Friday, December 12, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Swiss Family Robinson (1960) at the El Capitan Theatre

Last night was another great evening at Disney's El Capitan Theatre, featuring a Throwback Thursday screening of SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960).

A reissue of SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON was one of the earliest Disney films I saw in a theater as a child, sometime after MARY POPPINS (1964) and THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967). SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON made a big impression on me as a young viewer, especially the opening storm sequence, which I found very scary as a youngster, and the climactic battle with pirates.

I'm not certain I'd watched the film in its entirety since that early viewing, so I was very excited to see it once more on the giant screen at the El Capitan.

The family of the late director Ken Annakin were in attendance for the showing. Annakin, who passed away in 2009, also directed Disney's THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN (1952), THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953), and THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN (1959), which starred James MacArthur and Janet Munro, who also costarred in SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. Prior to the screening an interview clip of Annakin was shown in which he described working with Kevin "Moochie" Corcoran and what a game little boy he was to try stunts.

Corcoran, who played young Francis in SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, was on hand in person for the screening and shared his memories in an interview with Disney Studios Archivist Becky Cline. Corcoran said that in his career he found that the best directors and filmmakers had "a twinkle in their eye" as they conveyed what they wanted, excited about the magic of the story they were telling. Corcoran said that Annakin was such a director, and he also cited Walt Disney and Henry King, who directed him in UNTAMED (1955).

Corcoran praised his costars, saying that they were all very interesting people to spend time with, and he particularly mentioned his admiration of Dorothy McGuire, who had also played his mother in OLD YELLER (1957); he said she was a lovely person. He had also previously worked with his SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON brother, Tommy Kirk, in OLD YELLER.

Corcoran described what it was like to spend his childhood years on the Disney lot, where during his "recess" from the school trailer he would wander the halls of the animation building, chatting with the animators and watching the creation of films such as SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) when they were works in progress. He seemed to really appreciate the adventures he had and the people he spent time with thanks to his childhood career.

As for the movie, it was a grand experience which almost didn't seem long enough, even clocking in at 126 minutes -- the mark of a really entertaining movie! What a joy.

The well-known story tells of Father (John Mills) and Mother (McGuire) Robinson, who planned to move from Switzerland to New Guinea, being shipwrecked next to a deserted tropical island with their sons (Corcoran, Kirk, and MacArthur).

Not knowing how long it will be before a ship passes by to rescue them, the Robinsons salvage everything they can from the ship and build a treehouse. They begin to love their unexpected life on the island, and the boys like it even better when they rescue young Roberta (Munro) from pirates, although she's also the cause of squabbles, as each of the older boys is attracted to her.

The film is only loosely adapted from the book -- my grandparents had a beautiful old copy I read as a child, and I was surprised, among other things, to learn there were four sons in the book, not three.

It's all a total fantasy, of course -- more than once I wondered what they'd do without a doctor if they were injured in their various daring activities -- but isn't that part of the fun? How wonderful to imagine that a father and his sons could build such a spectacular multilevel treehouse in almost no time at all, or create so many ways to fight off a pirate attack!

The film also happens to make good Christmastime viewing, as there is an extended Christmas sequence, during which the family sings "O Christmas Tree" and the "Swisskapolka" is played. Hearing that polka music took me back to my childhood climbing in the Swiss Family Treehouse at Disneyland.

It's all very inventive and beautifully filmed in Panavision on Tobago by Harry Waxman.

This is a "family movie" in the best sense of the word. I had a thoroughly good time and won't wait so many years before my next viewing!

SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON is available on a 2-disc Vault Disney DVD with many extras. It also came out on VHS in 2004.

October 2015 Update: Disney Actor Kevin Corcoran Dies at 66.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

How great to have Kevin Corcoran there talking about the experience. Sounds like a marvelous evening.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

This has been a favorite family movie of ours for years too. Did you happen to catch the humorously obvious continuity error, with the pirate captain's coat changing colors between shots? :)

6:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

How funny, Elisabeth, I must admit I didn't notice and will be watching for it next time around!

Jacqueline, it was nice to hear from a child actor who had such positive memories. It sounded from the way he spoke as though he and his siblings all had good experiences workings in movies.

You both would have really enjoyed this screening, I'm sure! :)

Best wishes,

1:19 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

While I haven't seen the original Swiss Family Robinson,I did enjoy the remake with Martin Milner that went on to become a short run TV series. I always liked the premise but often wondered what the family would do in a medical emergency. Disney kids were a lot more well grounded back then in today's world,that is for sure!


5:47 PM  

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