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20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) by Walt Disney

by Peter de Freitas

Walt Disney's first science-fiction film, and the only science-fiction film Walt Disney himself produced, is the 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.  This is currently the best-known movie version of French author Jules Gabriel Verne's book Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (A literal translation of the French title would end in the plural "seas", thus implying the "seven seas" through which the characters of the novel travel).

The story goes that in 1866, rumours of a sea monster attacking ships in the Pacific Ocean are alarming the shipping world and scaring sailors. 

After an article appears in the papers that misquote Professor Aronnax of the Paris National Museum completely, depicting the monster in a sketch with wings and a ship in its mouth, the United States Government invites Professor Arronax on an expedition to confirm or deny the rumours. 

But, finding nothing, the expedition is about to end when they finally meet with this monster.  It disables their ship and Professor Aronnax falls overboard, followed by his servant.  Numb in the water, after a long time they find what this "monster" was all about - it's the Nautilus, a submerging boat.  After a while, they are also joined by Ned Land, the harpooner that had been with them on their ship. 

The Nautilus belongs to Captain Nemo, who treats his new prisoners well but they are still prisoners.  Meanwhile Aronnax writes down the entire voyage and all their adventures in his journal.  They also find that their captain has a lot of anger in him, a man at war with war itself, and they know that they cannot stay forever while the Nautilus sinks warships while at the same time killing everybody on board.

The scene this movie is most famous for is probably that of the giant squid.  Originally this scene was going to take place during sunset.  On the "Special Edition" DVD, footage from the original scene can be seen among the behind-the-scenes footage.  However, after watching it, you soon realise why Disney decided the scene needed lightning and rain and stormy seas, and should take place at night.  Much better the latter way.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was filmed at various locations in Bahamas and Jamaica, with the cave scenes filmed beneath what is now the Xtabi Resort on the cliffs of Negril. Some of the location filming sequences were so complex that they required a technical crew of over 400 people. The film presented many other challenges as well as cost-overruns during production, making it the most expensive film produced at the time. 

The cast included Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, James Mason as Captain Nemo, Paul Lukas as Professor Pierre Aronnax and Peter Lorre as Conseil. 

Other 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea film renditions have since followed, some making use of badly done unrealistic computer animations and unrelatable scripts.  Disney's 1954 version is in my opinion still the best movie on this story to date.


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