Saturday, 8 April 2017

Walt's Era - Part 12: Disney in Transition, Part 1 (1960)

1960 was the second-half of a losing fiscal year for Disney. The company's feature films were not its best line-up by any stretch of the imagination, and its television business went up in smoke. Walt Disney Productions bought out ABC's share of Disneyland and canceled The Mickey Mouse Club and Zorro at the height of their popularity. Walt Disney Presents also ran out its ABC contract with a few Zorro one-off episodes, Moochie of Pop Warner Football (further cementing Kevin Corcoran's status in the company), and trying to recapture the spirit of Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone.

On the plus side, the studios negotiated with NBC to begin Wonderful World of Color once the contract with ABC ran out. The company also bought out Western Printing's and Walt Disney's personal shares in Disneyland, making the themepark a wholly owned subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions. Disney also staged the Winter Olympic opening ceremonies in Squaw Valley that year, and this was the year that preparation began on Mary Poppins. The Sherman Brothers were hired on to the company and negotiations began in earnest with P.L. Travers. Walt had been trying to get the rights to the book since 1938, and only now was Travers even remotely sensitive to the dollars Walt waved in front of her face.

These conditions lead to another transitional period for Disney, only a decade after they found their post-war footing. Of course, a company like Disney is always facing new challenges and opportunities, but 1959/60 really seemed to mark the end of a period begun in 1950, reaching its apotheosis in 1954/55. True-Life Adventures and People and Places came to an end, Disneyland reached its most complete form until the additions and renovations of 1965-67, their relationship with ABC came to an end, a new suite of mostly child stars entered the company, new (and cheaper) production methods for animation were enacted, and an unending stream of uneven live-action films really start to become the company's bread and butter. Watching the films from this year, knowing in the back of my mind what's coming up, and learning what was going on behind the scenes, I can see how Disney's "best years" are behind it and most of its more negative reputation is going to be earned. Nevertheless, even "bad" Disney of the Sixties is better than most things! It's not like Swiss Family Robinson, Pollyanna, or Zorro are anything to sneeze at.

Walt on set with Haley Mills and Kevin Corcoran.

Gala Day at Disneyland
January 21, 1960
27 minutes

The year begins with a news item from last year: the opening of the Submarine Voyage, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Disney-Alweg Monorail. Gala Day at Disneyland is the Technicolor, abbreviated, theatrical version of the Disneyland '59 television special celebrating the opening of those attractions. Cheekily, it is patterned after a newsreel and advertised as a "news special," which I guess it was in a sense, but really, we all know that this is Walt once again showing his mastery of multi-platform corporate synergy.

For an ostensible news special, I feel most sorry for the bald-faced lies shown in the Submarine Voyage. When it first opened, the mermaids were a regular feature, but it also shows the nuclear submarines passing live fish! Historically, it's interesting to see how Disney took current affairs and placed them in his world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. The first of Walt's submarine fleet to be christened was the Nautilus, which was not directly named for Jules Verne's invention. Rather, it was for the U.S.S. Nautilus, America's first nuclear-powered submarine. Just as Disney's fleet would do daily, the U.S.S. Nautilus was the first to traverse the North Pole beneath the ice.

The festivities kicked off with an old time parade. There is not a swanky, fibreglass, light and sound, animatronic float in sight. It's just old school papier-mâché floats, Main St. vehicles, hideous Ice Capades costumes (costumed characters would not be a regular fixture at Disney for a few years yet), marching bands, and Disney's latest celebrities. The shaggy dog himself rode along with Annette Funicello, and with Fess Parker long gone it was up to Guy Williams to appear in costume as Zorro, with Henry Calvin as Sgt. Garcia.

The theme for January 21, 1960 seems to be the things that used to be... Disneyland as it once was, and for a feature film, Toby Tyler and the old days of the circus.

Goliath II
January 21, 1960
15 minutes

This short preceding Toby Tyler is notable for being Disney's first test for using Xerox animation. Rather than the lengthy process of inking, an artists own drawings could be directly photocopied and painted, which had the benefit of catching much of the nuance of the artist's pencil with the challenge of looking really, really cheap. In the last installment of Walt's Era, I observed that Sleeping Beauty's pop-modern style looked cheaper than it probably was. In Goliath II there is no question that Disney is just being cheap and cutting corners. Not only is Xeroxing a cheap-looking method - just compare it to the beauty of Snow White or Fantasia - but there is also an over-reliance on reused animation. The crocodile from Peter Pan reappears, as does Donald and Goofy's foil Louie the Mountain Lion in tiger stripes. I'm sure I even saw a few scenes reminiscent of Dumbo. I can't say for sure, but I think some of George Bruns' music might have first appeared on one of his LPs of exotic music too. Is this where it's going now? Disney just being transparently cheap?

