Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

John Mills and Dorothy McGuire in Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

Swiss Cheese but Good Swiss Cheese

"Swiss Family Robinson" may be a children's novel but Disney's 1960 family adventure "Swiss Family Robinson" barely relates to the tales which went on in the childhood favourite. Instead it is an energetic, over the top family adventure movie, the sort of which is sadly no longer made, as we watch the Robinson family make a life for themselves on an Island having been ship wrecked. There is the fun of building a home, the exploring of the island, the whole menagerie of animals which they encounter and just for good measure an encounter with pirates. Yes, "Swiss Family Robinson" maybe over the top but at the same time it is good fun serving up scenes which provide imaginative entertainment for young and old alike.

After the ship they were travelling on to start a new life in New Guinea ends up being ship wrecked the Robinson family build a make shift raft and head to a nearby Island. With no hope of getting off the Robinson's start to build a new life for themselves building a home in the trees whilst exploring the island. But whilst it's fun to have the adventure of creating a new life they also have to be prepared for attacks from Pirates and brothers Fritz (James MacArthur) and Ernst (Tommy Kirk) must learn to get on when they start competing with each other when they meet a stranger who shows up on the island.

Janet Munro, James MacArthur and Tommy Kirk in Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

So as already mentioned Disney's "Swiss Family Robinson" does not follow the events which occurred in the children's novel, instead it comes up with a range of adventures which the Robinson family go on. It starts with the actual ship wreck as they make a wonderfully imaginative adhoc raft from barrels sawn in half as they try to make their way to a nearby Island. And the adventures continue from there on in from their first night on the Island through to Mr. Robinson and his two eldest boys building the most amazing home in the trees, this is not a tree house it's a suite of rooms, through to the exploration of the island by Ernst and Fritz.

Now all of this is seriously over the top and seriously unbelievable but it doesn't matter because "Swiss Family Robinson" is all about adventure and escapism. It means that when they encounter a tiger, ostriches, zebras and a whole raft of animals on this one Island the fact it's unbelievable as is the explanation doesn't matter one iota. And it means that you can have the most outrageous race as the Robinson family mount their animals for what is akin to whacky races.

It's not all adventure and for a brief moment issues of being stranded on an Island come in to play as we have Mrs. Robinson concerned that her boys especially Fritz and Ernst will never know what it is to meet a woman. Not something she really needs to worry about as an encounter with Pirates brings them a young woman who is masquerading as a boy. This is no word of a lie but everything about "Swiss Family Robinson" is so obvious and so telegraphed that it should be the pinnacle of cheesy but it isn't. And it isn't because it is fun, imaginative, stupid and full of adventure right through to the Robinson's battling Pirates with a series of traps and adhoc weapons which they create.

In a way it is sad that movies like "Swiss Family Robinson" are not made anymore as these outrageous adventures, the swinging across a pond and sliding down a small waterfall is the stuff that many a childhood was made of. Now there is nothing like this and younger audiences are missing out on something very special, something which encourages them to use their own imagination to create wonderful stories and experience life away from their smart phones and tablets.

As for the acting well it is as outrageous as the rest of the movie and John Mills as Mr. Robinson seems to be having as much fun playing a cast away as we get from watching him. There is not a subtle performance in the movie and at times the delivering of lines from the likes of James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran borders on the cheesy but like the rest of the movie it's not a problem. In fact the no thrills performances in many ways add to the charm because they are fun, plain and simple.

Now on one note it has to be said that whilst not a shocking movie by any means the variety of animals does lead to some questions. We have a scene where young Francis tries to capture a small Elephant, and then there is the Tiger which falls into a pit not to mention the Zebra stuck in mud and a turtle which is lassoed to drag the raft to shore. This is the sort of stuff which doesn't get done these days and for a good reason too because whilst no cruelty is shown it is rather obvious that some animals were distressed.

What this all boils down to is that the "Swiss Family Robinson" is the sort of movie which doesn't get made anymore but really needs to be. It is outrageously over the top and often borders on being cheesy but the energy of the adventures and the over the top humour end up making it fun when maybe it shouldn't be. But it is because it is so imaginative which makes it so good and you can't but help love the tree house that the Robinson's live in let alone the way they defend themselves from Pirates.