20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


2h 7m 1954
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Brief Synopsis

A renegade sea captain uses a pioneering submarine to force peace on the world.

Film Details

Also Known As
Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Dec 23, 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 23 Dec 1954
Production Company
Walt Disney Productions
Distribution Company
Buena Vista Film Distribution Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Death Valley, California, United States; Lyford Cay, New Providence, United States; Nassau, Bahamas, United States; Nassau, New Providence Islands, Bahamas; Nassau, Bahamas, United States; Negril, Jamaica, United States; Negril, Jamaica, United States; San Diego, California, United States; Lyford Cay, New Providence; Nassau, Bahamas; Negril, Jamaica
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Vingt mille lieues sous les mers by Jules Verne (France, 1870).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 7m
Sound
4-Track Stereo (RCA Sound Recording)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1

Synopsis

In San Francisco in 1868, a mysterious beast attacks ships at sea, causing trouble for shippers who cannot find any crew members willing to risk setting sail. Prof. Pierre Aronnax, a famous French marine scientist and scholar, arrives in San Francisco with his aide-de-camp, Conseil, on their way to the Orient. Upon discovering that no ships will sail through the South Seas, Aronnax resigns himself to waiting. After he consents to reporters questioning him about the sea monster that such a beast could possibly exist, he is approached by U.S. Naval official John Howard, who offers him transport to Asia on a warship that will search for signs of the monster. Intrigued, Aronnax accepts, and boards the Abraham Lincoln along with the skeptical commander, Farragut, and brash harpooner Ned Land. The crew is energetic, but after more than three months pass without sighting the beast, morale lags, and Farragut declares the expedition a failure. Just then, they spot a ship being attacked some miles away and rush to the site where, too late to save any of the sailors, they fire cannons upon the attacking "monster." They are helpless against its battering approach, however, and within minutes, the Abraham Lincoln sinks. Aronnax and Conseil manage to stay afloat on a piece of sail, but are soon debilitated from the freezing waters. Finally, they spot a submarine, the Nautilus , and climb aboard, not realizing that it is the "monster" that sank their ship. Below deck, they are shocked to discover a lavish salon, fueled by electric power and richly furnished. Through the massive porthole, Aronnax witnesses an undersea burial attended by men in full diving suits, the likes of which have heretofore been unknown to man. Ned has also managed to find his way to the sub, and upon joining them, insists that they flee in his longboat. Just then, however, the Nautilus 's captain, Nemo, spots the trio inside the ship and instructs his crew to capture them. They are brought before Nemo, who, recognizing Aronnax's name, decides to save him but drown Ned and Conseil. Aronnax surprises Nemo by choosing to die with his comrades rather than share in Nemo's treasures of knowledge, and to test his loyalty, the captain allows the three men nearly to drown before saving them all. He then calls them in to dinner, which consists of such delicacies as unborn octopus and milk of sperm whale. Ned and Conseil are disgusted, but Aronnax appreciates Nemo's ingenious ability to live completely off the fruits of the sea. Nemo then allows them to join a "hunting expedition" to harvest natural materials from the ocean. Ned and Conseil sneak off to explore a sunken ship, upon which they discover buried treasure. When Ned tries to sneak the jewels back onto the ship, they are attacked by a shark and Nemo is compelled to save them. Back onboard, the captain rebukes Ned for bothering with jewels, useless on the Nautilus except in the hold, where they serve as ballast. Later, Aronnax, who is eager to learn all he can from Nemo, scolds Ned and Conseil for angering the captain, but Ned asserts that he wants only to steal some of the treasure and escape from "the madman." Aronnax instructs Conseil to watch over Ned, who is secreting jewels in a homemade guitar when he is spotted by Nemo's barking pet seal, Esmerelda, and must flee. Meanwhile, Nemo, eager to share his discoveries with someone who can appreciate them, reveals his nuclear-powered engine to Aronnax. When the professor urges him to share his miraculous knowledge with the rest of the world, Nemo states that the world is uncivilized and would only use the power for evil. One day, Nemo takes Aronnax ashore on the island of Rorapandi, where he shows him a secret slave camp and reveals that he was once among the men forced to mine minerals to be used for weaponry. He and his crew escaped the island, Nemo explains, and fled to their new home, the isle of Vulcania, where he built the Nautilus and invented all of its machinery. Back on the sub, Nemo confines the trio to their quarters and then, after playing Bach on his organ, attacks and sinks one of the slave ships. Horrified, Aronnax tells Nemo that no inhumanity could be dreadful enough to justify mass murder. Nemo replies that he kills a few slavers to save thousands of future slaves, and reveals that his former government imprisoned him to learn his secrets about nuclear power, eventually torturing his wife and son to death. Soon after, Conseil reads Aronnax's diary and suggests to the professor that he is growing too sympathetic to Nemo. After Aronnax retorts that Nemo is a genius who must be brought back to civilization, Conseil convinces Ned that they must band together in secret to get away. When Conseil tells Ned that the ship is headed to Vulcania, the harpooner schemes to read the navigational plans and form an escape plan. Snooping through the forward deck, they are forced to hide in Nemo's cabin, where Ned befriends Esmerelda and discovers a map painted onto the wall. Later, he throws out Nemo's specimen collection in order to use the bottles to send S.O.S. messages, hording the specimen alcohol for future enjoyment. One day, the Nautilus runs aground on a reef near the shore of New Guinea. When Aronnax refuses to join Nemo ashore, protesting his murderous impulses, Ned and Conseil ask for permission to explore the nearby island. There, they ignore Nemo's warnings and attempt to escape, only to be chased back to the ship by native cannibals. Nemo uses electric currents to repel the natives, then imprisons Ned. Soon after, the crew spots a warship, and because they remain grounded on the reef, the Nautilus is hit, the explosion freeing them from the rocks. Ned's cell is flooded, but he manages to escape while Nemo is forced to submerge the ship farther down than ever before. A giant squid soon attacks the ship, and when Nemo resurfaces the boat to battle the beast, Ned harpoons the squid, saving Nemo's life. Back inside, Ned, horrified at his actions, gets drunk while Nemo sneers at Aronnax's diary depiction of Ned as a hero. The two argue, Aronnax insisting that Nemo still believes in the basic goodness of humanity and the captain dismissing the professor's "gullibility." As the ship soon nears Vulcania, Aronnax has almost convinced Nemo to reveal all his secrets when they are ambushed by warships, responding to Ned's S.O.S. Nemo, desperate to destroy everything on the island before the intruders discover it, goes ashore and sets a nuclear explosion. Upon returning to the ship, he is shot in the back, but manages to steer to safety. In his salon, the dying Nemo announces that this will be the Nautilus 's last dive, and his men prepare to die with him. Aronnax begs him to reconsider, but Nemo merely promises that when the world is ready for his secrets, they will be rediscovered. Ned breaks free from the guards and resurfaces the submarine, allowing him, Aronnax and Conseil to race to a lifeboat. Inside, Nemo collapses, struggling to the porthole to watch Vulcania explode into a mushrooming cloud. As Aronnax, safely on the open sea, watches the Nautilus and its inhabitants sink, he remembers Nemo's assurance that his inventions will one day resurface.