Toby Tyler
January 21, 1960
95 minutes

As I've written about before, the day the circus came to town in turn-of-the-century rural America, it was a big day indeed. It was a feast for every sense: the sights and sounds and smells of the big top, the delectable confections, the intellects stimulated by their only real taste of the vast world beyond their Midwestern hamlet... Toby Tyler does an admirable job of capturing that same sensibility, which proves to be its most enduring quality.

As a film unto itself, it marks Kevin Corcoran's first solo starring role. That could have been a complete disaster, given how obnoxious he is in so many other appearances, but as Toby Tyler he offers a surprisingly restrained performance. He plays the wide-eyed innocent with a deep sense of responsibility and desire to prove himself, which is a vast, vast improvement. So much so that Toby Tyler is actually decent because of him rather than in spite of him. It may even be my favourite performance of his, in competition with The Shaggy Dog which actually used his obnoxiousness to good (and limited) effect. Gene Sheldon and Henry Calvin pop over from Zorro to support him, with Calvin in the brash sort of role once reserved for Jeff York.

The real attraction is the circus itself. The type of travelling circus depicted in this Gay Nineties tale was long gone even in my childhood, when circuses still sold out hockey arenas with lions and tigers, elephants, and primates. Today it is only horses and dogs, if that. The turn towards strictly human performances is unquestionably good for the animals, but there was a romance to this colourful, pompous, bygone kind of circus. Authentic circus wagons were purchased by Disney for use in Disneyland, and then borrowed for Toby Tyler. Afterwards, some were donated to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, a permanent facility which may be one of the only places outside of a Disney film or theme park to experience something like the old time circus. The calliope used in Toby Tyler is still on Disney property, housed in Walt Disney World's Tri-Circle-D Ranch. These authentic elements are used to capture an authentic feel to the circus in Toby Tyler, to excellent effect. Full circus acts with horses, and partial ones with elephants, and a whole circus parade are shown. This is the film I would show people, especially kids, to give an idea of the pinnacle of live entertainment in the days of yore.

Thankfully the story and the actors are engaging enough to make it enjoyable enough to watch. I came out of a film starring Kevin Corcoran much more positive than was going in, which says a lot right there.

February 24, 1960
97 minutes

Based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, Disney's Kidnapped revisits the ideas of Treasure Island a decade before. James MacArthur stars David Balfour, the rightful heir to an estate in the Scottish lowlands. A duplicitous uncle, the unrightful heir, sees to it that David is kidnapped on a ship bound to the Carolinas, where the boy can be quietly lost as an indentured servant on a plantation. But the arrival of a shipwrecked Jacobite (Peter Finch) on board begins an adventure that liberates David and returns him to his new home.

Once again, MacArthur is a black hole around which swirl brighter stars. Finch is excellent as Alan Breck, a violent eccentric filling the Long John Silver role. John Laurie as the evil uncle and Finaly Currie as a sympathetic Highlander also bring charisma to the film. Kidnapped marks Peter O'Toole's feature film debut, in a cameo as Robin MacGregor, son of Rob Roy MacGregor, the subject of a previous Disney film.

In my review of Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue, I excused myself for being 1/8th Scottish and I suppose that should have played its part here as well. There is some quite glorious on location shooting on the Scottish Highlands, and bagpipes, that most beautiful and stirring of all instruments. Unfortunately those weren't enough to redeem a film that wasn't bad per se, just indifferent. The parts just don't add up to something truly engaging when we've already seen the Stevensonian boy-mentor relationship done better by Disney already.    

Islands of the Sea
March 16, 1960
28 minutes

Thus end the True-Life Adventures, with more of a whimper than a bang. Islands of the Sea is another in the True-Life-by-any-other-name shorts that Disney had been doing, this time focused on the islands of Galapagos, Guadalupe, Falklands, and Midway. Seals, iguanas, tortoise, penguins, and plenty of other birds are featured, once again where any one island would have furnished enough for a feature film. I don't have much more to say about this series as it finally closes out. I'm sad to see it go, but all good things, as they say...

April 6, 1960
~30 minutes

The Danube
April 27, 1960
~30 minutes

Neither Japan nor The Danube, the final two People and Places shorts, are available.

