A scene from In Search of the Castaways.
Robert Stevenson, that great stalwart director of Walt Disney films through the 1960's and 70's, was given the helm of the company's forgotten foray into Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires in 1962. Based on the novel Captain Grant's Children, In Search of the Castaways starred Wilfred Hyde-White, Michael Anderson Jr., Keith Hamshire, Maurice Chevalier and another Disney regular, Hayley Mills (Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, That Darn Cat!). Coming two years after Swiss Family Robinson and nearly a decade after 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Castaways is a later entry into the throngs of Atomic Age adaptations of Scientific Romances and Disney's second dance with the master of the genre.
This particular film sees the young Grant children in a search for their shipwrecked father across South America, Australia and New Zealand. And just about anything that could set upon them does, including earthquakes, floods, jaguars, cannibals, volcanoes, alligators, hurricanes, gun-running mutineers, giant condors, tobogganing down the Andes on a boulder, and aristocratic English snobs. Quite a lot for a couple kids and their company of adventurers to deal with, which is where Uncle Walt comes to the rescue.
Castaways possesses in its hour and half running time many of the typical features that have come to be associated with Disney live action family films. Everything is profoundly upbeat, with even the most dismal of circumstances being nought but a prelude to a song about enduring hardships with a smile and taking whatever life hits you with as an experience of personal growth and wonder. Everyone has a smile on their face, except for the stuffy English lord who comes around by the end, and the children even have a young romance angle thrown in for good measure. Whether these elements make the film enjoyable or contemptuous is up to the individual viewer to decide, but just be warned that it is thick with them. If there is any moral to this story, it's that perserverance pays off and that to just have the experience is worth any trouble you have to go through during it. Chin up, old man!
Depending on one's mood, this becomes the insufferable awfulness of the picture or its saving grace amidst absurdity. There is no sense in which Castaways is a serious film. With Maurice Chavalier singing away, it is likely impossible to have a serious film. However, it isn't required for every film of a Verne novel to involve a tortured genius waging war against the world. Unlike 20,000 Leagues' mix of bitter and sweet in the moral conflicts of its protagonists, there is an explicit lesson in wonder on an emotional level as smiling Frenchmen sing songs about climbing mountains or making breakfast while trapped in a jaguar-infested tree because of a massive deluge that brought alligators with it.