Swiss Family Robinson
Cast & Crew
In the early 1800s, the Robinson family, Father, Mother and sons Fritz, Ernst and Francis, flee Napoleon's influence in Switzerland to settle a new colony in New Guinea. Their ship, however, is beset by pirates, and while the family is trapped below decks, the rest of the crew abandons ship near the dangerous reefs. The ship soon founders, but the family manages to break out and, upon spotting land nearby, fashion a raft to reach the shore. After leading the family in prayer, Father and Mother begin arranging for a crude shelter, not realizing that a tiger is watching them closely. The next day, the males return to the shipwreck to empty it of supplies. When they soon spot the pirate ship that had earlier attacked them, Father hoists a quarantine flag that dupes the pirates into a retreat. They load months' worth of supplies, including goats, a donkey, birds and a pig, behind the raft, but the swimming animals attract the attention of sharks, who circle ominously. The boys are able to fend off the sharks by shooting at and stabbing them, and afterward, Ernst, the erudite brother, lassos a giant turtle that helps pull them to shore. On land, Mother searches for young Frances and finds him trapping a baby elephant. When the tiger attacks, the captain's dogs, Duke and Turk, whom Frances insisted on rescuing from the ship, come to his rescue. Soon, the elephant is put to use hauling logs for the family as they plan a treehouse fort. Although Mother worries that they are becoming too permanently settled on the island instead of searching for escape methods, and further declares that she and Frances will stay away until the structure is perfectly safe, the men labor to make the house a home. As soon as it is finished, they bring Mother to view the luxurious quarters, complete with running water, retractable stairs and a master bedroom with a sky view, and Mother is overcome with admiration. In the days that follow, she adds feminine finishing touches to the house while Ernst reads the ship's books and deduces that the island's many different kinds of animals, such as ostriches, zebra, hyenas and monkeys, must be the result of an earlier land bridge connecting it with Africa. Although they want to sail around the shore to ensure they really are on an island, rather than a peninsula, Mother remains fearful of the risk. One day, however, while they play in the river among the waterfalls, Father maneuvers Mother into insisting that they must escape their idyllic new home for the good of the boys, and agreeing to let them explore for that purpose. Fritz and Ernst construct a small sailboat and set forth. The trip begins peacefully, allowing them time to discuss their future plans and desire to return to Europe to flirt with girls. Soon, however, they catch sight of the pirate ship and, in their attempt to hide, find their boat overturned and dashed against the rocks. They swim to shore, where they see two English prisoners, Capt. Moreland and his grandson Bertie, tied up while the pirates argue in an Asian language. The pirates approach the prisoners, but after Moreland offers to write a ransom note, they agree to leave Bertie alone. The pirates move away to form a plan, affording Fritz and Ernst a chance to sneak over and free the Englishmen's bonds, but when the pirates spot them, Moreland insists they take Bertie and run. After a narrow escape, the boys manage to elude the bloodthirsty pirates, stealing one pistol along the way. They camp for the night, where Bertie declines to sleep with the brothers. The next day, upon reaching a river they must remove their clothes to cross, Bertie grabs the pistol and runs away, and when Fritz wrestles him to the ground, he discovers that Bertie is really Roberta, a young lady disguised as a boy to keep the pirates at bay. Soon, the brothers are competing to treat her as gently as possible, and Ernst though tries to impress her with literary quotations, Roberta is more attracted to Fritz's quiet strength. Their trip across the island is long and arduous, and while traversing a swamp, Fritz is attacked by an anaconda. In the ensuing struggle, Ernst helps drive the snake away, but loses the compass. Fritz insists that he can lead them back, maintaining his confidence even when Ernst and Roberta threaten to turn around without him. Soon after, they come upon a zebra stuck in a mud bog. After chasing away the hyenas and vultures that circle nearby, the trio manages to free the zebra and leads it toward home. Meanwhile, Father, Mother and Frances try to put their worries about the boys aside to celebrate Christmas. When Father sings, Mother breaks down, but is thrilled to hear the sound of her oldest sons joining in the song as they find their way back to the treehouse. She welcomes Roberta and clothes her in a lovely dress, the sight of which inspires the brothers to further acts of competition. Days later, Father decides to demolish the shipwreck so it will not signal their position to the pirates, and the boys offer suggestions for defense, including moving to an uphill location, building snares and homemade bombs, stockpiling ammunition and, at Frances' insistence, digging a pit in