The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Swiss Family Robinson

Certain movies stick with you for years. It doesn't matter how old you are, what mood you're in, or how many times you see it. You can revisit that movie, and pick it up like you never missed a beat. A childhood favorite of mine and still one of my favorite's, 1960's Disney's Swiss Family Robinson is a classic in every sense of the word.

Traveling to the colony of New Guinea, the Robinson family is aboard a ship caught up in a storm that wrecks the ship on a reef, the crew abandoning the ship and leaving the family to fend for themselves. Thankfully, an island is within sight, and the Robinsons -- including Father (John Mills), Mother (Dorothy McGuire), and their three sons, Fritz (James MacArthur), Ernst (Tommy Kirk) and Francis (Kevin Corcoran) -- are able to make it their with all the supplies, food and animals left onboard. Not knowing if rescue is coming, they make the most of their island paradise, embracing their new lives. But on this Pacific island full of animals and adventures, trouble awaits too including a pirate band (led by Sessue Hayakawa) who are after something the Robinsons possess.

In the current state and age of Disney with seemingly countless animated movies and generic shows on TV, it's hard to imagine Walt Disney movies of the 1950s and 1960s. Yes, it was a completely different time from now, a more innocent time, and because of that, movies like Swiss Family Robinson have an endearing charm that is hard to explain. It is an adventure, a trip to the exotic and is the definition of good, old-fashioned storytelling that is best accompanied by a big tub of popcorn. Everything from the musical score in all its epic, sweeping qualities (listen HERE, just scroll down) to the casting to the look of the movie adds up. They don't make them like this anymore, simple as that. It's a window to a Disney of the past when high-quality, professionally made and still entertaining feature films were released to adoring audiences.

One of the obvious appeals of 'Swiss' is that any kid who has ever read Robinson Crusoe or has the slightest bit of imagination has at some point wondered how cool it would be to live on a deserted island. Albeit this "deserted" island has plenty of food, water and supplies with lots of animals (elephants, tigers, zebras, ostriches) and adventure waiting around every tree. The coolest thing EVER though is the treehouse the Robinsons build and live in, an idyllic house in the branches that all viewers should want to live in. If you don't, you're lying. Get over it. HERE is the Disney's Magic Kingdom version. Director Ken Annakin shot this movie on the island of Tobago, and it is a stunning visual film. It is the island paradise we all dream of one day living on at some point. The screen is always full of incredible colors -- even the pirates seem fashion conscious -- and is a treat just to look at. To a point, everything else is just gravy.

An underrated facet of this movie's long-term popularity and success is the casting of the Robinson family using some Disney regulars and a few newbies. For starters, I believed this tiny, close-knit group as a family. They look out for each other, they fight, they celebrate holidays, and when needed band together to preserve their island paradise. John Mills and Dorothy McGuire are the quintessential parents, Father and Mother, no first names provided or needed. They just go together, an easy-going, believable chemistry between them. The boys include MacArthur as the athletic but smart Fritz, the intelligent and always trying to prove himself Ernst played by Kirk, and the curious, sometimes annoying Francis played by Corcoran, all three regulars in Disney movies. All five work together seamlessly, and then add in the adorable Janet Munro as Roberta, a teenage girl Fritz and Ernst rescue from pirates while exploring the island.

Growing up watching this movie on a regular basis, a long list of scenes were memorable to me, but none more than the finale when the Robinson family defends their island against a raiding party of pirates. It's the type of adventure where you never really believe they're in danger (would a Disney movie kill this family? I think not), but it doesn't take away from the excitement. Coconut bombs, pirate alarms, a pit filled with a tiger, a collapsing bridge, avalanches of logs and boulders, and booby traps left and right. All pretty ridiculous, and that's the fun. Reality got left behind a long time ago here. It is a great ending, the movie ending on a very positive note.

I could go on for paragraph after paragraph with this movie. Yes, Corcoran's Francis is annoying, but even that can't stop me from loving this movie. It is a gem, a classic, a keeper, whatever you want to call it. Great cast, great story, and one of the most fun, entertaining movies ever. Adventures with that Disney touch at its finest. You can watch it HERE at Youtube, starting with Part 1 of 10.

Swiss Family Robinson <---trailer (1960): ****/****

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