Movies My Dad Likes For Christmas: Swiss Family Robinson [1960]


When you stop to think, it always seems that Christmas Day is followed by Christmas Day and everything between is just a microsecond in hyperspace, so perhaps we should rename it as Groundhog Day. So once more it’s up at dawn to prepare an oversized dinner that nobody could ever finish while the guests rip apart parcels that took loving care to wrap. When the brain becomes fuddled in the late afternoon due to an excessive intake of supermarket wine and newly acquired blood soaked zombie movies have been played out, it’s time to start on those preselected entertainment gems from your DVD collection.

To begin with it’s best to have something for the whole family that cannot offend anyone and I have therefore chosen Walt Disney’s production of Swiss Family Robinson, an adventure story with the ever-popular John Mills. A family on route to New Guinea for a new life are shipwrecked due to a violent storm and find themselves on the rocks close to an uncharted large tropical island. This may seem a fairy story in today’s satellite mapped world, but back in1812 when the novel, upon which the story is loosely based, was written it must have been a realistic possibility. Being Swiss the family name is obviously not Robinson, which was used by the author to make a connection with Robinson Crusoe another immortal novel written a century earlier. Their family name is never spoken in the movie nor the Christian names of the parents who call each other Father and Mother. John Mills plays Father and with Dorothy McGuire in the role of Mother it’s a sure sign that these are good people.

Perhaps the title could have been Swiss Family Resourceful as Father with the aid of three sons build a raft and salvages everything of use from the wreck, including weapons, tools, food and livestock, which is aplenty. They then set about building a tree house fit for royalty with running water, fridge and a stove for cooking. The youngest son captures a baby elephant, which comes in useful for their building project. Yes, the island has plenty of wild animals some of which, including the elephant, being the only examples of their species to be found. A sort of cross between a zoo and a half of Noah’s Ark. But this leads to many adventures as the boys use some of them as transport. If you happen to be an overzealous animal rights campaigner then this is not a movie for you.

The two older brothers set sail in their homemade boat to try and circumnavigate the island. Fritz the eldest is a grafter while his brother Ernst is more academic and full of ideas, this combination has served the family well, that is until they come across a pirate crew. These are of course the bad guys who have taken a sea captain and what appears to be a cabin boy hostage. The brothers manage to free the boy who turns out to be a girl. Having lost the boat it’s a long and arduous walk back to their island home with new companion Roberta. With plenty of dangers along the way and hormone levels rising the brothers experience jealousy as they compete for Roberta’s affections.

There’s a jolly celebration for Christmas with music and dancing before the family and their new arrival prepare to repel the expected attack by the pirates. Taking the high ground they set all kinds of homemade traps and explosive gizmos. But before battle commences there’s just time for some fun with a mixed animal race. My money was on Ernst riding an ostrich but the animal had no sense of direction. Then the pirates arrive and it’s showdown time. There are comic scenes of slapstick as the traps and gizmos hold back the band of pirates but eventually they make ground. Just as things begin to look serious for our intrepid defenders a galleon appears and blast the bad guys and their ships to kingdom come. With the opportunity to leave the island and return to civilisation most opt to stay, well who wouldn’t.


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