Swiss Family Robinson (1960 film)
Swiss Family Robinson is a 1960 American adventure film starring John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur, Janet Munro, Tommy Kirk, and Kevin Corcoran in a tale of a shipwrecked family building an island home. It was the second feature film based on the 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, a previous adaptation having been released by RKO Pictures in 1940. Directed by Ken Annakin and shot in Tobago and Pinewood Studios outside London, it was the first widescreen Walt Disney Pictures film shot with Panavision lenses; when shooting in widescreen, Disney had almost always used a matted wide screen or filmed in CinemaScope. It was the highest-grossing film of 1960, grossing $40 million against a $4 million budget.
|Swiss Family Robinson|
Original theatrical poster
|Directed by||John McKimson|
|Produced by||Bill Anderson|
|Written by||Lowell S. Hawley|
|Based on||The Swiss Family Robinson|
by Johann David Wyss
|Music by||Paul J. Smith (composer)|
Joseph S. Dubin (orchestration)
|Edited by||Peter Boita|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
A Swiss family from Bern—Father, Mother, and their three sons—are relocating to a colony in New Guinea to escape the Napoleonic Wars when their ship is attacked by pirates and flees into a storm. The crew abandons ship, leaving the family on board, and the ship grounds on rocks off an uninhabited island. The family makes their way ashore along with the captain's two Great Danes. Father, eldest son Fritz, and middle son Ernst salvage supplies and livestock from the shipwreck. The pirates locate the ship, but Father scares them off by putting up a quarantine flag, signaling disease aboard.
The family soon discovers that the island contains a diversity of wildlife, including a dangerous tiger. To provide safety and comfort, Father, Fritz, and Ernst construct an elaborate tree house complete with a water wheel. Youngest son Francis collects various animals including a young Asian elephant, a monkey, and an ostrich. The bookish Ernst theorizes that the island may once have been part of a land bridge connected to Asia. As the family settles in, Father opines that by going back to nature they have found everything they need in life. Mother, however, worries that her sons will never have the chance to raise families of their own if they are not rescued, and consents to allow Fritz and Ernst to circumnavigate the island in an outrigger boat they have built to map it and search for other settlements.
During their expedition, Fritz and Ernst come across the pirates, who have captured another ship and taken its captain and cabin boy captive for ransom. They rescue the cabin boy, but the captain stays behind as they escape the pirates. Making their way through the jungle, they learn that the cabin boy is really a girl named Roberta; the captain, who is her grandfather, dressed her as a boy to disguise her sex from the pirates. They survive an attack by an anaconda but become lost. The brothers fight over what to do, the rugged Fritz insisting that they press on. They rescue a zebra from predators and, using it as a mount, arrive back at the tree house just in time for Christmas.
Anticipating that the pirates will come looking for Roberta, the family scuttles their wrecked ship to hide their location. They fortify a rocky clifftop, building defenses and booby traps. Fritz and Ernst become rivals for Roberta's affections. Believing that her grandfather will return for her once ransomed, she intends to return to London; Ernst is interested in going to school there, while Fritz would rather go on to New Guinea to build a home of his own. Despite this, a romance develops between Fritz and Roberta, and the brothers come to blows over her. To relieve tension, Father declares a holiday to be held. That night, Francis manages to catch the tiger in one of the pits they have dug.
The holiday begins with a race, the boys and Roberta riding on various animals. The pirates, sailing nearby, hear the sound of the starting pistol and come ashore. The family retreats to their fort, and the attackers fall victim to their traps and defenses. The pirate captain demands that they hand over Roberta, while his men sneak up the cliff side and attack from the rear. As the family is about to be overwhelmed, a ship captained by Roberta's grandfather appears and destroys the pirates and their ship with cannon fire.
The captain offers to help Ernst get into a London university, and to take the rest of the family back to Europe or on to New Guinea. Father and Mother, however, decide that they would rather stay on the island and keep Francis with them for a few more years. The captain speculates that the island will become a new colony, and that Father will be nominated to be its governor. Fritz and Roberta, having fallen in love, also decide to stay on the island.
- John Mills as Father
- Dorothy McGuire as Mother
- James MacArthur as Fritz
- Janet Munro as Roberta
- Sessue Hayakawa as Kuala, the pirate captain
- Tommy Kirk as Ernst
- Kevin Corcoran as Francis
- Cecil Parker as Roberta's grandfather
The film is based upon Der Schweizerische Robinson (translated as The Swiss Family Robinson), a book written by Johann David Wyss. RKO Pictures had previously made an adaptation in 1940, directed by Edward Ludwig. After watching that movie, Walt Disney and Bill Anderson decided to produce their own version of the story. Anderson talked with director Ken Annakin during filming of another live-action Disney picture, Third Man on the Mountain, near Zermatt (Switzerland). Ken Annakin had also worked with Disney in the 1953 adventure film The Sword and the Rose. During his stay in Switzerland, Annakin read the book and he wondered why Disney wanted to make a story so outdated.
