I vividly recall watching the The Swiss Family Robinson, the Walt Disney film of a shipwrecked family living in harmony with the land. Why not then read Jonathan Wyss’ original 1814 story to reconnect to that innocence?
The systematic slaughter of every living thing doesn’t come as a huge surprise in the beginning. We heard the boys popping away at the birds as we drew near. (107) Ernest ran into the water with his hatchet and killed the fish. (112) After all, this is a story of survival.
But the narrative goes well beyond that: Franz shot a beautiful blue jay and a couple of parakeets. (162) I could not consent to keep more than two puppies, and the rest disappeared in that mysterious way in which puppies and kittens are wont to leave this earth. (198) I sprang upon the onager’s back, and seizing her long ear in my teeth, bit it through. The result was marvelous, the animal quivered violently and stood stock still. (205)
The family evolves into a sort of serial killer gang: We were obliged to do our part with clubs and sticks. At least forty apes lay mangled and dead. (260) Franz was overjoyed to find that he had shot the capybara, a creature that was new to everyone. (308) They kill ostriches, bears (referred to as “bad rubbish”), whales and walrus. The head of the walrus, the head! We must have the whole head’ cried Jack. (375)
The Disney Corporation has always been the master of gutting original stories. (Remember that Pinocchio kills the cricket at the beginning of Carlos Collodi’s tale and is then haunted by its ghost.) It’s just that here, Disney might have done me a favor, banishing Wyss’ repetitious violence for pirates and ostrich races. And so…this one time: Thanks, Walt.