Release Date: July 29th, 1966
Directed by: Byron Paul
Written by: Walt Disney, Don DaGradi, Bill Walsh
Based on: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Music by: Robert F. Brunner
Cast: Dick Van Dyke, Nancy Kwan
Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 110 Minutes
While looking for films that fit a Tiki vibe, I came across Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. It was recommended in a few places, so I figured I’d check it out. Plus, it is a lesser-known Disney film starring Dick Van Dyke in my favorite era of live-action Disney productions. On the surface, what’s not to like?
The film is a very loose adaptation of the Robinson Crusoe tale. While that is a story that has been adapted to death and beyond, this version is really unique and pretty different. The only real thing that it has in common is that the main character, in this case Lt. Robin Crusoe, is marooned and must survive.
Van Dyke’s Crusoe ejects from his jet fighter and is stuck at sea for days until he washes up on an Island in the South Pacific. Once there, he finds a Japanese submarine, a former Navy astronaut that happens to be a chimp and they soon discover the large idol of a Tiki god and a native woman named Wednesday. Crusoe survives multiple attacks by Wednesday and eventually befriends her and learns that she is on the island because she was banished after rejecting an arranged marriage her father, the tribal chief, set up. What was a fun family adventure comedy on a tropical island quickly turns into a movie about women’s rights and feminism. I kind of dug it, actually.
The beginning of the picture was the weakest part. The sequence of Crusoe stuck at sea was really drawn out, especially the confrontation with the shark, which was a one note gag that went on much longer than it should have. Although, the cinematography in some of the ocean scenes is fantastic. Honestly, the cinematography throughout the entire film was strong.
Dick Van Dyke was his typical self, Nancy Kwan was enjoyable and amusing as Wednesday but it was Dinky, who played Floyd the astro-chimp, that stole the show. Crusoe also had another small sidekick in an animatronic tropical bird that looked very much like one of the birds used in Walt Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. is a fun film with a lot of charm. Van Dyke is just a likable guy and he was really good in this. The movie is beautiful to look at and the humor still works and isn’t overly hokey like a lot of the stuff from its time. Sure, the scene where Van Dyke rides a hose is pretty goofy but it works.
I’m glad I stumbled across this film, as it seems lost in the vast Disney catalog and pretty much forgotten.