Swiss Family Robinson (film in 1960): A rather absurd film that shows some history

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This film was famous enough that I lead to the creation of an attraction at Disneyworld in Florida. I remember being quite enthralled by the attraction while I was there as a child because what kid isn't going to enjoy a gigantic tree-house?

That is essentially what a lot of this movie is all about and I can appreciate the fact that they build this in Tobago. Even with the might of Disney at their behest it must have been quite complicated for them to pull that off.

This movie might have been all the rage in 1960 and when you are watching it, you will kind of need to do the same for yourself because by today's standards, this movie is absolutely awful in a lot of ways.


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So the story is that a family is en route to find a new place to live in the Pacific because of conflicts back in their home country of somewhere, but on the way their ship is attacked by pirates and the captain decides to travel into a storm rather than fight the pirates. This results in the ship getting ravaged by a storm and the family who were passengers being trapped under the ship. Then the storm finally subsides, the family breaks out and discovers that all of the crew abandoned ship fearing the ship was going under. Idiots! Where were they going to go? It's dumb but it's central to the story that they escape only to discover that the ship has no one on it other than themselves.


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What happens beyond that is a story of extremely unlikely success at survival on an unknown island somewhere near New Guinea and how the family not only survives but starts to appreciate their lives here on this island to the point where they no longer wish to be rescued.


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It is a pretty kick ass house and their development of it is interesting enough as are the I suppose somewhat believable technological developments that the family manages to make in its creation such as running water from a nearby stream as well as retractable stairs and what not. Some other things don't make a lot of sense though such as how they never run out of liquor and mama is able to make new clothes and even decorative curtains despite not having access to any fabric. Whatever! These are all things we have to just let go to the wayside.

This must have been a pretty amazing thing for people to see in 1960 because it features a ton of animals that honestly, have no business being around one another.


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They've got a whole slew of wildlife in this thing including various types of monkeys, ostriches, flamingos, sea turtles, elephants, a whole slew of domesticated wildlife, and a ton of various lizards all varying in size. For most people even today, let alone 65 years ago, this would be an absolutely wild adventure.

The actors and actresses in it were pretty typical of the time period and they all do a pretty good job in their various roles. That is other than the child actor who plays the role of "Francis" who's every utterance is annoyance divine. He is loud, constantly ignoring parental advice and thereby getting into trouble, and has to be the center of attention at all times. Maybe this is like a real child but for me I found the very sound of his voice like fingernails on a chalkboard every time he spoke any of his lines.


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Yeah, it's not ok to be mean to children but I would make an exception for this guy. He has entirely too many lines for someone that is a non issue character. He is there to establish the that boy has a penchant for having a ton of pets and he acquires all manner of exotic animals into his zoo of sorts which here is where the Disney magic kicks in because there is no chance that the group of animals Francis collects wouldn't simply kill one another.

The animals are a big part of the film's attraction because it may have set a record for how many types of animals had appeared in a film before that time. There was no CGI at the time remember, so any animal interaction that you see in the movie really happened. This must have been painfully difficult to film and also, again by today's standards, brings about an ethical point of view that likely didn't exist in 1960. There is an absolutely massive amount of what appears to be outright animal abuse in this film, in particular during certain sequences where they are tracking down, trapping and riding this one particular ostrich that obviously doesn't want to be ridden.


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Now I don't know a great deal about ostriches, but I can tell when an animal is in distress and this guy seems to be wanting the group to get the fuck away from him all the time. Other animals in this movie are man-handled on a regular basis by many members of the family. What can I say? I guess things were very different back in 1960. Apparently some sort of oversight for the treatment of the animals was in effect in 1960 but it wasn't at all as much of an overseer that it is today. Plus we are talking about Disney here and if they wanted to do something, they were going to do it.

One thing that kind of introduces a sort of "Lord of the Flies" aspect into the film happens when the two teenage boys in the Robinson family are all of a sudden introduced to a female that is somewhere around their age. Prior to her becoming part of their lives these two brothers were inseparable teammates in everything that they did but once the notion of getting some action was put into their lives they were constantly at war with one another.


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It starts out as soon as they discover she is a girl as when they first encounter her she is disguised as a boy. Not disguised very well of course but this is Disney. They don't say it, but the reason why she is being disguised as a boy has to do with the fact that she was captured along with her grandfather by a group of pirates and well, we know what pirates do to young female captives now don't we?

The boys end up coming to blows over her but because this is Disney it all works out in the end as the younger brother is drawn to the allure of going to study in London and the elder is content to stay on the island with Roberta and presumably marry her and get to workin' on making babies. I don't know what plans the family had for their youngest, Francis, but I hope it involved somehow accidentally making him mute.

Should I watch it?

That is one hell of a trailer at over 5 minutes long. I'm on the fence about whether or not you should see this. It is a piece of cinematic history because during the time that it was made it was one of the most daring and grandiose undertakings in the history of filmmaking. It is also pretty iconic of the time-period and is a bit of a taste of how different family life was back in the time period that this is meant to take place. It is stated that it only cost $4 million to make but there are two things to consider here: One is that Disney is well-known for their accounting practices that can make any film look like it cost anything they want it to - this is not a new development.... and two is that even if they are telling the truth this is $40,000,000 in today's money before we even start talking about how they would have needed to do an advertising campaign to make the people aware of the fact that the movie even existed.

I wouldn't say that it is wildly entertaining and there are mostly zero twists in the story but I enjoyed thinking about how incredibly difficult it would have been to have made this given the technology that existed at the time. The interactions with the animals couldn't just be CGI'd in and there is one situation where a Tiger gets into a fight with two large dogs and even though I am sure there isn't any way to fake two dogs fighting a Tiger, it actually doesn't look fake. They did a very good job dealing with the tech they had at the time. None of this looks fake until we start talking about the battle scenes later and well, those are dumb.

I think if you are a bit of a historian that this is worth seeing but if you are in it for a great story or expecting to be entertained immensely you may want to give this one a pass.

Apparently the industry experts were working on a remake of this that was going to star Will and Jada Smith as well as their kids and all I can say, especially in light of how that family has turned out is thank God that never happened. I can only imagine how much they would have butchered the memory of the original.


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This movie can be legally streamed on Disney+ and the whole film is on YouTube as well



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6 comments
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I remember seeing this movie in the theater. I found it very funny

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you saw it in theaters? When was that?

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A long time ago. I was about 10 years old. Back in 1970

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in 1970 this probably would have been a lot more awe-inspiring than it is now. Now it just seems really impractical to have all those wild animals that don't exist in the same place anywhere on earth all in the same place. But since this film was made mostly for kids I bet the viewers didn't nitpick the science behind it all that much.

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Maybe not because I watched it decades ago lol. Some of the older films are not that bad and still stand up to the latest films with regard to most things besides special effects. I watched A Bridge Too Far again recently like I do with a number of war films from the 70"s and 80's.

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you know, I don't think I have ever seen that movie. I'm gonna put it on our server right now!