which to trap a tiger. During the preparations, Roberta proposes to Fritz that her grandfather could secure him a job in London, where she loves the society balls, but he replies that he would prefer to live off the land and help settle New Guinea. Although disappointed, Roberta, secretly a sharp-shooter, urges Fritz to teach her to use the ship's rifles. Her plan almost works and they are about to embrace when Ernst sees them and jealously starts a fight with his brother, which Father interrupts. That night, Roberta tearfully apologizes to Fritz for causing trouble between the brothers, and vows to leave him alone, as they want different kinds of lives. Just then, to everyone's shock, Frances' tiger trap proves successful, and the family places palm fronds over the mouth of the pit to hide the tiger below. The next day, Father leads a race, with each person riding a different wild animal. When Mother shoots the pistol as a starting signal, however, the noise reaches the pirate ship at sea, and they soon come ashore to attack. The family rushes to their uphill position, and use all of their homespun weapons to battle the pirates. Their ingenious inventions, including the tiger pit, are successful, but there are so many pirates the family cannot sustain their attack, and soon are in desperate straits. At that moment, the pirates begin to retreat, and although the Robinsons are at first puzzled, Roberta spots her grandfather's ship at sea and realizes he has returned to rescue them. At dinner in the treehouse, Moreland offers an ecstatic Ernst a position at a British university, and asks the parents whatever post they would prefer. Father is shocked and delighted when Mother declares that they would like to stay on the island with Frances, and Moreland asserts that, as the British will soon settle the island, Father is sure to be named governor. In private, Roberta tells Fritz that she understands Mother's decision, and he agrees that he, too, would like to stay, as long as she will stay with him. This time, when Ernst catches them kissing, he quietly retreats, and later waves goodbye to his family, certain to return soon to visit their idyllic island.
John S. Dennis
Lowell S. Hawley
John L. Jensen
Gordon K. Mccallum
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Johann Wyss, a Swiss minister, originally wrote the book in 1812 for his four sons in order to impart life lessons about family values and self-reliance. Walt Disney believed that it had all the makings for a grand family adventure film that would be perfect for Disney audiences. The Swiss Family Robinson had been made into a movie before in 1940, but Disney wanted to put his own stamp on it.
In 1959 Disney discussed the project with director Ken Annakin, with whom he had previously collaborated on The Sword and the Rose (1953) and Third Man on the Mountain (1959). Annakin loved the idea and jumped on board with enthusiasm. Disney was just as excited. "There are endless possibilities," he told Annakin. "What I'd like you to do is to start thinking of all the things you'd like to happen to that family if it were yours. Think of anything, no matter how crazy!"
Soon Annakin and Disney were meeting every morning at Disney Studios with a handful of other executives to discuss how best to bring Swiss Family Robinson to the big screen Disney-style. "What we did was more or less throw Wyss' book away," said Annakin in a 2002 interview. The original story was tweaked to include a new female love interest (Janet Munro) for one of the sons as well as a subplot about pirates attacking the island.
Walt Disney brought in the accomplished sketch artist John Jensen to storyboard the new ideas for Swiss Family Robinson, specifically for the action packed second half of the picture involving the pirates. Jensen's work, according to Annakin, was an invaluable contribution to the final film, with much of the film's dialogue directly inspired by Jensen's sketches. "As a director," said Annakin in his 2001 book So You Wanna Be a Director?, "I discovered that there is nothing, no matter how way-out it may seem, that cannot be broken down in sketches to its essential elements. Then, you and everyone, the camera crew, the special effects, stunt people-everyone in the team can see the magic they are going to achieve, before a foot of film is exposed."
Once the script was ready and the film was cast, Walt Disney told Annakin and the production team to start scouting for locations to be used for the Robinsons' tropical island paradise. They looked at Jamaica and Trinidad first, but neither area was right. However, a local in Trinidad told them about a nearby island about 25 miles north called Tobago that might be exactly what they were looking for.
When Annakin and his team arrived in Tobago to check it out, they fell instantly in love. It had six different beaches, a giant tree for the Robinsons' famous treehouse, swamps, mountains, and four hotels that could comfortably accommodate the cast and crew for the duration of the shoot. It was perfect. After Disney's approval, the studio told the actors and crew to get their shots and passports in order and prepare for a six month location adventure of a lifetime.