Videos

Movie Clip

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) - Whale Of A Tale Kirk Douglas (as harpoon expert Ned Land) offers a jaunty rendition of "Whale of a Tale" by Al Hoffman and Norm Gimbel, immediately followed by an emergency at sea, in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1954.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) - Sautee Of Unborn Octopus The status of shipless Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), Consell (Peter Lorre) and Professor Arronax (Paul Lukas) is a topic, as is the fare, as Captain Nemo (James Mason) offers sustenance on board the Nautilus in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1954.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) - You Can't Eat Pieces Of Eight! Quasi-prisoners Ned (Kirk Douglas) and Consell (Peter Lorre) have an underwater misadventure with some treasure and a shark, then get scolded by Captain Nemo (James Mason) in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1954.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) - You'll Be Fighting At Close Quarters Captain Nemo (James Mason) leads his crew as the dreaded giant squid, harpoon man and Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) trying to escape his cell in, surely one of the best remembered spectacles of the era, in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1954.
20,000 Leauges Under The Sea (1954) - I Have Done With Society Having seen the occupants of the apparent-submarine that sank their warship busy underwater, Ned, Aronnax and Consell (Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre) look to escape, but are apprehended by Captain Nemo (James Mason) and crew, whom we meet in stages, in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea , 1954.

Film Details

Also Known As
Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Dec 23, 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 23 Dec 1954
Production Company
Walt Disney Productions
Distribution Company
Buena Vista Film Distribution Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Death Valley, California, United States; Lyford Cay, New Providence, United States; Nassau, Bahamas, United States; Nassau, New Providence Islands, Bahamas; Nassau, Bahamas, United States; Negril, Jamaica, United States; Negril, Jamaica, United States; San Diego, California, United States; Lyford Cay, New Providence; Nassau, Bahamas; Negril, Jamaica
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Vingt mille lieues sous les mers by Jules Verne (France, 1870).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 7m
Sound
4-Track Stereo (RCA Sound Recording)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1

Award Wins

Best Art Direction

1954

Best Special Effects

1955

Award Nominations

Best Editing

1954
Elmo Williams

Articles

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), along with perhaps Mary Poppins (1964), is the most popular and most accomplished live-action feature produced at Walt Disney Productions during Walt's lifetime. He first conceived of adapting the Jules Verne novel in the 1940s, naturally thinking of making an animated feature of the story. By the fall of 1952, though, Disney had decided to produce 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in live-action at his Burbank studio. This was no small decision. Disney had already made a few live-action films, but they had all been produced in England at a relatively low cost (and to avoid paying heavy fees on profits that his animated films earned in that country). Such movies as Treasure Island (1950), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953), and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953) had all been profitable costume adventures starring British actors. He planned for 20,000 Leagues to be something quite different: a big-budget picture with top-of-the-line American actors, produced at the Disney lot. Disney's facility, of course, was set up to produce animation, so his plan entailed vast new investments in soundstage construction and behind-the-camera personnel with live-action experience. Concurrent with this risky expansion, Disney was deep into the planning and construction of his landmark theme park, Disneyland.

