Disney Live Action Spotlight: Swiss Family Robinson

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Greetings, readers! With the start of a new month comes a new monthly blog spotlight. With my trip to Disney World coming next month (55 days!), it seemed like as good a time as any to do a Disney spotlight. While people are most familiar with Disney’s animated features, the studio has also churned out some great live action films over the years. My pick for the first week of this spotlight is one of the best. It’s Swiss Family Robinson from 1960.

The story is about a family and how they are forced to survive on a desert island.

A family in route to New Guinea is shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island. They are forced to remain on the island because of the damage to the ship and the pirates that are roaming the islands. They create a home on the island (centering around a huge tree house) and explore the island and its wildlife. Plenty of adventure ensues as the family deals with issues of survival and pirates, and the brothers must learn how to live on the island with an uncertain future.–IMDB

While the plot is pretty straightforward, it takes some interesting twists and turns. But the real fun of Swiss Family Robinson comes not from family melodrama, but in the interaction of the family members and the imaginative ways they come up with to survive on the island. The come up with unique inventions to take the place of modern amenities. The best of them is the giant tree house that they build. There’s also the constant threat of a pirate attack to keep viewers on their toes. At one point, the family blows up the ship wreckage to keep the pirates from regaining their navigational bearings and coming after them. There’s a plot twist where the pirates capture another ship and hold its captain and cabin boy for ransom. The family’s two sons Fritz (James MacArthur) and Ernst (Tommy Kirk), rescue the cabin boy who turns out to be a girl named Roberta (Janet Munro).

Swiss Family Robinson is the type of imaginative family entertainment you just don’t see enough of anymore. The parents (John Mills and Dorothy McGuire) are positive role models, the fun comes not just from mindless action but from watching the family deal with living under extraordinary circumstances, and the breathtaking look of the film (it was the first widescreen Disney film shot with Panavision lenses).

The family in Swiss Family Robinson is the kind we all want to be a part of. They love each other, have adventures, and are people who are fun to be with. If I were to pick my favorite character it would be Francis (Kevin Corcoran). He’s the youngest of the boys and takes charge of investigating the island’s wildlife. He spends his days exploring and collecting animals. He even rescues two Great Danes that were shipwrecked with them. Oh, and did I mention all the cool booby-traps the family comes up with to outsmart the pirates? My favorites are a pit with a tiger and coconut bombs. These people could give the crew of Gilligan’s Island a run for their money.

Swiss Family Robinson, skillfully directed by Ken Annakin, is a red-blooded adventure in the proud tradition of Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. If you’re looking for a great film to watch and enjoy with your whole family, Swiss Family Robinson is the film for you.

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