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The Robinson family is wrecked
On some rocks, and the ship’s crew defect.
Their ill-fated cruise
Leaves them much they can use,
Though they’re not sure what to do next.
The father and sons Ernst and Fritz
Get all to the shore in one blitz.
On the ship the next day,
They scare pirates away
With only a flag and their wits.
Since New Guinea’s off their radar,
The five just made do where they are.
A house like no other
Intimidates Mother,
And she wants a good safety bar.
But once the men finish, the tree
Proves a comforting place to sightsee.
The men’s great inventions
Calm her apprehensions,
And they settle down cheerfully.
Young Francis collects his own zoo
With ostrich and elephant too,
To join all the pets
That they rescued from threats
On the ship left behind by the crew.
To see if they’re all on an isle,
The older sons sail for a while.
They rescue a lad
But can’t save his granddad
From pirates both fearsome and vile.
They learn it’s a girl they retrieved,
Dressed up so she won’t be perceived.
Through forest and swamp,
With Roberta they romp,
Till they reach the treehouse, relieved.
The pirates will no doubt return,
So they build defenses in turn.
Both Ernst and Fritz vie
For Roberta’s fair eye,
But both of them have much to learn.
They all take a break for a race,
But soon pirates swarm the whole place.
They thwart their offenses
With homemade defenses
From high on a mountainous base.
With fruit bombs and many a pit
And one with a tiger in it
And logs and big rocks,
The small family blocks
The pirates, who won’t seem to quit.
They try climbing up from the back,
Which makes their defense nearly crack.
When a ship then arrives,
It saves all of their lives
By halting the pirate attack.
Roberta’s granddad gives advice,
But most of the family think twice.
Roberta and Fritz
Stay together; Ernst splits,
But the rest stay in their paradise.

Swiss Family Robinson was the best non-musical live-action Disney film made during his lifetime (and for some time after). It works well as both a loose adaptation of Johann Wyss’s classic novel and as a stand-alone adventure tale. There are a number of changes from the books, such as the inclusion of a pirate attack, a bigger role for the girl (named Emily in the novel), and the omission of a fourth son named Jack. Even so, the film expands on the amazing ingenuity of the Swiss family, furnishing their treehouse with all kinds of clever inventions. It also includes pirates, a menagerie of exotic animals, and countless other adventure elements to enthrall kids and their parents alike.

For me, the film’s biggest liability is young Kevin Corcoran as Francis, who is annoying in just about every scene he’s in. He’s a brat, who’s so enamored of animals that he ignores his parents’ warnings and common-sense safety, such as when he stupidly gives away their position to bloodthirsty pirates for the sake of two dogs! The other boys are fine, and Tommy Kirk as Ernst reminds me of Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher (in a good way). John Mills projects authority and warmth as the Father, while Dorothy McGuire lends maternal warmth and worry to Mother Robinson.

The final battle with the pirates is one of the great early action sequences, but other moments shine too, such as the silent prayer Mother insists on when they first reach the island. (You wouldn’t see that in a remake nowadays.) Swiss Family Robinson is a marvelous family film that may not be on par with adaptations like Dr. Zhivago or Gone with the Wind, but it’s no less of a classic.

Best line: (Father, upon reaching the beach) “First thing we’ve got to do is to, uh, unload the raft. Then, uh… put up some sort of shelter for the night.”   (Mother) “No. That’s not the first thing.” [She kneels in grateful prayer, and the others follow suit.]

Artistry: 5
Characters/Actors: 7
Entertainment: 8
Visual effects: 8
Originality: 7
Watchability: 7
TOTAL: 42 out of 60

Next: #195 – Gravity

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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