Robert Stevenson’s In Search Of The Castaways

I love old live action flicks from the Disney vault, I grew up with stuff like their Escape To Witch Mountain and Swiss Family Robinson as some of the most formative cinematic experiences of my childhood, so the swash, buckle, whimsy and warm-heartedness of these entries have always spoken to me. Robert Stevenson’s In Search Of The Castaways, based on a book by Jules Verne, is a rollicking, frequently invigorating, occasionally silly and quite enjoyable globetrotting adventure starring Hayley Mills, who I had only seen in Pollyanna and the original Parent Trap prior to this but damn is she ever an engaging, winning star presence onscreen. She plays a young girl who is searching for her missing sea captain father along with her brother (Keith Hamshere) and a consistently eccentric French Renaissance man played by Maurice Chevalier, who I’ve never seen in anything before but is the textbook definition of scene stealer here. They embark on a hectic voyage to Australian oceans bankrolled by a Lord (Wilfred Hyde-White) complete with wild jaguars, natives both helpful and threatening and not shortage of derring-do. Now, it is a musical but it almost feels like it wasn’t really intended to be and they just sort of hastily wrote a few quick ditties in post production to throw up onscreen, numbers that are pretty schmaltzy and aren’t handled with any real sense of vocal authentic aside from Mills herself, who is wonderful whether singing, talking or debating the Lord’s pampered kid (Michael Anderson Jr) on his stuffy ideas about a woman’s place on a navy vessel. It’s a fun time for the most part, the highlight being this brazenly bizarre, hilarious sequence where they all ride a giant shard of busted rock down a series of alps like a big boulder sled, it’s a wonderfully implausible bit of effects laden pandemonium as they careen down icy crags, through gorgeous subterranean snow tunnels and although it doesn’t feel believable for three seconds (their hair blows as if by one modest ceiling fan, never-mind the furious blizzard wind of a mountain range), is nothing short of a show stopping set piece on sheer Indiana Jones audacity alone. It’s good times, and fits the 60’s lovingly retro live action Disney niche quite nicely.

-Nate Hill