May 19, 1960
134 minutes

Pollyanna, that most sickly saccharine movie... Pollyanna, the naively, infuriatingly optimistic... Pollyanna, all sunshine and smiles and... Whoa, where did that ending come from?!?

When Pollyanna tanked at the box office despite being heralded by critics as Disney's best live-action film yet, Walt opined that he ought to have changed the title. "Girls and women went to it," he said "but men tended to stay away because it sounded sweet and sticky.'' The truth is that the shine had long since gone off of the original book. Published in 1913, Pollyanna was riding a wave of Victorian-Edwardian optimism that looked forward to ever-improving social, scientific, technological, economic, and religious progress. The book - and consequently the Disney film - is more complex than its reputation maintains, but the title character's "Glad Game" seemed almost perverse in the wake of The Great War, and again after World War II. The word "Pollyanna" took on negative connotations from which it has never recovered.

I can easily understand why Walt would have pushed ahead on adapting Pollyanna to screen. He was a peddler of optimism and reassurance upwards, downwards, and sideways. He created a grand cathedral to the optimistic mingling of nostalgia and futurism and fantasy, the opening act of which is the same turn-of-the-century main street that Pollyanna herself could have skipped down. There was probably no better studio to take on the project of reviving Pollyanna for a society primed by the Space Race, Baby Boom, and post-war economy. Yet it was a time of upheaval: in 1960 alone, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, JFK was elected into office, Sputnik took to the skies and American U-2 spy planes were being shot out of them. Around the world, former European colonies were falling to revolutions, the IRA was created, and the United States committed troops to Vietnam. Once again, Pollyanna was as necessary as she was unwanted.

In a world igniting with post-colonial conflicts only a generation after "The War to End All Wars," Pollyanna revolutionizing a small town into holding a fair is a little odd, and a little weak. Nevertheless, there is a lot of real sentiment in the film. My favourite is Karl Malden's performance as Rev. Ford, the local minister who finds that he has betrayed his Great Commission by allowing himself to be cowed by the town monarch (and Pollyanna's aunt), Polly Harrington. His fiery sermon is hilariously frightening, and his repentance is subtly moving. I may just be saying that because, as a church deacon with a degree in theology, I've been up in that pulpit and can recognize the gravitas of his conversion. Beyond her insufferable optimism, Pollyanna is a consummate manipulator, of the town hermit, hypochondriac, doctor, and, well, everybody. At least she is using her powers for good!

Then comes the ending. Unlike the novel, the film ends ambiguously. Pollyanna's gladness is put to the ultimate test, and she gets to see how she has transformed the lives of the townsfolk as they return the favour. It's not neatly tied up though, which is good and even noble. Pollyanna reflects how life itself is never neatly tied up in a pretty bow. The struggle to remain, if not optimistic, at least uncynical and moderately hopeful enough to remain invested in the mechanisms of civil society is a constant one that will remain with us unto death. That is a surprisingly potent message from a Disney film. It's the journey and how you conduct yourself on that journey that matters, adding to the abundant life of those around you as you journey on.

That said, I have to admit that what I liked best about Pollyanna was all the gorgeous, old timey setting. It is indeed everything quaint and reminiscent of Main Street USA. Watching the dinner scene in Aunt Polly's mansion made me hungry for fried chicken at the Plaza Inn.

The Sign of Zorro
June 11, 1960
91 minutes

Zorro! The fox so cunning and free... Zorro! Who makes the sign of the ZED!

Ashley and I always make that slight adjustment to the lyrics whenever we watch Disney's Zorro. Being Canadians, who say the letter "zed" in the proper way, the American "zee" grates on our ears. Otherwise, Zorro is pretty great, and it strikes us every now and then how odd it is that we're actual, real, honest-to-goodness fans of Zorro. Ashley was at the right age to swoon over Antonio Bandaras in the role, but I grew up with reruns of Guy Williams and Disney's short-lived comedy version in 1983.

Disney's Zorro was an excellent TV show and there is no confusion over how it caught on. It had the right mix of action, comedy, and the romance of history, performed by very good lead actors in Williams, Gene Sheldon, Henry Calvin, and Brit Lomond. The best part of it was the first 13 episodes, in which Zorro locked swords with Captain Monastario. This first half of the first season was a loose adaptation of the original Zorro story, The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley, and has Zorro at his most iconic... The black-clad avenger, the swashbuckling fighter for justice against the corrupt comandante of El Pueblo de Los Ángeles in the days of Spanish California.

