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The film opens with a written prologue introducing the story about two children who survived the 1953 North Sea Flood that broke over the dikes on the southwestern coast of The Netherlands. Subsequent to the North Sea Flood, which killed over 1,800 people, the Dutch government implemented the Delta Plan, which included the construction of ten dams, including the five-mile-wide East Schelde estuary, which also acts as a storm-surge barrier. In addition, several bridges were built and dikes were strengthened to prevent further disasters.
Author January de Hartog was a volunteer during rescue operations following the 1953 disaster. Hartog then wrote the novel The Little Ark based on his experiences. The character of "The Captain" refers to himself throughout the film as an "Urker," a resident from the ancient municipality of Urk on The Netherlands' southwest coast, famous for its fishing industry. As noted onscreen, The Little Ark was shot entirely in The Netherlands. Hollywood Reporter production charts listed Amsterdam as the principal location.
An animation sequence narrated by Theodore Bikel as the character The Captain depicts a children's bedtime story about a young woman pining for her lost sailor. In the closing credits special thanks is given to several individuals and organizations including the Air Service of the Royal Netherlands Navy, Cinetone Studios, the Amsterdam Police and the people of Holland.
Robert Radnitz, a producer of children's films, acquired the rights to de Hartog's novel in 1962, according to a January 24, 1962 Hollywood Reporter news item. A May 2, 1962 Variety article noted that Radnitz had signed British director Philip Leacock and planned to shoot the picture in 1963, but the production was delayed. On February 28, 1968, Variety reported that Radnitz had signed Joanna Crawford to write the script and made a production agreement with CBS Theatrical Films. According to a February 21, 1969 Daily Variety article, Cinema Center Films, a subsidiary of CBS, became the production company, which would soon have a final script. By April 1970, several news items noted that Radnitz had hired director James B. Clark, with whom he had collaborated on several previous films including the 1960 A Dog of Flanders (see entry above) and the 1969 My Side of the Mountain , both of which also starred Bikel.
A February 3, 1971 Variety article stated that the production on The Little Ark encountered difficulties not only shooting on the water and in boats, but also with children and live animals. All the actors in the film, with the exception of Bikel, Genevieve Ambas and Philip Frame, were Dutch. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for "Follow, Follow Me."