In their lengthy retrospect appearing in the May, 1984 issue of Cinefantastique magazine, Joel Frazier and Harry Hathorne assigned much of the credit for the success of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to the film's uncredited production designer, Harper Goff. Goff began work on the film when it was still being thought of as an animated project, and he started with the all-important submarine of the story – Captain Nemo's Nautilus. Goff described his thinking behind the design: "I always thought that the shark and alligator were quite deadly-looking in the water, so I based my design on their physical characteristics. The submarine's streamlined body, dorsal fin and prominent tail simulated the traits of the shark. The heavy rivet patterns on the surface plates represented the rough skin on the alligator, while the forward viewports and top searchlights represented its menacing eyes." Disney was initially not very happy with Goff's design – he had expected a sleek, unadorned cylinder as described in Verne's book. Goff, however, was able to sell Walt on the look of Nemo's ship, which logically would have been pieced-together from iron salvage at his remote hideaway. Goff used the same melding of 19th Century functionality and cultured sensibilities in his designs for the interior of the Nautilus, incorporating finely-crafted woodwork, intricate brass fittings, and, in keeping with Nemo's refined character, a library and an elaborate pipe organ.

While Goff continued with the design work on the film, Disney looked for a writer and director to tackle the episodic Verne book. Disney had been very impressed with the film The Happy Time (1952), a family comedy written by Earl Felton and directed by Richard Fleischer. The two had been something of a team, having also worked together on a pair of highly-regarded crime dramas at RKO, Armored Car Robbery (1950) and The Narrow Margin (1952). Fleisher met with Walt, and as he later described, "At our first meeting, I asked Walt why he had selected me. He answered, 'I saw The Happy Time which featured Bobby Driscoll, one of our contract players. If anybody can make an actor out of that kid, he's got to be a good director.'" That Fleischer was offered the chance to direct such an important film by Disney remains one of the more fascinating ironies in Hollywood lore. Fleischer was the son of Max Fleischer, who throughout the 1930s and early 1940s was Disney's greatest competitor in the field of animation. By 1953, though, Fleischer Studios had long since been absorbed by Paramount Pictures and Max was enjoying his retirement. The elder Fleischer not only gave his son his blessing; he also buried the hatchet and became friends with Disney.

Writer Felton fashioned a script by retaining the three or four major incidents people remember from the book, but adding a motivation for Captain Nemo's actions and making the outside observers on the Nautilus prisoners who think of escape. As Cinefantastique quoted Richard Fleischer, "Although Nemo is demonic, he is a force of good fighting the forces of evil. He lost his wife and child. He was captured and spent years in a slave camp. He sinks ships that carry munitions and tools of war. He never sinks anything that is innocent." Felton's story is set shortly after the Civil War: In San Francisco, shippers have trouble recruiting crewmen due to stories of a monster destroying vessels at sea. French scientist Prof. Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre) gain passage on the U.S. Naval ship, the Abraham Lincoln, in hopes of seeing signs of the monster. After months at sea, they encounter a destroyed warship and survive a battering ram which cripples their vessel. With the ship's harpooner, Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), Arronax and Conseil are taken aboard the Nautilus, a submarine commanded by Captain Nemo (James Mason). There, they witness amazing sights including an undersea burial by crewmen wearing exotic breathing apparatus, sunken ships full of treasure, the nuclear-power of the submarine's engines, and the island slave camp at which Nemo and his future crewmen were once forced to toil for the benefit of munitions manufacturers. Several adventurous episodes follow, such as Conseil and Ned's escape from an island of cannibals and a battle with a giant squid, while Nemo treks toward his volcano headquarters as his reluctant guests hatch an escape plan.

