Book & Movie: The Swiss Family Robinson

We all love our books, and there are times we wish they could come to life on the big screen. Sometimes our wish comes true and those beloved stories soon hit theaters. Yet as excited as we are for the movie version to come to be they are not always good experiences. Perhaps a character is portrayed incorrectly, important scenes are left out or changed completely, or that wonderful story has been reduced to something with no plot but amazing CG effects. And then there are times when the movie is absolutely stunning and you are left with such an amazing feeling after watching it.

How I First Encountered The Swiss Family Robinson

I don’t know the exact year that I first came upon The Swiss Family Robinson. I vaguely remember watching the original 1960 movie but not clearly enough to place how old I was. What I do remember clearly is watching the 1998 movie shortly after it came out, though I can’t recall if I saw it in the theater or when it hit VHS, and I absolutely loved it. I feel in love with the story that first time watching the movie and remember watching it countless times after that, in fact I remember wearing out the VHS I watched it that much. It wasn’t until a while later that I full realized that it was based on a book. I honestly don’t remember reading the book, but I may have at some point when I was younger.

The Book

It’s no secret that I’m generally not a fan of books that are considered classics. I just find them a struggle to read. However, even though Swiss Family Robinson falls into the classics category I decided to give the book a try anyways. I am glad that I did.

I found this book to be very well written. Right from page one I was pretty much hooked on the story and wanted to keep reading until I reached the end. The beginning was certainly written to capture the reader’s attention and the remainder of the story continues on in a similar manner. This book had a really good flow to it, with events moving smoothly along. I think what I enjoyed most if the struggles and triumphs of the family as they tried to make a new life for themselves on the island. It wasn’t always easy, sometimes things didn’t go quite right and others times they had unexpected rewards for their efforts. There was a lot of ingenuity along the way when it came to building shelter, capturing and raising animals, making clothing and other necessary items.

The story, though spanning ten years, is so well written that it doesn’t feel as though that much time as passed. Certainly you see mention of their accomplishments two years or four years into their time on the island but it is written in such a way that it feels like no time at all has passed. This is really one of the great features of this book. The only downside is how short the book is and that it take little time to read it from cover to cover. Of course I would like to know more, see where they were twenty years or more down the road, however I do think the book ended quite perfectly and thus I wouldn’t change a thing.

The Movie

While there have been at least two versions of this book made into movies I will be talking about the 1960 movie.

I think that this movie was overall very well made, especially considering when it was made and what they had to work with. The actors who played the various family members suited the roles quite nicely. Though I will admit I found the youngest son, Francis, to be a bit annoying at times, but what do you expect out of a young boy with an island full of animals and other things at his disposal. I think my favorite part of the movie is seeing the tree house when it is all build. I definitely remember wishing I had a tree house like that as a kid after first watching this movie many years ago. The setting of the movie is well done and you can see how they would have made their life, build shelter, got animals for meat fairly easily.

The movie does have a slightly rushed feeling to it, but not so much that it ruins the experience. I realize they kept things lively and active to appeal to the audience and make it a fun experience to watch. The pirates also added that sense of excitement and action to the story overall. If you haven’t watch the movie, I’d definitely suggest it. The newer 1998 version of the movie is also quite good.

How They Compare To Each Other

Well, all things considered I think they did a pretty good job of bringing the book to the big screen. The movie is more fanciful than the book. While the book concentrates on them making shelter, finding food and staying safe from predators, the movie’s big focus is the pirates. The pirates are one of the few big differences between the book and movie. In fact, in the book there were no pirates. Certainly they were added to make the movie more interesting, after all not many people would want to watch a family stranded on an island gather food for two hours, but I personally think it would have still been entertaining to watch it had they stuck more closely to the books storyline. Another difference is that in the book the Robinson family have four sons, where as in the movie there are only three. The introduction of the female character is very different as well, playing off of the pirates angle yet again. There is also a love interest with this female character, whereas in the book they essentially adopt her into a family like a daughter. Then the final difference is the amount of time they are on the island. In the book they are there for ten years before they are found, but in the movie it is a much shorter time frame, a few months is what I would guess it was.

Even with these differences I think they do a pretty good job of bringing the overall essence of the story to life, with a family trapped on an island and they must do whatever they can to survive until they are rescued.

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