More than 200 birds and animals were used in six months of filming on Tobago, small and primitive neighbor of Trinidad in the West Indies.
Numerically, motion picture productions have possibly exceeded this outlay of feathered and four-legged thespians. But no non-documentary feature has used more than 70 varieties of bird and beast in one fell swoop.
Even the prolific Johann Wyss, Eighteenth Century creator of the original classic, would have been pleasantly surprised with the snarling, yipping, screeching, prancing, fighting turnout.
The impressive list includes ostriches, zebras, anacondas, monitor lizards, iguanas, monkeys — 22 of these — tigers, cheetahs, hyenas, alligators, sharks, chameleons, dogs, goats, turtles, tortoises, a cow, an elephant and a mule.
Many more birds filled the tropical air with their color and their cries: pelicans, frigate birds, flamingoes, macaws, parrots, cranes, toucans, cockatoos, pheasants of one variety or another, peafowl, swans, ducks, geese, chickens, and more than two-score vultures.
A lot of the capricious creatures, particularly birds, were window dressing or atmosphere, like Tommy the Toucan, who looked as if he had stepped right out of Alice in Wonderland. The unpredictable hyenas, tougher than most tigers, were considered unsafe for any thing but long shots.
But the most surprising character of all was the five-year-old elephant named Rocky. Rocky liked to rock and roll more than most of her breed. But the real reason for the name was an even more peculiar leaning of hers. For solace, particularly after a tiring day before the cameras, this young ‘un liked having her head rubbed with a rock.
Although Tobago and Trinidad are well populated with crocodiles, iguanas, agouti and manacou, and still stranger creatures like whistling frogs and oysters that grow on trees, no real island could come up to the kaleidoscopic zoological role dreamed up by Wyss and Disney.
Wyss wrote the myriad animal extras in. Disney flew them in, gathering them from all over the Western Hemisphere for air-lifting across the Caribbean. Waiting to join them before the cameras were a motley crew of locals, which included pigs, sharks, sea turtles, an excitable group of farmyard fowl, and one obstinate donkey.
Swiss Family Robinson stars John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur and Janet Munro, and co-stars Sessue Hayakawa, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran and Cecil Parker. Bill Anderson produced for Disney, Ken Annakin directed the Lowell S. Hawley screenplay. Buena Vista re-releases.
From the Swiss Family Robinson 1969 Re-Release Press Materials.