20 July 2004 | vertigo_14
Elephants and Tigers and Pirates, Oh My!
The Swiss Family Robinson is one of the best family adventure films, and definitely one of Disney's finest family films. Based on the Johan Wyss novel is the story of a British family shipwrecked during a storm, interuppting their migration to New Guinea.
Not sure of how long they will be stranded or the whereabouts of the remaining crew (Disney ambiguously glosses over the issue of whether the crew is dead, but given the presence of sharks in the ocean and the tenacity of the storm the caused the wreck, I think it's safe assume they're night), they make the new island their home. Any young kids would probably love this aspect of the movie, the thought of having the jungle where you get to play in the river and build one of the most gnarliest treehouses (oddly complete with many modern conveniences despite the lack of electricity, etc). I would imagine that the actors who played the three brothers (Disney regulars, of course) had a lot of fun filming this movie. (Note: They recreated the treehouse for a walk-through tour at the Orlando Walt Disney World theme park).
But, as Mother Robinson (Dorothy MacGuire) suggests, their jungle abode should only be considered temporary, because they can't forget that they are the only ones on the island. Being the typical maternal Disney character, she worries staying on the island provides no life and no opportunity for the three sons, Francis (MacArthur), Ernst (Kirk), and Francis (Corcoran), especially because there are no other girls there other than Mother. But the boys and their father (Sir John Mills) are also aware that they must also question whether it is a good idea to stay there because the pirate ship that they keep seeing.
Pirates and treehouses? Oh, this is a good adventure story! The only way they can tell whether they're on a peninsuala (Enrst suggests there is or was a land bridge because of the presence of many different animal species in one area) or an island is if the two oldest brothers try sailing around it. And that's where they run into a gang of pirates who have taken a British diplomat and his kid hostage. Saving them would make the Robinson boys pirate targets for sure, and their family, too. But, it seems like the Robinsons are ready for anything. Who's scared of a little machette-weilding pirate, eh?
This is a fantastic adventure film for younger children, though they may tend to get bored by some of the dreamy conversations between Mother and Father Robinson as they discuss their son's prospects and other concerns about the island. But, it is often non-stop adventure and looks like a lot of fun (like the Ostrich racing scene).
Present, however, are some of the Disney stereotypical elements. The pirates, the villains, are Asian (I don't even think the pirate actors use a real language) and the good guys are the British. The female characters don't do any strong arm work and often engage in conversations limited to domestics (family life, nothing too intelligent). When Roberta is revealed to be a girl, all of a sudden anything she did that was macho while in disquise, vanishes and she becomes a helpless girl (it is Francis and Ernst who have to wrestle the snake and Roberta freaks at the sight of a lizard and so forth).
Despite all of that, this is exemplary of what good old-fashioned adventure tales were made of, so younger boys would definitely be drawn to those elements, and hopefully, younger girls as well. Pirate chases, monster treehouses, snake wrestling. It's good times. And surprising for an older Disney film, has very little singing numbers. Skip on the remake of the 'The Swiss Family Robinson' and check this one out.