Disney has produced a plethora of wonderful films, but as many will agree, some of their best hare the older pictures. Films like Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Swiss Family Robinson come to mind. However, one film stands out amongst these, at least to me, as the greatest Disney film ever made; “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” The film is based on the classic Jules Verne novel, and is one of my favorites film of all time.
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre.
Plot: The year is 1886. Professor Pierre M. Aronnax (Lucas) and his counterpart Conseil (Lorrie), have agreed to go on an expedition, in search of a supposed sea monster terrorizing the Pacific Ocean. Several great war ships have been decimated, and the crew hope to find the beast and kill it. One night, their ship is attacked by the monster. The Professor and his assistant are thrown off the ship, left to drift in the open seas. Ned Land (Douglas), a skilled harpooner, has also been cast away. He soon joins with the Professor and Conseil, as he happens upon them. They stand upon a mysterious water vehicle, “the monster”, a submarine that is piloted by a man named Captain Nemo (Mason).
The characters are the heart of this film, and are brilliantly played. We have the everyman harpooner, Ned Land, wonderfully portrayed by Kirk Douglas. He is just a great character, and extremely likable one at that. He smokes cigars, crafts turtle shells into guitars, and sings with seals. The guy is just so relatable. He is by far, the most level headed person in the film. He is very much the guy the audience will relate with the most, as he is the most moral, likable, and relatable character. Next we have Professor Aronnax, played by Paul Lukas. He is an iconic actor from the old days, and he shines in this film as the ambitiously curious Professor. He is extremely entranced with Captain Nemo, his mission, and the workings of the vessel. His assistant, played by Peter Lorre, is also a great character. He becomes suspicious of Nemo and his influence on his friend, so he naturally becomes very close with Ned Land. These two men have phenomenal chemistry, and are unbelievably hilarious together. They remind me very much of R2-D2 and C3-PO from Star Wars. They’re just the perfect pair.
This film is one of Disney’s very first live action productions, and boy is it great. Not only are the story and characters impressive, the production is fantastic. There are so many wonderful props, sets, and animatronics to enjoy here. Everything is a practical effect, made with care, attention, and detail. The cinematography by Franz Planer is gorgeous, and inventive. There are some incredible underwater sequences that are just flawless. One of the most impressive aspects of the film are its special effects and action sequences. The famed giant squid that attacks the Nautilus looks great. Sure, you can tell its a little fake,but it looks pretty great for it’s time. Originally, the scene was shot in the daytime, but they decides to instead do it at night in a storm. This hid the fakeness of he squid, while also making things more dramatic.
This is not particularly a film for children or families, which is what Disney is known for. It’s most definitely a darker, more serious film geared more towards adults. Of course, the classic comedy and heartwarming scenes are there, and they’re great. But the film is more about the human condition than anything else. Captain Nemo is a peculiar character with rather interesting movies. He believes humanity is doomed, and seeks to exact vengeance upon it, becoming a sort of god-like figure. He attempts to convince the Professor of his mission, and almost succeeds in winning him over. Ned Land, as previously stated, is the moral figure, and sees things for what they are. Nemo is pretty deranged, and extremely wrathful. Ned sees this, and knows he is in the wrong, proving himself to be the best character in the film.
“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is a visual masterpiece, and in my opinion, it can proudly sit next to films like Citizen Kane and 2001 A Space Odyssey. The performances are flawless, the writing is superb, and the direction is well handled. Nearly every aspect of the film shines. Sure, it can be a bit slow here and there, and the film isn’t something kids can enjoy, but film lovers and those that appreciate well made movies will love it. it is truly one of my favorite films, and even as a kid, I loved it just as much as I do now.