Family Movie Night Review: Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

Since we were out of town yesterday, we had to skip family movie night for the first time since its inception. (Figures, since I’m launching my weekly review today.)  Let me instead take you back two weeks to one of our new family favorites, Swiss Family Robinson. Two of my boys (ages 8 and 11) read the abridged version of the book and loved it, so I was excited to see their reaction when the movie began.

*We make it a policy not to reveal any information about the movie before the title appears on the screen.  This prevents complaints or requests to engage in other activities, and instead builds suspense and anticipation for our time together. Knowing this is the rule does not prevent them from trying to figure it out ahead of time, but all questions are met with the threat of no movie at all (we’re pretty mean, I know), and the questions cease promptly.

But, I digress.  The movie began, and I was not disappointed as the smile widened on my eight-year old’s face. All of the children were pleasantly surprised to find their favorite character from Pollyanna, which we had watched the previous week, playing the role of Francis in SFR:  the inimitable child actor Kevin Corcoran.  (The movie also stars John Mills, father to Hayley Mills, who stars in Pollyanna; small world.)  Corcoran quickly became a favorite once more, as the impetuous and imaginative youngest Robinson son.

This movie runs long (126 minutes). We had to watch it in two nights, but it is full of fun and adventure.  The basic premise is that of a family heading by boat to New Guinea, when they are shipwrecked and left stranded on a deserted, tropical island.  Using the contents of the ship and the island’s resources, they build a life for themselves there, while waiting to be rescued and preparing a defense against invading pirates.

All of my children loved it (so did my husband and I) and gave it an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.  The two boys who read the book were disappointed that the movie was nothing like the original story.  My oldest didn’t care for the inclusion of the book’s surprise ending halfway through the movie or the additional focus on pirates, which were never even mentioned in the book.  Even so, the boys were undeterred in their enjoyment of the film, which starred not only the Robinson family but also a wide variety of real animals (of great appeal to children of all ages) and fantastic architecture (the “tree house” they build is nothing short of phenomenal).

There is a bit of peril and violence, as well as a bit of romance, but no one seemed to be bothered by it and much of it is filmed comically.  When my three year old saw the tiger for the first time, she shouted, “Kill it! Kill it!” with great gusto, surprising us all.  At her young age, she is still easily frightened by troubling or suspenseful scenes, even in the tamest of Disney movies, so we try to defer to her emotional needs.  But, she had a blast and got into the action with a lot of enthusiasm.  She even renamed her dearest stuffed animal Turk, after one of the dogs in the movie.

Not only was viewing the movie great fun, it also captured their imaginations for days afterward.  They explored in the backyard, built cardboard homes outside with recycled boxes, drew pictures of the island and characters, made up related stories, pretended to be the Robinson family, and talked endlessly about their favorite parts of the movie.

As a family, we highly recommend this film to your family, and hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

You can read more here to find out why I started the Family Movie Night Review.  What are some of your favorite family films?

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