"I've been all over the world to shooting locations," said John Mills in a 2002 interview about Swiss Family Robinson, "and I don't think I've ever been to a more lovely location." The remote island was stunning and practically untouched in 1959. "Unlike a sugar island like Barbados," he said in his 1981 autobiography Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen Please, "it was lush; the scenery was varied and very beautiful. I was lucky to see it before it became popular, with the inevitable golf course and noisy water sports. It was simple and totally unspoilt: miles of empty golden beaches lapped by the sea which was full of exotic and highly-coloured fish that, as they were never shot, were so tame they poked their noses against our facemasks as we swam amongst them."
Before shooting began on the island, the crew had to build all of the outdoor sets from scratch with materials specially shipped in from Trinidad. The elaborate Robinson family treehouse was the crowning glory of the set pieces. "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," said Ken Annakin. Dozens of animals were also shipped in from all over the globe including 8 dogs, 2 giant tortoises, 40 monkeys, 2 elephants, 6 ostriches, 4 zebras, 100 flamingos, 6 hyenas, 2 anacondas, and a tiger.
Although Tobago was beautiful, the shooting conditions were often treacherous, especially with the actors doing many of their own stunts, which included being dragged through dangerous currents, wading through murky swamps, swinging from vines across a river, dodging explosives, wrestling snakes, and weathering a typhoid epidemic and hurricane. John Mills described the various difficulties in a 1959 interview with the London Evening News: "If a scorpion doesn't bite me during the night I get into the car, and if it doesn't skid off the edge of a cliff, I reach the mangrove swamp. I walk through; and if I'm not sucked in by a quick-sand, eaten alive by land crabs, or bitten by a snake, I reach the beach. I change on the beach, trying to avoid being devoured by insects, and walk into the sea. If there are no sharks or barracudas about, we get the shot and then do the whole thing in reverse, providing, of course, we haven't died of sunstroke in the meantime."
The close quarters and shared difficulties led to a bonding experience between all the actors, who became fast friends. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for the crew, who, according to Ken Annakin, were miserable. "We had a crew that were fighting all the time," said Annakin in a 2002 interview, "they were a British crew, and they were grumpy and mad at everybody. They didn't want to be there. They wanted to go home. And it became very difficult for the Production Manager to keep them there. So he took all their passports away from them."
When principal photography finally wrapped on Swiss Family Robinson, Annakin discovered that there was a problem with the sound: almost every word of recorded dialogue was unusable. Therefore, the entire cast was brought back to England for 28 days where they re-recorded every word in the picture at Pinewood Studios.
At $4.5 million, Swiss Family Robinson was a very expensive film for Walt Disney Studios. However, Walt Disney himself couldn't have been more pleased with the results, calling it "one of the greatest adventure stories of all time." Audiences adored the film, which quickly became one of Disney's biggest hits. "In this grand adventure yarn, based on Johann Wyss' family classic and stunningly photographed in color in the West Indies," said the New York Times review, "Mr. Disney is one jump (or two days) ahead of Santa with a seasonal treat from his own bag...any parent who denies it to the kids deserves to be ship-wrecked on a remote island, at least till the new year." Variety said, "Photographically, it is a striking achievement...Several sequences have a heap of genuine excitement, particularly the opening raft scene in which the family battles treacherous ocean currents to get from wrecked ship to island."
Producer: Bill Anderson; Walt Disney (uncredited producer)
Director: Ken Annakin
Screenplay: Lowell S. Hawley; Johann Wyss (novel)
Cinematography: Harry Waxman
Music: William Alwyn
Film Editing: Peter Boita
Cast: John Mills (Father Robinson), Dorothy McGuire (Mother Robinson), James MacArthur (Fritz Robinson), Janet Munro (Roberta 'Bertie'), Sessue Hayakawa (Kuala, Pirate Chief), Tommy Kirk (Ernst Robinson), Kevin Corcoran (Francis Robinson), Cecil Parker (Captain Moreland), Andy Ho (Auban).
by Andrea Passafiume
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Sir John Mills (1908-2005)
Born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills in Norfolk, England on February 22, 1908. His father was a headmaster of a village school in Suffolk, where Mills was raised. After secondary school, he worked as a clerk in a corn merchant's office while acting in amateur dramatic societies. Ever ambitious, he relocated to London in 1928 to find more work as an actor.