Disney hedged his bet somewhat by having another writer prepare his own version of the script. John Tucker Battle had written the sci-fi adventure Invaders from Mars (1953), but nothing of his scripts for the Disney film was used. When Felton was nearing a final draft, his screenplay was handed over to the Disney art department, and in a significant step, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea became the first live-action feature film to be storyboarded from beginning to end - the boards contained over 1300 drawings. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea provided the first chance for Disney to cast a picture with a top-tier American cast; James Mason accepted the all-important Nemo role, and major box-office draw Kirk Douglas eagerly lightened his screen image by bringing his intense style to the role of the swaggering, heroic harpooner, Ned Land.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had an unusually long shooting schedule. While Disney constructed several new stages on his lot for live-action filming, several scenes had to be shot on borrowed backlots at both Universal and 20th Century Fox Studios. Disney also made the decision to shoot several key underwater scenes on location. In fact, the first sequence shot was the underwater burial scene, filmed in the clear waters off Nassau, in the Bahamas. For this footage, the Disney designers and engineers created specialized gear which was both decorative and functional. It took an underwater crew of 33 men – 11 in front of the camera and 22 behind it – eight days to film this one sequence. Due to safety concerns as well as natural lighting conditions, the troupe could only remain submerged for 55 minutes at a time. Fish wranglers had to steer frightened specimens in front of the camera, and large areas of the ocean floor had to be covered with hemp carpeting so that the men would not kick up camera-covering silt.

Fleischer filmed the cannibal island sequence on location as well, traveling to Jamaica with Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre for those scenes. After two months of location shooting, the principal photography began in earnest on the new Disney Stages, and took another four months to complete. By far, the most difficult (and expensive) scene to complete was the ship-top battle between the crew of the Nautilus and a giant squid. The squid was designed as a full-size mechanical prop by sculptor Chris Mueller, with mechanical effects by Robert A. Mattey. The all-important tentacles were made of rubber and steel spring and maneuvered from above by wires. The scene as scripted was to take place on a calm sea at sunset, and filming had been progressing for a week on Disney's new stage 3, before it was abruptly halted by Walt himself. As Fleischer related, "No matter what I did, or what any director could have done, I couldn't make the fight look realistic....it was difficult to hide the flaws, especially the wires that supported the tentacles. When you tried to do something with the squid, it looked phony as hell." Accounts vary, but either writer Felton or second unit director James C. Havens had the idea to reshoot the scene during a fierce thunderstorm at night. Great improvements were also made to the squid prop, including adding more natural motion to the tentacles through the use of air pressure pumped through pneumatic tubing. The reshooting of this sequence cost the production $200,000 and a whopping six-week delay in the schedule.

When the film was approaching completion, Disney sought out a new distribution partner for his studio's films and cartoons. The deal with his previous distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, was ending and Disney had no desire to renew – he had always felt that RKO took too high a cut of the profits. Disney briefly considered Paramount Pictures, but eventually decided to begin self-distribution. He established Buena Vista Film Distribution Company, named after the Burbank street address of his studio.

Notices for the film were almost universally favorable. Variety called it "very special," and praised the actors, but said "...it is the production itself that is the star. Technical skill was lavished in fashioning the fabulous Nautilus with its exquisitely appointed interior. The underwater lensing is remarkable on a number of counts, among them being the special designing of aqualungs and other equipment to match Verne's own illustrations." The Los Angeles Times noted that "as a sci-fi job, 20,000 LEAGUES is the ablest since the previous year's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS [1953]. Nearly everyone should find the voyage exhilarating." And Jack Moffitt in the Hollywood Reporter said that "the production abounds in belly laughs and spine tingling thrills, set forth with an all-important air of plausibility."

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea deservedly won Oscars® for Best Art Direction and for Best Special Effects. Unfortunately, the film's primary designer Goff was not a union member and was therefore uncredited and did not share in the Academy Award for Art Direction. The special effects in the film were achieved by a variety of methods including optical work, animation, mechanical effects, and a method as old as filmmaking itself: matte paintings executed on glass and photographed live-in-the-camera. The paintings in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea were created by long-time Disney staffer Peter Ellenshaw.

Walt Disney's first home-grown live-action feature was enormously popular at the box-office, grossing $6.8 million on its first release. It did not make a profit, however, because it was one of the most expensive movies produced up to that time, costing over $9 million. The prestigious 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had great value for Walt beyond the box-office, though; it provided fodder for the Disney TV series, inspiration for the Theme Park, expansion of the studio soundstages, and put Disney on the map as a live-action movie production and distribution entity.

Producer: Walt Disney
Director: Richard Fleischer
Screenplay: Earl Felton, based on the novel by Jules Verne
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Film Editing: Elmo Williams
Production Design: Harper Goff
Art Direction: John Meehan
Set Decoration: Emile Kuri
Music: Paul Smith
Special Effects: John Hench, Josh Meador
Matte Paintings: Peter Ellenshaw
Cast: Kirk Douglas (Ned Land), James Mason (Captain Nemo), Paul Lukas (Prof. Pierre Arronax), Peter Lorre (Conseil), Robert J. Wilke (First Mate), Ted de Corsia (Capt. Farragut), Carleton Young (John Howard).
C-127m.