The Sign of Zorro was a theatrical abridgment of those first 13 episodes. In particular, it strung together the episodes Presenting Señor Zorro (#1), Monastario Sets a Trap (#7), Zorro's Ride Into Terror (#8), A Fair Trial (#9), Double Trouble for Zorro (#11), Zorro, Luckiest Swordsman Alive (#12), and The Fall of Monastario (#13), with a few bits and pieces from other episodes. Editing 13 22-minute episodes into a single 91 minute movie is no easy feat... Even cutting the number of episodes down to a selection of seven required significant abridgments. Therefore it would have been foolish to expect The Sign of Zorro to have the same richness of the series. Still, those weren't quite the episodes I would have chosen. My preference would have been for the episodes in which Torres, the political dissident rescued by Zorro in the first episode, is hiding in the nearby mission and Monastario attempts to uncover the identity of Zorro (mostly episodes 1-6). That arc would have built up better to the final episode than the ones they did choose. If they really wanted to try and ensure a sequel, just leave it off at that and abridge the latter half of the Monastario storyline in a second film.

Of course, the film's ending suffers for the same reason that the final Monastario episode suffers, in that it is shockingly anti-climactic. The corrupt comandante and the masked swordsman never have the final duel that storytelling logic dictates. Even in the series, episode #13 just seems to come out of nowhere, with hardly any build up and very little satisfaction. It was just the overreach of Monastario's own authority (despite being right that time!) that leads to his unceremonious dismissal. That is in marked contrast to how the episodes chosen for the film were abridged. Much of the dialogue was expunged, leaving Zorro to dash across the tiled rooftops of the cuartel and ride across the countryside. Unfortunately, when seen in rapid succession rather than as the climax of 17 minutes of build up in one episode after another, those action scenes get a little repetitive.

The Sign of Zorro was originally compiled for the European market, where it was released in 1958. The film was successful there because the Zorro series had not yet aired. In the United States, the story was different. The choice to release The Sign of Zorro made sense on paper - after all, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier did well in theatres - but Zorro was not Davy Crockett. The three episodes of the Davy Crockett serial were originally filmed in colour, and therefore being shown in full colour on the big screen was a major drawing card. Zorro was only ever filmed in monochrome. Furthermore, the editing on three episodes of Davy Crockett just came out looking better than the editing on seven episodes of a 13 episode serial of Zorro. Finally, Zorro was still in regular syndication in 1960, so there was a pretty good chance that one could merely flick on the TV to see the same thing that Disney was trying to charge a dollar for.

A second film was made, abridging the "Eagle" storyline of the second half of the first season. Zorro the Avenger was released in 1959 in Europe but never brought over to the United States.

The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon
August 10, 1960
47 minutes

It's apropos that The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon preceded the general release of The Jungle Cat, last of the True-Life Adventures. This short was the first theatrical work for Disney by Rex Allen, who had previously narrated a couple episodes of Walt Disney Presents, and films of this kind would become the heirs to the True-Life legacy.

Rather than feature unadorned nature, the Rex Allen-narrated wildlife films had an explicit plot with explicitly contrived scenes. Granted, so did the True-Life Adventures. but they at least made a pretense of filming unscripted nature and let the storylines flow from the footage that was shot by their camerapeople in the field. The pretense is entirely gone from The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon, with cute animals wreaking havoc in some poor Southerner's homestead as a result.

Not that this film lacks for many of the things that made True-Life films interesting. There is still some very interesting footage of raccoons and their ways of life, as well as the social phenomenon of the 'coon hunt. It could still almost pass as a documentary, save for the contrived scenes of havoc as nature playfully runs roughshod over man and the contrivance of the plot itself. In The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon, a lost puppy finds his way to a mother raccoon who lost all but one of her litter in a flood. The puppy is raised as one of her own, and hilarity ensues.

The viciousness of some scenes overshadow the humour in parts... Disney still makes sure to reassure us that no, the hounds wont kill the 'coons nor did that 'coon actually succeed in drowning the dog and that sort of thing. It's still a bit painful to watch though, when teeth are bared and nature's claws are too. Disney is to be commended for that, however. Life, especially in a state of nature, can be nasty, brutish, and short. There is also a tragic honesty to the finale and its message that life always transitions and you can't really go back again.

