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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