by John M. Miller

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), along with perhaps Mary Poppins (1964), is the most popular and most accomplished live-action feature produced at Walt Disney Productions during Walt's lifetime. He first conceived of adapting the Jules Verne novel in the 1940s, naturally thinking of making an animated feature of the story. By the fall of 1952, though, Disney had decided to produce 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in live-action at his Burbank studio. This was no small decision. Disney had already made a few live-action films, but they had all been produced in England at a relatively low cost (and to avoid paying heavy fees on profits that his animated films earned in that country). Such movies as Treasure Island (1950), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953), and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953) had all been profitable costume adventures starring British actors. He planned for 20,000 Leagues to be something quite different: a big-budget picture with top-of-the-line American actors, produced at the Disney lot. Disney's facility, of course, was set up to produce animation, so his plan entailed vast new investments in soundstage construction and behind-the-camera personnel with live-action experience. Concurrent with this risky expansion, Disney was deep into the planning and construction of his landmark theme park, Disneyland. In their lengthy retrospect appearing in the May, 1984 issue of Cinefantastique magazine, Joel Frazier and Harry Hathorne assigned much of the credit for the success of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to the film's uncredited production designer, Harper Goff. Goff began work on the film when it was still being thought of as an animated project, and he started with the all-important submarine of the story – Captain Nemo's Nautilus. Goff described his thinking behind the design: "I always thought that the shark and alligator were quite deadly-looking in the water, so I based my design on their physical characteristics. The submarine's streamlined body, dorsal fin and prominent tail simulated the traits of the shark. The heavy rivet patterns on the surface plates represented the rough skin on the alligator, while the forward viewports and top searchlights represented its menacing eyes." Disney was initially not very happy with Goff's design – he had expected a sleek, unadorned cylinder as described in Verne's book. Goff, however, was able to sell Walt on the look of Nemo's ship, which logically would have been pieced-together from iron salvage at his remote hideaway. Goff used the same melding of 19th Century functionality and cultured sensibilities in his designs for the interior of the Nautilus, incorporating finely-crafted woodwork, intricate brass fittings, and, in keeping with Nemo's refined character, a library and an elaborate pipe organ. While Goff continued with the design work on the film, Disney looked for a writer and director to tackle the episodic Verne book. Disney had been very impressed with the film The Happy Time (1952), a family comedy written by Earl Felton and directed by Richard Fleischer. The two had been something of a team, having also worked together on a pair of highly-regarded crime dramas at RKO, Armored Car Robbery (1950) and The Narrow Margin (1952). Fleisher met with Walt, and as he later described, "At our first meeting, I asked Walt why he had selected me. He answered, 'I saw The Happy Time which featured Bobby Driscoll, one of our contract players. If anybody can make an actor out of that kid, he's got to be a good director.'" That Fleischer was offered the chance to direct such an important film by Disney remains one of the more fascinating ironies in Hollywood lore. Fleischer was the son of Max Fleischer, who throughout the 1930s and early 1940s was Disney's greatest competitor in the field of animation. By 1953, though, Fleischer Studios had long since been absorbed by Paramount Pictures and Max was enjoying his retirement. The elder Fleischer not only gave his son his blessing; he also buried the hatchet and became friends with Disney. Writer Felton fashioned a script by retaining the three or four major incidents people remember from the book, but adding a motivation for Captain Nemo's actions and making the outside observers on the Nautilus prisoners who think of escape. As Cinefantastique quoted Richard Fleischer, "Although Nemo is demonic, he is a force of good fighting the forces of evil. He lost his wife and child. He was captured and spent years in a slave camp. He sinks ships that carry munitions and tools of war. He never sinks anything that is innocent." Felton's story is set shortly after the Civil War: In San Francisco, shippers have trouble recruiting crewmen due to stories of a monster destroying vessels at sea. French scientist Prof. Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre) gain passage on the U.S. Naval ship, the Abraham Lincoln, in hopes of seeing signs of the monster. After months at sea, they encounter a destroyed warship and survive a battering ram which cripples their vessel. With the ship's harpooner, Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), Arronax and Conseil are taken aboard the Nautilus, a submarine commanded by Captain Nemo (James Mason). There, they witness amazing sights including an undersea burial by crewmen wearing exotic breathing apparatus, sunken ships full of treasure, the nuclear-power of the submarine's engines, and the island slave camp at which Nemo and his future crewmen were once forced to toil for the benefit of munitions manufacturers. Several adventurous episodes follow, such as Conseil and Ned's escape from an island of cannibals and a battle with a giant squid, while Nemo treks toward his volcano headquarters as his reluctant guests hatch an escape plan. Disney hedged his bet somewhat by having another writer prepare his own version of the script. John Tucker Battle had written the sci-fi adventure Invaders from Mars (1953), but nothing of his scripts for the Disney film was used. When Felton was nearing a final draft, his screenplay was handed over to the Disney art department, and in a significant step, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea became the first live-action feature film to be storyboarded from beginning to end - the boards contained over 1300 drawings. