Making the Grades
Setting up home in a tree on an uninhabited island isn't exactly what the Robinson family had in mind when they left their native Switzerland and headed to New Guinea. But a violent ocean storm and a shipload of marauding pirates leaves the parents (John Mills and Dorothy McGuire) and their three sons stranded in an uncharted tropical location.
Still, being cast away on an island doesn't seem so bad when the family is able to scavenge what they need from the marooned boat, including housewares, tools and a small herd of farm animals. Once they are done setting up a temporary household, the older boys Fritz (James MacArthur) and Ernst (Tommy Kirk) convince their parents to let them sail around the island and see what they can find. Leaving their youngest brother Francis (Kevin Corcoran) to care for his growing menagerie of exotic pets, the older siblings head off on an exploration trip.
Anchored in another isle inlet, they discover the band of pirates that chased their boats into the rocks. The leader and his men are holding two captives. Sneaking up behind the prisoners, the two boys manage to free the cabin boy (Janet Munro) before the pirates discover them but are unable to rescue the captain (Cecil Parker). Without a canoe to continue their journey, the brothers and young sailor set off across the island.
Realizing the buccaneers know their whereabouts, the Robinsons take precautions to fight off the invaders. Building a fortress at the top of a hill, they outfit it with coconut bombs, a myriad of booby traps, guns and ammunition.
Filmed in 1960, this family movie is set in an idyllic location and packed with enough adventure, suspense and unexpected surprises to engage most older children. While the battle with pirates has some tense moments, the lighthearted musical score underplays (for good or bad) the serious nature of the attack, the gunfire, the booby traps and the hand-to-hand combat that results in men being thrown over a cliff. Even a stalking tiger and large water snake appear to be less dangerous than they would in real life.
Instead the film portrays the epitome of childhood fantasy where the family's large tree house contains rope bridges, separate bedrooms built in the branches and a retractable ladder. Francis' pets include an elephant, an ostrich, a donkey, a zebra and two large dogs. Afternoons are spent swinging in the trees or swimming in the watering hole.
While parts of the film may seem dated or even politically incorrect for today, the story, based on a book by Johann David Wyss, will likely leave the kids scouring the neighborhood for a tree where they reenact their own version of Swiss Family Robinson.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Swiss Family Robinson.
Once they are marooned, what does the family do to ensure their survival? How do their different talents and skills benefit the group? How does their experience help them bond with one another?
Why did the family choose to leave Switzerland? What things did they leave behind? What did they hope to find in a new country?