Swiss Family Robinson (DVD)
In both the commentary track and the 50-minute making-of featurette that accompany the DVD edition of Swiss Family Robinson, cast and crew alike peg the enduring appeal of the Disney studio's 1960 live-action adventure: Using cleverness and handicraft to build an idyllic, remote island paradise is "every man's fantasy." Disney apparently thought so, too: When the studio bought the rights to Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss' early-19th-century novel, it ditched just about everything but the central premise of a European family shipwrecked on an island. Disney asked director Ken Annakin and a team of technicians to brainstorm what they'd want to see in a desert-island picture, and once they'd established the basicspirates, exotic animals, elaborate treehousesthe whole plot was storyboarded and then handed over to screenwriter Lowell Hawley for dialogue. The resultant movie feels like an oversized serial comic strip, packed with action and light on plausibility. John Mills stars as the Robinson family's sage patriarch, Dorothy McGuire plays his wife, and James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk, and Kevin Corcoran play their three sons. Using what they can salvage from their ship and from the magnificently diverse local flora and fauna, the Robinsons carve out a rewarding life. Then the eldest sons, MacArthur and Kirk, set sail around the island and encounter Janet Munro, the prisoner of a pirate crew led by Bridge On The River Kwai villain Sessue Hayakawa. The second half of Swiss Family Robinson has the Swiss family devising traps and defenses against an imminent invasion. The film bears the unmistakable stamp of Disney's '50s and '60s live-action features, which took B-movie premises, drained the blood out, and applied a thick layer of "quality" polish. The technique still works: Swiss Family Robinson is soft, but comfortably so, and the origins of the film in "you know what would be cool?" bull sessions means that it still appeals to the lingering adolescent taste for daydreams. The DVD joins three other entries in the new "Vault Disney" collection (Old Yeller, The Parent Trap, and Pollyanna), which each match nice transfers of Disney live-action favorites with a second disc of related ephemera. The Swiss Family Robinson set contains a gem in home-movie footage of Mills' daughter Haley, visiting the Disneyworld recreation of the Robinson treehouse. To this day, the elaborate domicile remains a marvel of set design, capable of inspiring reveries from anyone who wants to live in the middle of nowhere, yet retain the comforts of home.