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea provided the first chance for Disney to cast a picture with a top-tier American cast; James Mason accepted the all-important Nemo role, and major box-office draw Kirk Douglas eagerly lightened his screen image by bringing his intense style to the role of the swaggering, heroic harpooner, Ned Land. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had an unusually long shooting schedule. While Disney constructed several new stages on his lot for live-action filming, several scenes had to be shot on borrowed backlots at both Universal and 20th Century Fox Studios. Disney also made the decision to shoot several key underwater scenes on location. In fact, the first sequence shot was the underwater burial scene, filmed in the clear waters off Nassau, in the Bahamas. For this footage, the Disney designers and engineers created specialized gear which was both decorative and functional. It took an underwater crew of 33 men – 11 in front of the camera and 22 behind it – eight days to film this one sequence. Due to safety concerns as well as natural lighting conditions, the troupe could only remain submerged for 55 minutes at a time. Fish wranglers had to steer frightened specimens in front of the camera, and large areas of the ocean floor had to be covered with hemp carpeting so that the men would not kick up camera-covering silt. Fleischer filmed the cannibal island sequence on location as well, traveling to Jamaica with Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre for those scenes. After two months of location shooting, the principal photography began in earnest on the new Disney Stages, and took another four months to complete. By far, the most difficult (and expensive) scene to complete was the ship-top battle between the crew of the Nautilus and a giant squid. The squid was designed as a full-size mechanical prop by sculptor Chris Mueller, with mechanical effects by Robert A. Mattey. The all-important tentacles were made of rubber and steel spring and maneuvered from above by wires. The scene as scripted was to take place on a calm sea at sunset, and filming had been progressing for a week on Disney's new stage 3, before it was abruptly halted by Walt himself. As Fleischer related, "No matter what I did, or what any director could have done, I couldn't make the fight look realistic....it was difficult to hide the flaws, especially the wires that supported the tentacles. When you tried to do something with the squid, it looked phony as hell." Accounts vary, but either writer Felton or second unit director James C. Havens had the idea to reshoot the scene during a fierce thunderstorm at night. Great improvements were also made to the squid prop, including adding more natural motion to the tentacles through the use of air pressure pumped through pneumatic tubing. The reshooting of this sequence cost the production $200,000 and a whopping six-week delay in the schedule. When the film was approaching completion, Disney sought out a new distribution partner for his studio's films and cartoons. The deal with his previous distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, was ending and Disney had no desire to renew – he had always felt that RKO took too high a cut of the profits. Disney briefly considered Paramount Pictures, but eventually decided to begin self-distribution. He established Buena Vista Film Distribution Company, named after the Burbank street address of his studio. Notices for the film were almost universally favorable. Variety called it "very special," and praised the actors, but said "...it is the production itself that is the star. Technical skill was lavished in fashioning the fabulous Nautilus with its exquisitely appointed interior. The underwater lensing is remarkable on a number of counts, among them being the special designing of aqualungs and other equipment to match Verne's own illustrations." The Los Angeles Times noted that "as a sci-fi job, 20,000 LEAGUES is the ablest since the previous year's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS [1953]. Nearly everyone should find the voyage exhilarating." And Jack Moffitt in the Hollywood Reporter said that "the production abounds in belly laughs and spine tingling thrills, set forth with an all-important air of plausibility." 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea deservedly won Oscars® for Best Art Direction and for Best Special Effects. Unfortunately, the film's primary designer Goff was not a union member and was therefore uncredited and did not share in the Academy Award for Art Direction. The special effects in the film were achieved by a variety of methods including optical work, animation, mechanical effects, and a method as old as filmmaking itself: matte paintings executed on glass and photographed live-in-the-camera. The paintings in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea were created by long-time Disney staffer Peter Ellenshaw. Walt Disney's first home-grown live-action feature was enormously popular at the box-office, grossing $6.8 million on its first release. It did not make a profit, however, because it was one of the most expensive movies produced up to that time, costing over $9 million. The prestigious 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had great value for Walt beyond the box-office, though; it provided fodder for the Disney TV series, inspiration for the Theme Park, expansion of the studio soundstages, and put Disney on the map as a live-action movie production and distribution entity. Producer: Walt Disney Director: Richard Fleischer Screenplay: Earl Felton, based on the novel by Jules Verne Cinematography: Franz Planer Film Editing: Elmo Williams Production Design: Harper Goff Art Direction: John Meehan Set Decoration: Emile Kuri Music: Paul Smith Special Effects: John Hench, Josh Meador Matte Paintings: Peter Ellenshaw Cast: Kirk Douglas (Ned Land), James Mason (Captain Nemo), Paul Lukas (Prof. Pierre Arronax), Peter Lorre (Conseil), Robert J. Wilke (First Mate), Ted de Corsia (Capt. Farragut), Carleton Young (John Howard). C-127m. by John M. Miller

