Film / Swiss Family Robinson

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Swiss Family Robinson is a 1960 Disney Film of the Book of Johann Wyss' The Swiss Family Robinson. A much more compact and story-driven production than the original, it was a well-reviewed family-friendly hit. It follows the spirit of Wyss' basic Crusoe-but-a-whole-family premise while adding a human threat from the beginning to provide the climactic ultimate test of the family's resourcefulness.

At the opening of the story, the titular family (a couple and three boys) are trying desperately to save the cargo ship they are on during a huge storm. The captain of the ship had deliberately sailed into the storm to escape from a pirate ship, but it became severe enough that everyone abandoned ship and left the Robinsons with no lifeboats for themselves. Eventually, the ship runs aground near an island, and the storm ends. The pirates, who have followed the ship, approach, but Mr. Robinson flies the flag indicating that the Black Death is aboard and the pirates retreat. The family then build some rafts and ferry themselves and as many supplies as they can out to the island.

Everyone in the family proves to be extremely resourceful and together construct a comfortable and secure set of treehouses. Once they feel safe, Mr. Robinson builds a small sailing boat and the two older sons Fritz and Ernst sail around the shore of the island exploring. They come upon the pirates once again, and find that they have captured an old man and his son from another ship. Sneaking up to save them, Fritz and Ernst only manage to get away with the boy, Bertie, who ends up actually being Roberta. The three return to the Robinson base, and begin to prepare defenses against impending retribution from the pirates.

The film was a big hit upon release, and continues to be one of the highest grossing films of all time, adjusted for inflation.


