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Swiss Family Robinson Film Guide

Overview:

Swiss Family Robinson (1960 film) was based on an 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss about a Swiss family immigrating to New Guinea to flea the Napoleonic wars.  The film begins with the family caught in a storm and becoming shipwrecked on a deserted island. 

Parents’ Perspective:

I watched the movie with my wife and four children (ages 5 to 13).  It was released in 1960 – simply put, it is dated.  But my three oldest children (8, 10, and 13) hung on to the end and enjoyed it much more than I had thought.  The major cause of concern is with violence.  The family is attacked by pirates on several occasions and they regularly encounter dangers from the jungle – snakes and tigers.  I found it no more violent that the most recent Star Wars or Avengers movie.  I had no problem with it. 

The antagonists are mostly portrayed by Asians, clearly demonstrating a negative stereotype, and the young lady in the film fits the “damsel in distress” archetype a little too well, but Disney only started subverting that archetype in the last decade or so.  Both points were worth discussing with my children and frankly I was happy to have the platform.

Some Guiding Thoughts and Possible Questions:

  • At its core, Swiss Family Robinson is about family. It’s about a family searching for a better life that gets waylaid.  They become secluded and isolated from everyone but themselves.  They must rely on each other in ways that none of them would have expected.
  • What could have been an unbearable and tragic situation became one in which people learned to support each other in isolation. They came to trust each other in ways that never would have been expected.
  • What are the connections to Swiss Family Robinson and your life in the midst of the pandemic? How can this 200-year-old story help us navigate our times?
  • My children found the fact that they were abandoned by the crew to be quite upsetting. How does that connect to our current crisis?  Do we sometimes feel abandoned?  Alone?  Forgotten?  How did the family overcome this and what lessons can we learn?
  • When they first arrive on shore, the mother implores then to do something first? What was it and how did that gesture/action help anchor the family and the experience to come?
  • What role did faith and God play in their lives?
  • With each new encounter on the island, how does the family learn to navigate their environment? How does each obstacle transform into an opportunity for the family?
  • Why did some of the members of the family choose to remain on the island at the end? What did they learn about themselves that was so indispensable?