...shining light on the media, one review at a time
The magical, wonderful world of early Disney may now be most well-known for blockbuster films like Mary Poppins, or its famous animated pictures. But the bread and butter of Disney’s long-standing reputation for well-made, wholesome entertainment are in the lesser-known movies that Disney churned out in the earlier years at a remarkable pace.
Among these films is The Moon-Spinners, a vivacious tale of suspense and growing up. Though relatively unknown, The Moon-Spinners is classic Disney at its best, mixing charming characters, a coming-of-age story, adventure, and even a touch of romance into a foolproof recipe for family-friendly fun.
Nikky Ferris and her Aunt Frances are on an adventure. The two British subjects are touring through Greece for Aunt Frances, a musicologist, to collect recordings of folk songs for the BBC. After a week in Athens, Nikky and her aunt hear of a small village on the Island of Crete that Aunt Frances hopes might have some interesting songs. Not realizing what they’re getting into, Nikky and Aunt Frances arrive at a small inn on Crete called The Moon-Spinners.
The villagers are charming and welcoming, but the proprietor of the inn and her overbearing brother, Stratos, are not. Just barely managing to secure a room to stay in, Nikky and Aunt Frances are befuddled by the off-putting example of “Cretan hospitality.”
Their spirits are lifted when they encounter a fellow British traveler, a young man named Mark Camford. While Nikky starts to swoon for the handsome stranger, Aunt Frances has a few doubts, observing that Mark seems a bit “mysterious.”
He isn’t the only one with an aura of mystery. Nikky is soon plunged into a tangled mess of intrigue concerning an unsolved jewel theft. Surrounded by secrets, Nikky finds herself having to run for her life from thieves and would-be killers, while searching for the truth. Is it with the charming Mark, who protects Nikky, just as she works to save his life?
One thing is certain, Nikky is having much more of an adventure than Aunt Frances intended. In the end, only perseverance, courage, and loving friendship will help right win out.
At the opening of The Moon-Spinners, viewers know they’re in for something a bit different from standard Disney fare of the sixties era. In an unusual move for Disney at the time, some of this film is shot on location in Greece, rather than employing only sets on a studio lot. Having actual locations in this picture establishes an authenticity and sense of realism that helps to ground what otherwise could seem like an unlikely plot. In addition, some of the actors employed to play the Greek roles are actually Greek themselves, with Irene Pappas, playing the inn’s proprietor, as the prime example.
Any Disney picture striving for realism could do no better than to cast Hayley Mills. Effortlessly charismatic, Mills’ allure (which her character amusingly says she doesn’t have) is not in model looks or flexing dramatic chops. Instead, she shows again why she is one of the most natural actors to ever grace the big screen. She is simply, unquestionably, real. There is never an off-moment in her performance, as even unplanned deviations add to the truth of her performance because she isn’t really “acting,” but rather living—a camera just happens to be there.
Mills is well-paired with Peter McEnery, who fills the role of Mark to a tee, and Joan Greenwood as Nikky’s gracious, kind, and sophisticated Aunt Frances. The strong cast is punctuated by highly-acclaimed Eli Wallach as villainous Stratos and underappreciated Irene Pappas, always an emotional presence in any role. Director James Neilson, responsible for other sweet Disney films like Summer Magic and Bon Voyage!, shows again that he knows how to handle talented actors well.
Despite excellent acting and a solid script, this film is not perfect. The production quality suffers from a few continuity issues, containing mismatched cuts, inconsistent day-for-night shooting, and sometimes obvious substituted backgrounds used for studio shooting. These errors all but disappear, however, in the enjoyment of this movie that has so much to offer.
Uplifting entertainment can be hard to find in recent times, but The Moon-Spinners is a winner in that category. In part the tale of a teenage girl, grappling for her identity as most teens do, there’s no overdone angst or rebellion here (or the profanities and obscenities usually coupled with such material).
Rather, viewers see Nikky struggle with some teenage concerns, doubts, and interests, but her approach to those issues, while realistic, is mixed with a maturity and morality rarely seen in today’s teen stories. As a result, the appeal of this movie is not limited to teens, but is instead broadened to reach younger and older audiences equally as well.
Nikky is a likable teen who appeals to all ages with her many relatable qualities. For adults watching the film, it’s easy to forget that Nikky is as young as she is, until her endearing moments that remind adult viewers of times gone by, when youthful vigor and insecurities temporarily defined the world. Kids and teens who see The Moon-Spinners will likely appreciate the adventure and the pretty, but normal girl they can relate to, while parents need have no qualms about their youngsters emulating this heroine.
The only character flaw of concern that Nikky exhibits is when she lies at one point in the story. She does so only under extreme circumstances, and to save the life of someone in danger. Thankfully, this slip is balanced with other good qualities that Nikky demonstrates. Among the many uplifting messages are those of friendship, family, love, courage, and loyalty. Perhaps best of all, Nikky also shows that a young girl can have fun and even excitement, while living modestly and morally.
In The Moon-Spinners, the heroine doesn’t have special powers or martial arts skills. She isn’t physically perfect or sensual. She isn’t even an intellectual genius. She’s just an ordinary girl who saves the day by being her good-hearted, innocent, and smart self. Surely viewers of all ages can learn something from that and, in this case, have a great deal of fun along the way.