Friday, June 13, 2014

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)


Today's review forms part of a bloghop called "Then and Now" hosted by The Armchair Squid, Suze, Nicki Elson and Nancy Mock (go and visit them!). The premise was to review a film from my youth that I have come to see differently over time. Immediately, I knew there was only one film for this theme: Swiss Family Robinson, Disney's 1960 film based on Johann David Wyss's book of the same name.

As such, I will be reviewing Swiss Family Robinson (1960) in two parts. Firstly, my childhood memories will be written before re-watching the film - there may well be scenes that have been jumbled around or even fabricated by my memory - and my adult self will be reviewing the film later and chastising my youth's naivety!

Then

Ah, VHS. Life was much simpler then. During my childhood it felt like every week when my parents were able to record films directly from the TV and could sit my brother and me down to watch recorded films for hours on end. Parenting sounded like a piece of cake.

My father used to just buy blank tapes and record directly from television - there were very few films that we owned the "official" versions of. To be honest, I have no idea what the copyright laws surrounding this were; as I said, life was much simpler then, until our house was flooded and we had to start out collection again.

One film we absolutely adored while I was growing up was Swiss Family Robinson. It was a film that seemingly featured everything that a child loves: shipwrecks, pirates, tree houses, animals, Christmas, exploding coconuts and err, perhaps inappropriately, I believe there was even a cross-dressing girl?

To be honest, the nitty gritty details of the film completely escape me, which I guess says a lot about how a child watches a film. I can't even remember why there were pirates, or why they wanted to attack the family. All I remember is that it was a film filled with adventure and more than enough entertainment to keep a young boy happy.

Now

As soon as I decided to watch Swiss Family Robinson I set about tracking down the DVD. Fortunately, a copy was listed online as being in stock in my local second-hand store so, rather than order it online, I decided to save some money by popping down last Friday after work.

Typically, the listed version was incorrect - they only had an animated version in stock. So, after a weekend of scouting around nearby towns, I finally gave up and ordered the DVD online - luckily it turned up yesterday otherwise I would have had to have switched to my second choice - Hook.

Immediately after firing up the DVD, the familiar intro of the film hit the screen and my childhood memories came flooding back. In truth, it felt like only yesterday that I watched the film - I am not sure how much of this is my memory or how predictable family films are! Even the plot, which I scarcely remembered above, came flooding back.

John Mills, the eponymous Father, leads his wife (called Mother), and their three children to safety from a shipwreck on their way to New Guinea from Bern, Switzerland. Their boat was attacked by the pirates that I had previously remembered, and it is these rogues that provide the villainous aspect of the story.

Having watch a huge number of films since I last watched Swiss Family Robinson, I was worried that I might have ruined my childhood by re-watching it back alone. In one sense I did - many of the bits that I had forgotten were highly irritating - Francis, the youngest child, has a very annoying whine, and the length of the storyline means that huge sections of time have to be skipped meaning the plot is occasionally left wanting. It is not a film that lends itself well to critical reviews.

However, it isn't a film designed to be great, epic, or even a smash hit. It is a film built around traditional Christian family values, and I admire this aspect of the film. As well as one scene featuring traditional dancing at Christmas, the film makes a special point of showing the family praying once they are ashore.

Even though it was the highest grossing film of 1960, gathering in $60,000,000 and beating films such as Psycho, it clearly wasn't made to break box office records. Instead, there is a strong focus on educating children about respecting their elders, helping them learn about the trepidations of growing up and even a mild introduction to understanding the opposite sex.

As such, the film has aged extremely well, I wouldn't hesitate sitting my own children down to watch it, whenever they come along. I still find myself absolutely in love with Swiss Family Robinson after all these years and I think that, right there, shows that Disney is the Father of family films.


16 comments:

  1. I remember recording TV shows and movies onto VHS. And you'd have rows of them with those written labels on your bookshelves.

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  2. I watched that in school, I think, perhaps even on a reel-to-reel projector! I remember loving it and have always meant to read the novel, though I never have. I remember being surprised that pirates could be Asian. Logically, of course they can. I'd just never seen them depicted as such before.

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  3. My family also had scads of VHSs with the handwritten labels and like you, very few actual storebought VHS tapes. Haha...this is really funny to me for some reason. No one talked about pirating then. I had a friend whose grandparents were very religious, and they basically had a full scale operation of 2 VCRs recording movies almost continuously. They taped everything and filled several closets. That's so funny to think about now, how bulky those tapes were. And did they ever watch them?

    I also liked Swiss Family Robinson as a kid, obviously for the treehouses and pirates. I watched a lot of older movies and musicals that we rented from the video store (another relic). I do not remember at all the Christian leanings of this movie. That strikes me so odd for some reason, I really had no idea the movie slanted that way. And kind of a shame that we don't expect family movies with religious over/undertones to be epic or very good. Sadly many of them are not. It would be nice to see faith incorporated in a non cheesy way, right?

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  4. I never saw this movie but it sounds like I would have enjoyed it. Wasn't there a TV show?

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  5. My sisters *loved* this film. This one and Man from Snowy River. They wore the VHS tapes out. I think I might secure a copy of SFR for my little one. Thanks for reminding us about it! Great choice.

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  6. I can remember seeing the TV ads for this when it first came out. I wanted so badly to see this but I pretty much had to go see the films my parents wanted to see or what they thought I should see. Swiss Family Robinson wasn't one of those films so I didn't get to see it then. A few years ago it was on TV so I watched it. I thought it was a very good film, one that I know I would have appreciated when I was younger. It's still fine entertainment.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  7. Y'know, I don't believe I've ever seen this film---because whenever I've walked through the treehouse at Disney World I can never remember anything from it. It certainly does stand as a testament to the quality of the film that you were still impressed with it. Hope taht makes all the work you did to secure a DVD worth it!

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    Replies
    1. P.S. I love the way you approached this with your pre-rewatch thoughts first.

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  8. This particular film never really grabbed me, but now that I've read your thoughtful re-review, I just might have to let my granddaughter think it's her idea to watch it...

    Love it!
    Cherdo
    www.cherdoontheflipside.com

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  9. Gosh I loved this movie. I wanted to live in that tree house !
    Parents took us to Disneyland after it first opened and I was able to walk up into the tree house !
    I really didn't get the christian leanings of the movie but as I was raised in a Polish Catholic home it probably seemed normal to me.
    Except my Mum would have never let the younger son get away with all the stuff he did he was super annoying.
    Great movie choice.

    cheers, parsnip

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  10. I liked this movie, but enjoyed the ostrich races and the treehouse most. I've since found out that ostriches can be dangerous biting birds with kicking feet.

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  11. It's such a coincidence that you chose this movie, because my son just watched it for the first time 2 days ago (it was the end-of-year movie for his class.) I don't really remember it so I asked his opinion. He said except for some bad acting and some of it seeming impossible (like building the treehouse) he did enjoy it. Sounds like for the most part it's still holding up for kids now.

    Thanks for posting about it in our Bloghop!

    Nancy at Hungry Enough To Eat Six

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  12. I also recall loving the Swiss Family Robinson, but I haven't watched it since I was a child. I'm almost afraid to watch it again. Even though you still loved it, I have a feeling I won't.

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  13. This is a great FAMILY film... and overall, DISNEY FILMS, never lose their magic! I am a HUGE fan of EVERYTHING Disney! Good choice.

    Thanks for sharing...

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  14. Hello, Ed. It's been ages since you last posted here. I hope all is well. I just wanted to let you know that you've been nominated for a blogger award:

    http://www.michaelabayomi.com/2015/04/the-liebster-award.html

    Hope to hear back from you soon. :)

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