Tropes used include

  • Adapted Out: In the book, there were four sons. Jack was the third eldest after Ernst, but didn't make it into the film. Some of his characteristics can be found in Francis, though...
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the original novel, Roberta is named, depending on the translation, either Jenny or Emily. Also, one of the dogs was a female named Juno in the novel, but becomes a male named Duke in the film.
  • All Asians Wear Conical Straw Hats: Some of the Asiatic pirates wear these
  • Anachronism Stew: The movie is supposedly set sometime during The Napoleonic Wars, but contains plenty of anachronisms. The female fashions are Victorian, not Napoleonic. The song "O Christmas Tree" was first published in 1824, nearly a decade after the Battle of Waterloo. And while we're at it, the tradition of Christmas trees was largely unknown outside of the upper Rhineland in Napoleonic times. Ernst cites land bridge theory (since discredited following the acceptance of plate tectonics) to explain the island's Misplaced Wildlife, but land bridge theory wasn't even developed until the 1850s.
  • Animal Assassin: Francis has the idea of capturing the tiger so as to let him loose on the invading pirates.
  • Annoying Arrows: One of the traps the family sets is a collapsing bridge flanked by crossbows. The fired bolts do little more than anger the pirates, who pull them out and continue their assault.
  • Bamboo Technology: And how. Father, Fritz and Ernst build an absolutely massive treehouse (which became a popular attraction at Disneyland later) which has running water, a cooler, even a skylight. To combat the pirates, they make grenades using coconuts, gunpowder and cannon fuses.
  • Big Damn Heroes / The Cavalry: Roberta's grandfather arrives with his ship just as the Robinsons are running out of ammo to fend off the pirates.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Francis, who wants to make a pet out of everything on the island and get first dibs on several activities.
  • Canine Companion: Duke and Turk, the dogs of the captain who headed the voyage which brought the family to the island.
  • Canon Foreigner: The pirates do not appear in the original novel
  • Cool Pet: A pretty good haul of these. Francis finds and tames a baby elephant, then a monkey shows up, then Fritz and Ernst save a zebra, and finally the family adopt an ostrich.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Not one of the family has a problem with killing the pirates. Also, Mr. Robinson giving Francis a crossbow for Christmas.
  • Deserted Island: Though the ending suggests that a new colony will begin.
  • Food and Animal Attraction: This shows up using a banana and the family's pet monkey.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Roberta explains that her grandfather made her disguise herself as a boy to "protect" her from the pirates. Later, during the attack on the island, when she offers to surrender herself to them to the pirates, Fritz says (roughly), "You don't look like a boy anymore, you know what will happen to you?", thus implying that she'll be raped and/or made into their Sex Slave if her true gender is known.
  • Girly Girl: Roberta, apparently. She disliked being disguised as a boy and was happy when she could be traditionally feminine again.
  • Guile Hero: Mr. Robinson, when the pirate ship first shows up, scares them back off by hoisting the quarantine flag, rather than risk any kind of direct engagement. Once it comes time to defend their new home and Roberta, he gets his sons working on traps and snares to prepare, saving the remaining guns as a last resort.
  • Hands-On Approach: Roberta wanting Fritz to teach her how to fire a gun. When Ernst tries to continue the lesson, Roberta claims Fritz already taught her enough and she fires off a shot so perfect that it's obvious she actually already knew how to shoot the entire time.
  • Happily Married: Mr. & Mrs. Robinson
  • The Horde: No matter how many pirates get shot, blown up, knocked off the cliff, or flattened by rocks or logs during the climactic battle, there never seem to be any fewer than there were to begin with. There is a scene that shows one of the pirates signalling reinforcements to depart from their ship.
  • I Choose to Stay: That's what the parents and Francis choose after the Captain offers them passage elsewhere, with the Captain noting that Papa Robinson will likely be appointed governor of the new colony. Fritz and Roberta also opt to stay on the island together.
  • Jungles Sound Like Kookaburras: A kookaburra can be heard on the deserted tropical island. In the original novel, the family is shipwrecked in the East Indies (which definitely isnít kookaburra territory), but at least they were on their way to Australia.
  • Like A Daughter To Me. Mrs. Robinson adores her boys, but the way she visibly lights up when she meets Roberta and enjoys fixing her up shows that she's always wanted a girl as well.
  • The Load: Try counting how many times Francis needs to be rescued, or just causes trouble without thinking.
    • Roberta starts out as this when Fritz and Ernst first rescue her from the pirates. This is actually out of fear that they themselves will discover her true gender. By the time they realize she's a girl, things improve and she's able to keep up with them.
  • Love Triangle: Both Fritz and Ernst become quite smitten with Roberta, leading to several fights between them.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Oh so very averted. Let's just say this movie was made in a different era and leave it at that.
  • No Name Given: As in the original story, the boys' mother and father are merely addressed as, well, Mother and Father.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Apparently, a cap is all it takes to make the obviously female Roberta look like a boy. If that cap is removed, even with the rest of her "disguise" still in place, she is "revealed" to be a girl.
  • Pit Trap: The family dig a whole bunch of these, one of which, to the surprise of everyone but Francis, successfully catches a tiger.
  • Robinsonade: Heck, they even share the name somewhat. A bit less so than in the original book, but still a very strong castaway tale.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Ernst and Fritz, respectively.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: All the Robinson men—even the Happily Married Mr. Robinson—go ga-ga over Roberta once Mrs. Robinson fixes her up and puts her in a dress.
  • The Siege: The family and Roberta together have to protect their home from an onslaught of angry pirates.
  • Translation Convention: The titular Swiss family is presumably speaking German in-universe. Okay, fair enough, but how then do they communicate so effortlessly with the English girl Roberta? And when Kuala speaks in broken English, is it really broken German?
  • Trap Master: Pretty much the entire family, as evidenced by the final siege of their home.
  • Tree Top Town: Eventually the Robinson home becomes a small one of these, and a very nice one too.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: The Robinson men spend much of the film without their shirts on, although with their navels always remaining safely covered. As for the women, they're apparently content to swelter in their Pimped-Out Dresses.
  • War Refugees: It's mentioned that the family fled Europe to escape from The Napoleonic Wars. (The original book was published while the Napoleonic Wars were still in progress, but it does not actually mention them.)
  • Wholesome Cross Dresser: Roberta, initially known as Bertie, was disguised by her grandfather to protect her from worse treatment from the pirates.
  • You No Take Candle: Kuala, the head of the pirates, tends to talk this way.
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