Saturday Matinee #123: "My Heart Was An Island" (December 10, 1960)
Published May 11, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
Whenever I want to take an adventure, but simply don't have the time, I often turn to one of my favorite Disney films, Swiss Family Robinson. I've mentioned the film quite a few times here at Saturday Matinee, ranging from my Holiday Celebration Countdown (Saturday Matinee #51) to the 1960 Disney Studio Album (Saturday Matinee #63) to the thematically-related "Sea Salts" (Saturday Matinee #89). I'd say it's time to revisit our favorite shipwrecked island, and what better way than through its theme song? "My Heart Was An Island" may not be as well-known as "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" or "A Dream Is A Wish," but it's one for the ages. The seven lines of lyrics are only heard once in the film, and not even heard in their entirety. As Mother Robinson is putting up her new curtains, her song trails off when the scene shifts back to Ernst discussing some books he's read. However, the full recording of the song is available on the DVD, allowing us to hear Dorothy McGuire's complete take of the song.
My heart was an island on a stormy sea
Till my golden ship of dreams came to me
Filled with the wondrous joys that love brings to light
So when you are lonely, under stormy skies above
Your heart will be an island till you find someone to love
My heart was an island on a stormy sea
Till you found my heart and gave your love to me
The song was written by Terry Gilkyson, a well-known songwriter of the era best remembered by Disney fans for "The Bare Necessities" from 1967's The Jungle Book. Gilkyson actually composed additional songs when the film was in development, but the majority of them were dropped when the Sherman Brothers were later assigned to the project. As the story goes, Walt told Richard and Robert a basic summary of the Kipling classic, but not to read the novel at all. Rather, they would write more songs to go along with Gilkyson's "The Bare Necessities." As high a praise as the song received, Gilkyson's overall contributions to Disney films does seem overshadowed by the Sherman Brothers, who certainly ruled the roost at the studio throughout the 1960's. However, Gilkyson's work is still memorable today. In addition to "The Bare Necessities" now serving as one of the Disney standards, Gilkyson's other work include "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" from Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow, "Savage Sam and Me" from the Old Yeller sequel Savage Sam, "Thomasina" from The Three Lives of Thomasina, "The Moon-Spiners Song" from The Moon-Spinners, and "Thomas O'Malley Cat" from The AristoCats. And, of course, "My Heart Was An Island" from Swiss Family Robinson.
The song itself is a simple, but effective, melody that occasionally repeats in the film. I'm not entirely sure whether the melody was first developed by composer William Alwyn, then adapted into a song by Gilkyson, or if Gilkyson created the song for Alwyn to sometimes weave throughout the film's score. Either way, we hear its familiar tune at key points in the film, reminding the viewers that of both the frenetic and excited pacing, as well as the heart and love of the family. Within the Disney Songbook, "My Heart Was An Island" likely won't set many hearts afire, and even within the film, it's not as well-known as the oft-played "Swisskapolka." But for me, the song conveys a hopefulness that can get the family through the toughest of times. Its allusions to love and companionship also remind me of one of Hugh Grant's lines from 2002's About A Boy:
Every man is an island. And I stand by that. But clearly some men are part of island chains. Below the surface of the ocean, they're actually connected.
As mentioned earlier, the complete recording of "My Heart Was An Island" is available on the Swiss Family Robinson: Vault Disney Collection DVD. The DVD itself is one of Disney's best, and one I hope gets re-released to Blu-Ray.