Quotes

I am not what is called a civilized man, Professor. I have done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.
- Captain Nemo
The natives over there are cannibals. They eat liars with the same enthusiasm as they eat honest men.
- Captain Nemo
Think of it. On the surface there is hunger and fear. Men still exercise unjust laws. They fight, tear one another to pieces. A mere few feet beneath the waves their reign ceases, their evil drowns. Here on the ocean floor is the only independence. Here I am free! Imagine what would happen if they controlled machines such as this submarine boat. Far better that they think there's a monster and hunt me with harpoons.
- Captain Nemo
There's a fork on your left, Mr. Land. Or aren't you accustomed to utensils?
- Captain Nemo
I'm indifferent to 'em.
- Ned Land
Eat your pudding, Mr. Land.
- Captain Nemo
I ain't sure it's puddin'.
- Ned Land

Trivia

The filming model of the Nautilus is on display at EPCOT Center's attraction, "The Living Seas".

In the opening credits, the title banner does not have a comma between the first and second zeroes "20000 Leagues Under the Sea")although a comma does appear on the poster and all relating print advertisements.

This was the first live action movie to be made at Walt Disney's studio in the United States.

Disney's first feature in Cinemascope and one of the first productions outside of 20th Century Fox to sign up for Cinemascope. The Cinemascope lens had to be leased from Fox. At the time, Bausch & Lomb had not been able to manufacture enough anamorphic lenses to meet demand. Only one Cinemascope lens was available to Disney. This prevented multiple units from shooting at the same time which contributed to the lengthy production schedule.

The climactic squid battle on the Nautilus was originally shot with a serene sunset and a calm sea. Director Richard Fleischer was troubled by the look of it because the cams and gears that operated the squid could easily be seen, making look obviously fake. Walt Disney visited the set one day and Fleischer relayed his troubles to Walt. Walt came up with the brilliant notion of having the squid battle take place during a fierce storm. So, they re-shot it with the storm and it is the highlight of this film.