He took tap-dancing lessons and made his stage debut as a chorus boy in The Five O'Clock Girl at the London Hippodrome in 1929. Later that year, he joined an acting troupe that toured India and the Far East with a repertory of modern plays, musical comedies and Shakespeare. It was during this tour when he scored his big break - he was spotted by Noel Coward while in Singapore and promptly taken under the playwright's wing when he returned to London in 1931.
On his return, he starred on the West End (London's Broadway), in Coward's Cavalcade and earned the lead in a production of Charley's Aunt. His song and dance talents came in handy for his film debut, an early British musical-comedy The Midshipmaid (1932). His biggest hits over the next few years would all fall into the genre of light comic-musicals: Britannia of Billingsgate (1933), Royal Cavalcade (1935), and Four Dark Hours(1937). He scored a his first big part as Robert Donat's student in the MGM backed production Mills went on to play Robert Donat's Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). He developed some more heft to his acting credentials that same year when he made his debut at the celebrated Old Vic Theatre as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
He served briefly in the Navy, 1940-41, during World War II before receiving a medical discharge. When Mills returned to the screen, he began a great turn as the atypical sturdy, dignified Englishman ("English without tears" went the popular phrase of the day). He starred as a stalwart lead in a amazing string of hit films: In Which We Serve (1942), We Dive at Dawn (1943), This Happy Breed (1944), The Way to the Stars (1945), and Waterloo Road (1945). Although Mills was ever dependable, they did not show his breakout talents until he starred as Pip in David Lean's gorgeous adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (1946). As the young orphan who morphs into a man of wealth and stature, Mills showed the depth as an actor by offering a finely modulated performance.
By the late '40s, Mills was a bona fide star of British films, and over the next decade the strong roles kept coming: as the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (1948); Bassett, the handy man who tries to help a troubled child (the brilliant John Howard Davies) of greedy, neglectful parents in the superb domestic drama The Rocking Horse Winner (1950); an overprotective father who gets trapped in a murder yarn in Mr. Denning Drives North (1952); a fine Willie Mossop in David Lean's Hobson's Choice (1954); an impressive "against-type" performance as a Russian peasant in War and Peace (1956); a sympathetic police inspector coaxing the trust of a juvenile (his daughter Hayley) who knows the facts of a murder case in the underappreciated Tiger Bay (1959); a rowdy Australian sheep shearer in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (also 1959); and arguably his finest performance - a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for a hard-as-nails army colonel who fears the loss of control over his regiment in Tunes of Glory (1960).
The mid-60s saw an isolated effort as a film director: Gypsy Girl (which starred his other daughter Juliet - who would later find fame on US television in Nanny and the Professor (1970-72); and showed the development of Mills into a charming character actor: the working-class patriarch in the modest comedy The Family Way (starring Hayley as his daughter); and a terrific comic bit as a murderous Lord who tries to kill off his kin for the family inheritance in Bryan Forbes The Wrong Box (all 1966).
By the '70s, his film work slowed considerably, but he was always worth watching: an Oscar winning performance as a mute villager in David Lean¿s study of the Irish troubles Ryan's Daughter (1970); as the influential General Herbert Kitchener Young Winston (1972); and as a driven oil driller in Oklahoma Crude (1973). With the exception of a small role in Sir Richard Attenborough's Ghandi (1982 - where he was credited as Sir John Mills after his knighthood in 1976), and a regrettable cameo in the deplorable Madonna comedy Who's That Girl (1987).
Very little was seen of Mills until recent years, where the most memorable of his appearances included: Old Norway in Hamlet (1996); as the stern chairman opposite Rowan Atkinson in the hit comedy Bean (1997); and - in a daring final role for his proud career - a nonagenarian partygoing cocaine user in Stephen Fry's bawdy social satire Bright Young Things (2003)! Mills is survived by his wife of 64 years, the novelist and playwright Mary Hayley Bell; his daughters, Juliet and Hayley; son, John; and several grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Sir John Mills (1908-2005)
The world is full of nice, ordinary little people who live in nice, ordinary little houses on the ground. But didn't you ever dream of a house up on a tree top?- Father Robinson
No! Mostly I dream of having a house in New Guinnea.- Mother Robinson
It's wonderful for today, but what about tomorrow?- Mother
Do you like the sea, Fritz?- Roberta 'Bertie'
I like things you can depend on. The sea, you can never be sure of it.- Fritz Robinson
Well, that's the fun of it. Not being sure of things.- Roberta 'Bertie'
Do you read a lot, Fritz?- Roberta 'Bertie'
Who, him? He practically doesn't ever read at all!- Ernst Robinson
Never really needed to. Sooner or later, Ernst tells me everything he knows.- Fritz Robinson
An opening credit reads: "This picture was filmed on the island of Tobago, the West Indies." Unlike all previous Buena Vista releases, in which the company is credited onscreen as "Buena Vista Film Distribution Co., Inc," the Swiss Family Robinson credits mark the first time the company is listed as "Buena Vista Distribution Co., Inc." The publication on which the film was based originated with Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss (1743-1818), who told the story verbally to his sons. The story was first published in 1812-13 under the title Der schweizerische Robinson and was subsequently re-published several times by different authors, each of whom added and subtracted material.
