Matt’s Walt Disney Pictures Live-Action Reviews: Swiss Family Robinson

In this brand new column, staff writer Matt Rotella will be going through the catalog of the Walt Disney Picture live-action features in order of their theatrical release.

Swiss Family Robinson

Released on February 8, 1940

Budget: $681,000

Box Office: $890,000

Starring: Thomas Mitchell, Edna Best, Freddie Bartholomew, Tim Holt, Terry Kilburn, & Bobbie Quillan

Director: Edward Ludwig

 Plot (per Wikipedia): In London in 1813, a Swiss father, William Robinson, wishes to escape the influence of the superficial profligacy of London on his family. His eldest son, Fritz, is obsessed with Napoleon, whom he considers his hero. His middle son, Jack, is a foolish dandy who cares only about fashion and money. And his dreamy son Ernest is preoccupied with reading and writing to the exclusion of all else.

William Robinson sells his business and house, in order to move with his wife and four sons to Australia. They set out on a brig bound for the faraway country. Following a long voyage, the family is shipwrecked on a remote deserted island after the captain and crew are washed overboard during a storm.

The family members collaborate to create a home for themselves in the alien jungle environment. They gradually learn to use the unfamiliar plants and animals to create what they need to live and thrive. They have many adventures and challenges and make many discoveries. The mother, however, misses her elegant home and community in England, and wishes to somehow be rescued and return. The father slowly convinces her that living in the natural environment is better for the family and that they are meant to be there.

Final Thoughts:  So this is the beginning of my Disney + Live Action Movie trek that I have set out on.  When I saw this was the oldest movie on there, I was stunned.  Mostly because like most of you when I think of Swiss Family Robinson the first movie that comes to mind is the one that came out 20 years later.  Honestly never knew there was a version made before that.  Though this technically wasn’t created by Walt Disney Studios.  It does go by the same principles that they had for all of their movies at the time (to be totally honest not much has changed in 80 years).  This is a fun family adventure movie that is based on the book by Johann David Wyss of the same title in 1812.

 A fun fact about this movie is that Walt Disney Studios bought the rights to this movie from RKO Radio Pictures in an effort to avoid any comparisons to their movie and to squash its re-release.  This movie was not released again in full until 2010 when Turner Classic Movies released it on DVD as part of their Vault Collection.  

Unlike the later version this movie was shot primarily on a sound stage, which helped them to create some good special effects for which they got an Oscar nomination for. Though in my opinion I think they went a little overboard at times with it.  For example, they had to make a raft to get to shore, their sail to shore went far too long.  I understand shooting it but they kept on them sailing for far too long, just to show off their wave making ability.  This took time away that they could have used on showing more adventures on the island.  

From reviews that I have seen this version is more closely related to the Book than the 1960 version is.  The two most glaring differences that I noticed was that in the 1960 version there are 3 sons (Fritz, Ernst, & Francis), while in this movie there are 4 sons (Fritz, Jack, Ernst, & Francis).  Though there is a lot of similarities in the personalities of a couple of them.  Jack is essentially Ernst from the 1960 version and Ernst from this movie is more like Francis.  One other glaring difference that I was shocked to learn was that like in the book this movie had no pirates in it.  Though the description on Disney + says there are pirates.  

Though this movie doesn’t have the action that the later one did, I found it just as much fun to see what they came up with to make the island habitable.  While at the same time trying to figure a way to get off the island (for some of them anyway).  The acting in the movie was also quite good, and not to mention the Narrator of the movie Orson Welles (Uncredited).  The actors kept the movie going at the same pace throughout and made the movie enjoyable for the parts that were not marred by too many special effects.  

 Overall, I enjoyed my foray into this adventure I am doing.  Please bear with me as I work on my style and format for this.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Final Score: 3 out of 5

Next Review: Miracle on 34th Street                     

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