There were several meetings to decide filming locations. There was talk of making the film in a studio in Burbank, California or filming on location in a natural environment. Annakin wanted to film in Ceylon, and the associate producer Basil Keys, in East Africa. Bill Anderson stressed that they should examine the Caribbean. They visited Jamaica and Trinidad, but it was not what they wanted. Somebody in Trinidad told them of a nearby island, Tobago. When they saw the island for the first time, they "fell instantly in love", and they sent a telegram to Anderson, who traveled to Tobago and found it fitted to their needs. However, one of the drawbacks of this choice was that the island had no local wildlife. Once Walt Disney accepted, cast and crew got their shots and passports for a stay of six months in Tobago.
— Actor John Mills, about the filming difficulties.
Richmond Bay was featured prominently as the Robinsons' beach, while Mount Irvine Bay was used for the scene where the boys rescue Bertie from the pirates. The vine-swinging/waterfall scenes were filmed at the Craig Hall Waterfalls.
The treehouse was constructed in a 200-foot tall saman in the Goldsborough Bay area. Referring to the treehouse, Annakin said that "it was really solid-capable of holding twenty crew and cast and constructed in sections so that it could be taken apart and rebuilt on film by the family". The tree was not an easy place to shoot, with only 3 hours of sunlight per day due to surrounding foliage.
The script required animals, which arrived from all around the world. 14 trainers looked after the animals. Gene Holter was one of the providers of animals from California and his trainers Ray Chandler and Fez Reynolds. The trainers met with the director every day around 4 PM and went over attitudes or gestures that the animals should play the next day. They spent the night learning them. The animals that were brought included eight dogs, two giant tortoises, forty monkeys, two elephants, six ostriches, four zebras, one hundred flamingos, six hyenas, two anacondas, and a tiger.
After filming, the local Tobagonians convinced Disney, who had intended to remove all evidence of filmmaking, to let the treehouse remain, sans interior furnishing. In 1960, the treehouse was listed for sale for $9,000, a fraction of its original cost, and later became a popular attraction among locals and tourists, before the structure was finally destroyed by Hurricane Flora in September 1963. However, the tree still remains, and is located on the property of the Roberts Auto Service and Tyre Shop, located in Goodwood, just off of Windward Road. Tobago resident Lennox Straker says, "The tree has fallen into obscurity; only a few of the older people knew of its significance. As a matter of fact, not many people know of the film Swiss Family Robinson much less that it was filmed here in Tobago."
The film premiered in New York City on December 10, 1960 and was released for the general U.S. audience on December 21, 1960. It received generally positive reviews by critics and gained large revenue at the box office and is one of the most iconic live-action Disney films. All together, the film grossed roughly $40 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 1960 and beating other hits of that year such as Psycho, Spartacus, and Exodus at the box office. Adjusted for ticket-price inflation, the box office revenue is $339 million, making it one of the biggest hits of all time. It was re-released in 1969 and was the 15th most popular movie at the U.S. box office that year, and earned $6.4 million in rentals in North America.
Upon the film's initial release, New York Times film critic Howard Thompson lauded it by writing, "it's hard to imagine how the picture could be better as a rousing, humorous and gentle-hearted tale of family love amid primitive isolation and dangers." In his Family Guide to Movies on Video, Henry Herx wrote: "[N]icely directed by Ken Annakin, much of the fun for children will come from the delightful and inventive conveniences the family builds and their relationships with the island's wildlife". Tommy Kirk, who played Ernst, said it was the film he was most proud of. The film holds an 84% approval rating at the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes.
On December 12, 2004, Variety announced that a remake of Swiss Family Robinson was in development at Walt Disney Pictures, with Mandeville Films co-producing the film. In June 2005 it was reported that Jonathan Mostow would direct the remake, and David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman would produce. The following month, it was reported that studio veteran Lindsay Lohan was being considered for a role: "Lindsay's just talk at the moment...but that's someone they want. It might depend on whether she's happy to be part of an ensemble, and not the headliner."
Production on the remake never began, and the film was believed to be shelved until early 2009, when it was announced by /Film that it was still in the works, had been renamed The Robinsons, and was to star Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and their children Trey, Jaden and Willow. In 2011, actor Bill Paxton expressed serious interest in producing and starring in a remake of the original film: "I talked to a very prominent producer/filmmaker about the idea of teaming up to do this. I just think it would be great to make a little bit more of a butch, PG-13 version of that story — and I know it's something that would appeal to an international audience." In 2014 it was announced that Steve Carell would possibly star in a modern update the film, titled Brooklyn Family Robinson.
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