Notes

The opening title reads: "Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." The film opens with the image of a curtain rising onto the first page of Jules Verne's novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The text on the page serves as a foreword describing the "monster on the loose" attacking ships at sea. Contemporary news items and studio press materials provide the following information on the production: Although Hollywood Reporter reported on January 25, 1951 that independent producer Sid Rogell was readying 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at General Service Studios, that film was never made and there is no indication that Rogell was involved in the Disney production.
       Contemporary studio press materials provide the following information on the production: More than a year before shooting began, Walt Disney and his staff labored over the pre-production challenges inherent in filming Verne's complex and technically sophisticated tale. Production developer Harper Goff was working on plans for the Disneyland amusement park when Disney asked him to consider some marine life footage, shot by the California Institute of Technology's Dr. McGinnity, for a documentary film in the studio's "True-Life Adventure" series. While developing the storyboard, Goff "daydreamed about the Verne story" and sketched the scene from the novel in which divers explore the ocean floor. Although Disney liked the sketches, he was under the impression that M-G-M owned the rights to Verne's novel; however, he soon discovered that the rights were available for purchase, having passed to first the King Brothers and then to a smaller company.
       In 1952, the studio began work on an animated version of Verne's novel, but by late fall of 1952, Disney, encouraged by the success of his British live-action films, decided to make 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea his first American-made live-action feature. Goff then worked for months on the design of the Nautilus, which Verne had envisioned, many years before any submarines existed, to have a battering-ram snout, electric "eyes," metallic ridges, a tail, a diving chamber, atomic power and a lavish salon. Six scale models were constructed before Disney accepted the design. The final submarine set was 200 feet long and twenty-six feet wide and featured a tubular interior based on the Forth railway bridge in Scotland.
       Goff, who did not belong to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), was not allowed to receive the credit "art director" or "production designer," and as such was not considered eligible for an Academy Award. Goff recounts in the studio press materials his disappointment with Disney for refusing to fight IATSE, calling it "a very traumatic experience." The union insisted on the hiring of an affiliated art director, and as a result John Meehan was engaged to carry out Goff's designs. Meehan was also responsible for the design of the San Francisco and Abraham Lincoln sets.
       Another challenge for the crew was to bring to life Verne's vision of diving suits that would allow men to walk on the ocean floor. After months of research, Disney's diving technicians created a suit that combined a diver's helmet, a rubber suit and an aqua-lung that piped air through tubes into the diver's mouth. The suit weight 225 pounds and was considered the first practical, self-contained diving suit ever invented. In addition to the suit, the film's divers wore long underwear, wool socks and leather gloves.
       During the pre-production stage, Disney worked with writer Earl Felton to adapt Verne's novel into a more viable film story. Among the changes made to the original was the portrayal of "Captain Nemo" as an aggressive, remorseless hunter of warships, rather than the novel's self-defensive killer. In addition, the novel portrays "Prof. Pierre Aronnax," "Conseil" and "Ned Land" as Nemo's observers, rather than his prisoners; and has the submarine run on electronic power, instead of atomic. Felton commented on the changes in studio press materials, stating, "We counted on the fact that nobody ever read the book very carefully."
       Beginning on January 11, 1954, the fifty-four-man crew shot exteriors on location for eight weeks, including work in Negril, Jamaica (standing in for New Guinea and the cannibal's island, where hundreds of native Jamaicans portrayed cannibals), Nassau in the Bahamas, Lyford Cay on New Providence and Death Valley, CA. More than twenty tons of equipment, six ships and thousands of captive fish were utilized. Special equipment was devised, including an Aquaflex underwater camera and a system to enclose the standard Mitchell camera in a watertight case, making it a self-contained unit for the first time. Problems with shooting underwater abounded, as underwater communication was almost impossible and the unit had only fifty-minutes of air per dive, which involved a twenty-minute diving and resurfacing procedure. In Lyford Cay, underwater photography had to be completed between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., before cloud coverage obscured the sunlight. Director Richard Fleischer carpeted the ocean floor with hemp to prevent clouds of sand from marring images. To minimize time underwater, each scene was first diagrammed and rehearsed on land.
       On March 2, 1954, location shooting wrapped, and on 10 March the crew returned to the Disney studio in Burbank. There, a third sound stage was built specially for the film, containing a tank that ranged in depth from three to twelve feet. Press materials report its size variably as either 90 x 165-feet or 60 x 125-feet. The only scene to be shot in its entirety in the tank was the one in which Ned and Conseil discover buried treasure. During this time, second units shot exteriors in San Diego, the Twentieth Century-Fox backlot and the Universal lot (where the San Francisco sequence was photographed).
       The "giant squid" sequence was shot during the week of March 10, 1954, but it appeared unrealistic, prompting Disney to order the footage reshot, despite the fact that this caused a six-week delay. Second-unit director James Havens solved the problem of visible wires by deciding to set the fight during a rainstorm, thus obscuring wires among the wet, chaotic background. The final squid model weighed two tons, had eight forty-foot tentacles and two fifty-foot feelers, and required twenty-eight crew members to control. On June 19, 1954, principal photography was completed.
       Charles Boyer was originally cast as Aronnax, but withdrew. Press materials discuss the tension on the set caused by Paul Lukas, who at various times threatened to sue Fleischer, Disney and Kirk Douglas, and fought with longtime friend Peter Lorre. According to Fleischer, "When he couldn't remember his lines, he'd blow up at somebody."
       20,000 Leagues Under the Sea marked Disney's first CinemaScope film. According to the Variety review, the film's final cost was $5 million. It was also the first Disney feature to be released by its recently created, in-house distribution arm, Buena Vista. According to press materials, both RKO and Paramount wanted to release the film, and on September 14, 1954, Hollywood Reporter announced that the deal for RKO to release the film was near completion, but Disney eventually chose Buena Vista in order to retain more of the film's profits.
       Disney assigned a crew to shoot a "making-of" documentary about the film's production, which was then broadcast on the Disneyland television show on December 8, 1954. According to modern sources, that hour-long promotional program, entitled "Operation Underseas," was referred to in the industry as "The Long, Long Trailer," in reference to its use as a publicity program. The documentary won Emmys for Best Individual Program of the Year and Best Television Film Editing (Grant Smith and Lynn Harrison).
       Modern sources add Harry Harvey (Shipping clerk) and Herb Vigran (Reporter) to the cast. The film won Academy Awards for Art Direction (Color-John Meehan and Emile Kuri) and Special Effects (Walt Disney Studios), as well as a nomination for Film Editing (Elmo Williams). It was the most financially successful Disney film to that time.
       Verne's novel had previously been filmed by Universal in 1916, directed by Stuart Palin and starring Allan Holubar and Dan Hanlon (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20). The author had written a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1874 entitled Mysterious Island, and Columbia produced the adaptation in 1961, directed by Cy Enfield and starring Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, and Herbert Lom as Nemo (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). Press materials note that Mason turned down the opportunity to star in the 1961 picture. In addition, the success of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea inspired many other film adaptations of Verne novels, including Twentieth Century-Fox's 1959 Journey to the Center of the Earth, which starred Mason (see below); Columbia's Valley of the Dragons in 1961; Twentieth Century-Fox`s Five Weeks in a Balloon in 1962 with Red Buttons (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70); and several others.
       20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was re-released in 1968, 1993 and 1999. According to a September 15, 1993 Daily Variety article, by 1993 the film's original color had faded to the extent that that year's re-release featured a restored print made from a new master, with a re-mixed sound track.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best American Films by the 1954 National Board of Review.

Released in United States Winter December 23, 1954

Released in United States March 1975

Released in United States 1998

Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.

Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Long Beach, California October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1, 1998.

Released in USA on video as part of Walt Disney's Family Film Collection.

CinemaScope

Released in United States Winter December 23, 1954

Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon) March 13-26, 1975.)

Released in United States 1998 (Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Long Beach, California October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1, 1998.)

Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.)