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!
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.
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.