1962 was the year for family vacation comedies that revolved around fathers with a martyr complex. Fox had Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation that year and Disney had Bon Voyage!. These are essentially the same movies except that Disney’s film takes place across the Atlantic in Paris, France. Dads are the heroes of these films as they stubbornly and heroically press their pre-war values onto their post-war children while navigating such topical issues as puberty, infidelity, and alcoholism. Personally I prefer James Stewart’s romp to Fred MacMurray’s My Three Sons goes continental routine.
Bon Voyage! was directed by television veteran James Neilson who very obviously shot as much as he could on sound stages. Rear projection dominates the cinematographic langue of Bon Voyage! which lends it that Disney patented artifice. The Paris that MacMurray, Jane Wyman, Deborah Walley (of Gidget fame), and Disney stalwarts Kevin Corcoran and Tommy Kirk visit is as authentic as any ride in Disneyland. The city is bathed in light to the extent that a lack of visual style becomes a stylistic choice unto itself. Bon Voyage! is a plastic illusion of a Disney fantasy born out of white middle class values.
But, like Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation, Bon Voyage! isn’t a film that is made with children in mind. Rather, children are the scapegoats, the reason given for these films to be made. These two films are films for fathers; for dad to take his kids to see and wag his finger at and say “see how hard I have it as a dad?”. Is Bon Voyage! fun for the whole family just like the Sherman Brothers’ theme song promises? No, it’s a Disney movie for pop.
Disney, who prided himself for being in step with the youth market, proves just how out of touch with his target demographic he had become with Bon Voyage!. The film possesses neither the whimsy of the live action films produced by Disney in the fifties nor the rock music that dominated youth films of the period. Bon Voyage! is a film about a bunch of squares made by a studio of squares. What’s worse is that, as an adult, there’s absolutely nothing funny or truthful about this movie.