Ten Who Dared
October 18, 1960
92 minutes

Ten Who Dared is an interesting experiment in the annals of Western films. It may even stand in a genre of its own: the Science Western. The documentary verisimilitude of a  True-Life Adventure and the high-minded scientific evangelism of a Fifties Sci-Fi film or Walt's Tomorrowland television episodes is applied to the form of an historical drama about the 1869 Powell Expedition to chart the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. At one point, while sailing through the Inner Gorge, Major Powell is given to exclaim on the beauties of erosion and explain a trilobite fossil to his crew. An impassioned narrator even begins and ends the film with a high-minded monologue about science and exploration in this daring chapter from American history. It really does feel, in a sense, like Disneyland itself exploded onto the screen, with its same high ideals for Frontierland and Tomorrowland wrapped into one moving picture.

Though apparently denounced by critics, my only real complaint is that there wasn't enough of the Grand Canyon. It could have used a few more grandiose shots of the surrounding cliffs and what lay within it, to the stirring refrains of a score that could just as easily have come from a True-Life Adventure. Perhaps Walt felt that the Grand Canyon was well-enough known by this time, or he was just trying to keep the story moving along, but the Grand Canyon has a grandeur that is captivating in itself and would add to the drama that the characters underwent. Several times they shoot the rapids and brave the cliffs, but it would have been served by better showing the immensity of their surroundings and their smallness within them.

The characters are larger-than-life in their own right. John Beal, a 1930's and 40's film actor who had migrated mostly to television by this time, plays the one-handed Major John Wesley Powell, leader of the expedition. His sullen brother Walter Powell is played by James Drury, a silent and threatening character whose trauma from the Civil War threatens to unravel the equilibrium of the team, especially in regards to former Confederate soldier George Bradley (played by Ben Johnson), who was not a former Confederate soldier in historical fact but a member of the US Army who volunteered for the expedition on the condition of getting an honourable discharge. David Frankham, who mainly seemed to specialize in British prigs, briefly appears to entice an alcoholic on the crew and then bugger off. David Stollery (Westward Ho, the Wagons!, The Adventures of Spin and Marty) plays a youngster who smuggles an adorable little dog on board, which cruelly sets up an opening conflict when the "no dogs" rule is about to be enforced. Stan Jones, the Western singer signed to Disneyland Records, makes one of his only Disney film appearances and Brian Keith makes his first of several, as an uncouth mountain man. With a cast of ten, a few must slip into the background, but there are enough genuine characters to make the expedition interesting.

The Horse with the Flying Tail
December 21, 1960
48 minutes

Showjumping is perhaps the most regal of sports, and the most sportsmanlike. As a sport, it evolved in England, where the Inclosure Acts brought fences to the countryside and required of the aristocracy horses capable of jumping them in the pursuit of game. By the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, showjumping was a bone fide phenomenon of the equestrian world, the delight of royalty and commoners alike. To attend a showjumping competition carries an air of genteel sophistication, though I may be affected by living near one of the best show jumping facilities in the world. It recalls the words of G.K. Chesterton that "...a fine man on a fine horse is the noblest bodily object in the world," continuing:

And horse and man together making an image that is... human and civilised, it will be easy, as it were, to lift horse and man together into something heroic or symbolical; like a vision of St. George in the clouds. The fable of the winged horse will not be wholly unnatural to him: and he will know why Ariosto set many a Christian hero in such an airy saddle, and made him the rider of the sky. For the horse has really been lifted up along with the man in the wildest fashion in the very word we use when we speak 'chivalry.' The very name of the horse has been given to the highest mood and moment of the man   
It is the mostly sportsmanlike of sports because of the inherited dignity and pride of its regal roots, and because its aficionados appreciate a good performance above all. Viewers of all nations applaud the riders of all nations. They also applaud the horses, and good horses become celebrities in their own right. Disney's The Horse with the Flying Tail is about one particular showjumping superstar equine, the "true-life" story of Nautical.

Nautical was a sensation during his seven year career in the 1950's. A golden American Palomino of humble roots, a horse like Nautical would already have caused a stir in the rings of Europe. His unique claim to fame, however, was his flashing tail that flicked up with every cleared obstacle. Though Disney presents him as much more accomplished than he was - like any horse, he did better as some events than others, and had uneven performance across the years - he was still renowned for his ability to clear fences at cruising altitude. He and his rider Hugh Wiley did take away the King George V Gold Cup for 1959, awarded by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother herself, footage from which climaxes The Horse with the Flying Tail.

