The modern world seems designed to get some people down, and none more so than Skip Robinson (Robert Logan), who is tiring of the big city life with its smog and overcrowding. Not helping is his daughter Jenny (Hollye Holmes) developing allergies thanks to the junk in the air and in the food, and he does not wish to see his younger son Toby (Ham Larsen) suffer the same way, so one day as they drive in their truck through some traffic he turns to his wife Pat (Susan Damante) and asks her if she could do with a change. If they could all do with a change, and travel out to the wilderness of Colorado to get back to nature and live the simple life. What could possibly go wrong?
It's worth mentioning that while Skip is motoring along in his truck with his wife beside him, the two kids are in the back, exposed to the elements and needless to say, without so much as a seatbelt to prevent them flying out should the vehicle hit a bump in the road. That cavalier attitude to health and safety was the theme for The Wilderness Family, which took as its template the Disney megahit Swiss Family Robinson and applied it to the nineteen-seventies, when getting in touch with the natural world meant muesli for breakfast and earth tones for the home furnishings, along with an interest in preserving the environment and even getting out into it for a healthy hike or two.
What most people didn't think was sensible was opening yourself and your loved ones up to wild animal attacks, or cutting yourself off from civilisation to the extent that you were placing your life in danger. Society is there for a reason, and it's not the Middle Ages anymore, but try telling that to Skip, a maniac under the apparently convincing guise of a reasonable man who persuades everyone that heading off to the middle of nowhere with no safety net is a simply wonderful idea. Obviously there would not be much of a movie if it all went swimmingly, but taking its cue from other Disney productions, namely their nature documentaries, the animal footage featured genuine aggression.
Crust the dog (Crust?) in particular attacked every beast, no matter how big, that crossed his path, and since the two kids were forever getting into difficulty from the wildlife that meant the mutt bared its fangs and launched itself at anything on four legs. That included the mule belonging to chuntering old mountain geezer Boomer (George 'Buck' Flower), who surely should have swapped names with the pooch, which it chases away in a running joke yet the scenes where it tussles for real with grown bears, cougars and wolves were not especially amusing, and looked more like director Stewart Raffill would have been quite at home including cockfights and bear-baiting if it had meant he could have featured even more action. There were friendly bruins, like the two cubs the Robinsons adopt or the hungry full-grown example, but one was not.
Scenes where Jenny is chased by this terror were supposed to be suspenseful, but came across more unpleasant, not to mention the fact the actress looked absolutely petrified and not in a "what a good performance" way either (she never made another film). The climax saw the character on the brink of death while the evil bear smashes its way into their cabin and resembled revenge of nature horrors like Claws or Grizzly more than they did some anodyne family yarn, which left the actual conclusion all the more baffling (though this was a hit and spawned two more sequels, as well as Logan and Raffill reteaming on The Sea Gypsies, a shipwreck tale along similar lines). Meanwhile each member of the lunatic family, who have no apparent experience in existing in the wilderness that you can see despite the father's aptitude with fishing, has been variously injured either physically or psychologically by their new home. It may have been intended as a heartwarming endorsement of the family unit, but unintentionally alarming was what it was. Music by Gene Kauer and Douglas Lackey (with gloopy country songs).
From the future director of The Ice Pirates, am I right? A better version of this concept would be Night of the Grizzly with Clint Walker taking on the bruin single-handed. It is surprisingly family-friendly but acknowledges the hardship of life in the wilderness and throws in a lot more suspense and action. The comedy works better too.
17 Apr 2018
It's worse than that: from the future director of Mac & Me!