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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Some French words are spoken while a child is learning. Basic survival tasks are shown, though the results are unrealistically impressive. Kids may be encouraged to seek out the original novel.
The movie focuses on the importance of family and working together. It also teaches that wealth and material possessions should not be relied upon and that happiness can be found in simple things.
Positive Role Models
Most of the Robinson family begin the film spoiled and out of touch with the world beyond their privileged upbringing. But they learn to work together and show intelligence and previously undiscovered practical skills.
There is a lack of diversity and characters are portrayed in traditional gender roles. Reference to "savages in loin cloths."
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Violence & Scariness
A vessel is caught in a storm and becomes shipwrecked, causing crew members to drown (off-screen). The central family escapes on a makeshift raft. Animals are thrown into the water. A character is knocked unconscious and starts to sink, but is rescued. Guns, and bows and arrows are shot at animals, but the outcome is not shown. A toddler becomes trapped in a net. Another child passes out from a spider bite, and poison is seen being sucked from it. A storm causes a tree house to fall to the ground and tree branches land on a character, though they are unhurt. Reference is made to war and killing.
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Negative terms such as "lout," "swine," "savages," "wench," "lily white," "idiot," and "milksop" are used.
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Products & Purchases
Gold and high-end belongings are considered of importance to characters at the start of the film. But there is a clear message that happiness can't be found in material items.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Alcohol is seen poured and drunk in an opening montage. Characters also drink wine with a meal. A pipe is smoked on a number of occasions -- once by a child.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Swiss Family Robinson is a family adventure released in 1940 and is an adaptation from the classic 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss. Filmed in black and white, it tells the story of a wealthy family who are shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. There are moments of danger during storms, when the ship is wrecked and another incident when a tree house falls and branches land on a character. A spider bite causes a child to fall unconscious and another is caught in a net. Characters drink alcohol on occasion and a pipe is smoked -- once by a child. War, death, and religion are mentioned -- with characters praying and referring to miracles and God's will. Some of the scenes involving animals in distress could be upsetting for some. In keeping with films of the time there is a lack of diversity on-screen and the characters reinforce traditional gender roles. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Made two decades before the beloved 1960s Disney adaptation, starring John Mills and Dorothy McGuire, this is an enjoyable retelling of the classic story. That said, this black and white 1940 version of Swiss Family Robinson lacks the energy and joy found in its successor. The performances are all solid. Mitchell holds the film together as the well-meaning patriarch of the family. While three-year-old Bobbie Quillan is a surprising standout as the youngest member of the Robinson clan.
Though the special effects were incredibly limited in the early '40s compared to the CGI of today, the storm scene at sea is impressively handled, as is the second onslaught that topples the famous tree house from its perch. The characters' reactions, however, are underplayed to the point of complacency, which takes away from any sense of realism or true danger. As in the '60s version, the tree house itself is ridiculously and gloriously high-spec -- with a full piano no less. This lends the film a storybook feel that is built upon by whimsical scenes such as a child riding an ostrich and a gigantic spider's web that wouldn't look out of place in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Visually impressive for its time, this adaptation still proves reliable family entertainment, but is lacking the flair that might have made it a classic.
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