The short won an Oscar for best documentary, though it is a documentary in the Disney fashion, playing loose with facts for dramatic effect. Nautical is portrayed beginning life as a stock horse in New Mexico, though he did in fact have Thoroughbred parents. His skill as a jumper is discovered when he takes after a cow that jumped a fence by jumping it himself and landing on the cow, throwing it to the ground in the only instance where I have seen the world of showjumping intersect with pro-wrestling. He is passed from owner to owner, abuser to abuser, though there is no evidence of his string of caregivers ever being that bad with him. It makes for a heartwarming story. Then comes Wiley, the competitions in Paris and Aachen, and finally the King George V Gold Cup. After the events portrayed in the film, he would go have the best score at the Chicago Pan-Am Games of 1959 and lead the US Equestrian Team to the gold medal.

When this short was released, Nautical was quietly living out his last active year. Though a superstar of the equestrian world, pneumonia prevented him from competing at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and in 1961 he retired from active competition. The Horse with the Flying Tail is an interesting historical document of one particular horse's rise to fame which shows how well Disney tapped into any fad of his time, though it probably won't play well to anyone today who isn't a fan of showjumping.

Swiss Family Robinson
December 23, 1960
126 minutes

Undoubtedly the most ambitious of Disney's live-action films since 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson is a good attempt but doesn't quite measure up. You can see that Disney really tried with this one... Like 20,000 Leagues, it's a long one and largely shot on location in picturesque tropic isles. The crew credits are largely unfamiliar names, and was Ken Annakin's fourth and final film for the company, meaning that Disney was looking for a fresher look to distinguish from its other films. It's based on a classic work of adventure literature, and has some fun things in it translating to a classic theme park attraction. I much prefer Magic Kingdom's Swiss Family Treehouse to Disneyland's Tarzan Treehouse, and I like Disneyland Paris' Adventure Isle best of all, with its whole Swiss Family Robinson area (Adventure Isle has three areas: Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, and Skull Rock). Nevertheless, the whole doesn't match the parts. I like the idea of Swiss Family Robinson better than its execution.

20,000 Leagues is a minute longer, but feels half as long because it has a more engaging story. Childish elements are there, but relatively innocuous. Philosophical heft and human drama more than offset it. Swiss Family Robinson lacks those things. What passes for drama is mostly watching the young people be insufferable. Kevin Corcoran goes above and beyond, proving to be an actual liability to the family. I think this was the first film I actually saw Corcoran in, thus leading to my intense disliking of him that has slowly been tempered by watching him on other films in this series. He recovered himself in Shaggy Dog and Toby Tyler, but reverts to his most frustratingly annoying form in Swiss Family Robinson. Tommy Kirk is also particularly punchable as an obnoxious teenager, squabbling with the granitic James MacArthur over the one nubile girl on the island, played by Janet Munro. What passes for drama is simply childish, in the worst sense. Watching obnoxious kids wouldn't be so bad if the movie wasn't two hours long, but it is.

I would imagine that what people remember most fondly about it are the fun parts like the treehouse, the tropic setting, and the animal race. Those, along with the shipwreck and the fight with the pirates, are the most enjoyable parts of the film, further accented by how unenjoyable the obnoxious children are. It really drags on between those high points. Now I feel like I'm being exceptionally hard on one of Disney's genuine classics, and I'm not sure why I'm being so vicious with this viewing. It may because the nature of this little project in watching all of Walt's era inevitably leads to comparisons like the one I've made with 20,000 Leagues. I wish it wasn't so, but Swiss Family Robinson comes up wanting.

Swiss Family Robinson could do to lose a half hour or more of obnoxious teenage drama, or make sure you've got some craft or chore to do while watching it, to tune out those parts. The good parts of it are really fun and I recommend it on those grounds, but it can seem really tedious between them. As with any "wild man" story (e.g.: Tarzan), the main appeal is imagining oneself in that situation, enjoying a more free and uninhibited way of life, testing oneself against nature. Had the film drawn its conflict and excitement purely from those, it would have played better. Drama would have been served watching how the Robinsons, as a collective, use their individual gifts to overcome obstacles, rather than trying to goose it up by making the family act in insufferable ways. Doing so turned me against them, instead of making me root for them. No wonder, then, that the beloved attraction it inspired is simply a giant set-piece that invites the imaginative flight of actually living in the treehouse. Swiss Family Treehouse and Adventure Isle - living the family's adventure without having the family there to make it tedious - is the film's most logical extension.

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