Five-0 is the eldest brother, and Disney staples Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran  as the middle and youngest sons.  Janet Munro plays "the girl" and the source of brother-on-brother violence.

The movie is mostly chipper Disney family friendly fare, but it does have a few pretty solid moments here and there.  When John Mills and Dorothy Maguire get scenes together, that awkward Disney kid-actor vibe falls away and it feels like a real movie about people in awe of their own situation, uncertain of the future in the most real way.  Janet Munro has a pretty solid scene with Dan-o where she plays dumb about rifles in order to get close to him. 

1960 was a great year for movies, and this was still the biggest earner of the year.  I guess when you can include all-ages, you fill more seats.  It's really a remarkable movie when you realize this was all shot on location in Tobago, with ships, animals, etc...   crazy stuff.

Anyway, it was great to return to the movie, so - thanks, again, Stuart!


RHPT said...

Your family owned TWO Great Danes when you were growing up?! How is it that this is the first time I've heard of this in 20+ years of reading your blogs?

The League said...

ha! No. The Swiss Family Robinson had two great danes. I just found that idea appealing

RHPT said...

my reading comprehension is poor. I read it as "I'm not at all surprised I took a shine to this movie as a kid. I had too many pets (including two Great Danes)..."