Movie Night: Swiss Family Robinson

Welcome to Movie Night: a chance to sit back, relax, and take in a new piece of cinematic wonder with Little Satis and I. This will (hopefully) be a once-weekly post about the movies we watch together, snuggled up in the dark with a cup of tea and a pack of M&Ms. Enjoy!


Year: 1960

Production Company: Walt Disney

Leads: John Mills, Dorothy McGuire

Little stands out in my memory from my childhood as well as Disney’s 1960 version of Swiss Family Robinson. Along with such swashbuckling epics such as Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, its simple yet delightful tale of a (Swiss) family shipwrecked on a deserted island mesmerized me, and I lived and breathed the storms, the jungles, the fear and the smoke of the pirates’ attack. What young boy didn’t want to live in a treehouse with a monkey and an elephant?

This was something of a spectacle when it was released almost fifty-two years ago. A rare feat for Disney, it was filmed in epic widescreen, which allowed the luscious scenery of Trinidad and Tobago to sprawl across the screen. The opening scene, serving as a striking backdrop for the credits, shows a nineteenth-centry sailing vessel being battered to pieces in a savage storm. I marvel at this scene today; long before the age of terrible CGI sea storms, this looks, even now, stunningly realistic. The waves seem too large and detailed to be a miniature set, yet they clearly couldn’t have filmed it in an actual storm. My best bet is they made phenomenal use of the historic sets of Pinewood Studios.

Accompanying this dramatic opening is William Alwyn‘s beautiful, romantic-inspired score – strings, piccolos, timpani and haunting brass a musical match to the storm that could rival Wagner. Throughout the film, this score keeps pace, and though it occasionally descends into cartoonish cues, it provides a depth and drama to an otherwise amusing family adventure.

There are, of course, numerous instances that date the film, most notably the almost embarrassingly stereotyping of both women and races. There are only two females in the film – Mother Robinson and Roberta – and both are portrayed throughout as helpless and defenseless. I held a little hope when Roberta shows some skill at shooting, but she never ends up actually shooting any pirates – another terrible typecast. I’m pretty sure the oriental-ish pirates weren’t actually speaking any kind of language at all. Oh, for the sixties.

And of course, looking back on it now, how did I miss that the ‘Swiss’ family were all English and American? And why on earth did no one ever grow a beard? And for that matter, how did they build all that cool stuff? It’s sort of like someone had a sonic screwdriver to hand.

Either way, it’s a charming and lighthearted romp of an adventure, and Little Satis and I very much enjoyed it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

2 thoughts on “Movie Night: Swiss Family Robinson

  1. I haven’t watched that since I was a kid… Actually, I remember the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse at Disneyland far better than the movie… I’ll have to put this in the Netflix list!

    • I actually don’t think it was on Netflix (at least not the streaming version). We rented it on iTunes (and subsequently bought it, seeing how much he loved it!).

      It was one of those cherished childhood memories (along with coming home every Friday and sitting down to a new episode of Star Trek.

      Glad to spark the memory!

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