Swiss Family Robinson

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The film "Swiss Family Robinson was shot on location here - twenty-two weeks to shoot at a cost of $4.5 million. Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and the Galapagos islands were looked at before Tobago was discovered. It was ideal for filming purposes, with one hitch: there were no animals to be found. Thus, a menagerie was assembled - colourful tropical birds, gulls, ostriches, snakes, tigers, zebras, baby elephants, monkeys - and flown to the island, along with the appropriate trainers.

The director Ken Annakin recalls: There were fourteen trainers in all, and about 4:00 each day, they would come to me and say, "Mr. Annakin, can you tell me what attitude you want from my animal tomorrow," and then they would discuss it and put in last-minute work each night trying to get the desired results. One afternoon at 3:30 our flamingos took off from Tobago and headed south to British Guiana! We couldn't do anything about this, but fortunately the animal handler was right, and they returned the next day at feeding time!

It took five months to build the necessary sets and incidental objects on the island, including the wreckage, which was built on scaffolding at sea, with divers participating. “It was absolutely real shooting,” says Annakin, “something which appealed to me very much because of my documentary beginnings. I liked shooting exteriors. I think it gives much more satisfaction to the audience in the end, and in this case I wanted to keep very much away from the original version that was made by RKO (in 1940), which we ran at Disney. It was a good picture, but you could feel the restriction of them having to work in a tank.” But Annakin and the crew had to pay the price for realism; it took ten days to shoot the sequence of floating the animals and supplies ashore. “The lines were always getting crossed. You’d find a pig or a cow was tied with a barrel underneath, he’d suddenly turn upside down, and the continuity girl on the camera raft would suddenly shriek, and someone would have to dive in to put the animal right so it wasn’t hurt.”

Every move, every shot was calculated in advance; Annakin, Bill Anderson, Disney, a sketch artist named John Jensen,and stuntman-turned-second-unit-director Yakima Canutt worked together on storyboards, first deciding what they would like to do and then deciding if it could be done. Disney was concerned that there should be something happening every minute, particularly in the climactic pirate attack. He would examine the storyboards and comment: “That works, that works, yeah, that works, although there is a little hole here; we need a bit of action here. Devise some action here.” And they would.

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