Of the many publications, the first to use the title Swiss Family Robinson was an 1818 version, and the first version registered with the Library of Congress has a publication date circa 1872. Reviews noted that the Walt Disney version added even more adventures to the book's storyline, including the romantic rivalry, the pirate attack and the wild animal race, and deleted most of the depictions of the difficulties of creating a comfortable life on a deserted island.
Associate producer Basil Keys stated in a December 1960 Saturday Evening Post article that Disney and producer Bill Anderson decided to make their version of the film after viewing the 1940 RKO version (directed by Edward Ludwig and starring Thomas Mitchell and Edna Best; see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). According to a July 1959 Los Angeles Times article, director Ken Annakin used the 1940 version as "an example of what not to do," eschewing the earlier film's studio reproductions and focusing instead on realistic location shooting and art direction.
In November 1957, Hollywood Reporter reported that Lawrence E. Watkin would write the adaptation, and in June 1958 a Hollywood Reporter news item declared that the story would be shot for a television series. By early 1959, however, Hollywood Reporter items noted that the film was set as a theatrical release, and in March 1959 Lowell S. Hawley was signed to write the screenplay. Although a February 1959 Hollywood Reporter item reported that filming would take place in Kenya, the only shooting to take place outside of Tobago was some interior shooting in England.
The following information was taken from studio press materials: Anderson persuaded Disney to film on Tobago, necessitating the creation of a makeshift studio there. Over three hundred crew members, plus period props and equipment were shipped in from America and Europe. Over two hundred animals and birds were brought to the island, where a zoo was constructed to hold them. Production lasted for six months, with photography taking place on thirty sites throughout Tobago. Local towns and townspeople were paid or hidden so they would not show up in the backgrounds; the studio paid Tobagan homeowners $20 to paint their houses green so they would blend into the hillsides. Hurricane Edith interrupted filming with torrential rains and the loss of many temporary stages. In addition to the massive treehouse set, built from scratch in a saman tree, and a working sea craft, the crew also erected a wrecked ship set. That model, featuring two 60-foot steel towers, was modeled on Capt. Cook's Endeavour. The final cost of the film was $5 million, a figure, according to a Saturday Evening Post article, that was a half million over budget. John Mills's autobiography adds Freddie Clarke as Mills's stand-in and a stunt man.
The reviews of Swiss Family Robinson were mostly positive, although many critics noted the story's lack of realism, especially in the scenes in which the house is built and the pirates are fought. The picture became one of Disney's top-grossing films. After the original release, Disney created a feature at his Disneyland amusement park called the Swiss Family Treehouse, a 70-foot reproduction of the family home. A promotional teaser for the film, entitled "Escape to Paradise," aired on Walt Disney Presents on 18 December 1960.
The studio re-issued the film in 1969, 1972, 1975 and 1981 and released it on home video in 1982. The many other film and television versions of Wyss's book include a 1903 silent film by S. Lubin Productions (see AFI Catalog. Film Beginnings, 1893-1910); the 1940 RKO version discussed above; a 1975 television movie, directed by Harry Harris and starring Martin Milner and Pat Delany; a television series entitled The Adventures of Swiss Family Robinson, starring Richard Thomas, which ran from 1Sep-October 15, 1998; and a 1995 television movie called The New Swiss Family Robinson, directed by Stewart Rafill and starring James Keach and Jane Seymour. In June 2005, Walt Disney Pictures announced that it would be producing another version of the film, with Jonathan Mostow set to direct.
Released in United States 1960
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1960
Released in United States on Video July 17, 1992
Released in USA on video as part of Walt Disney's Family Film Collection.
Released in United States 1960
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1960
Released in United States on Video July 17, 1992