The supporting characters are also memorable, with Paul Lukas as Professor Arronax, who becomes a kind of conscious for Nemo, but at times he can be just as flawed and arrogant. His apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre) even points out as the professor says “You’re life and mine mean nothing compared to all this”, he begins to sound just like Nemo. Conseil is caught in the middle of course between the professor and Ned, because as much as he values scientific discovery, he’s not about to give up his life for it. Which is why he feels forced to side with Ned. But the problem with Ned is that while he also values his life, he doesn’t care about any of the significance of what Nemo has accomplished and more or less will do anything in his power to get home. The consequences of Neds actions however, put the crew in serious danger towards the end of the film, but even though everything Nemo had accomplished died with him, the professor admits to Ned afterward that the world may not yet have been ready for everything that Nemo had accomplished. Another interesting note about the massive destruction of Volcania is that it could be compared to that of a nuclear explosion, which Nemo seemed to have discovered, and is possibly the kind of power (nuclear energy) he used to power his sub. With the film only premiering about 10 years after the Hiroshima/ Nagasaki attacks is an interesting and fairly timely commentary. None of this is really mentioned in the film, but I wonder how intentional it may have been if they were suggesting Nemo had discovered nuclear power).
Of course, as great a film as this is, how could I go into it without talking about the most famous sequence, the Giant Squid attack. And I have to say, to finally watch this sequence on the big screen was an incredible experience. The sequence is just as exciting and thrilling as ever, and for 1954, I still feel the squid is just as convincing. Originally this sequence took place at sunset because that was supposed to be the time of day when the sub surfaced, but Walt was terribly annoyed when the footage came back and how cheesy and unrealistic fight looked. So he had them change it to a storm sequence, which if you think about it doesn’t make much continuity sense (it was daylight out when the sub dived and shortly after it surfaces for the squid fight), but in the end Walt was right, and the audience never really noticed. Walt as we know was a master of family storytelling, and just as much a master of giving children traumatizing nightmares! The giant squid attack is just classic.
I think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a perfect film. And yes, even with all of it’s silly moments, which is just part of what makes it a Disney film. The silly side never interferes when it needs to get serious. The film allows itself to go to some pretty dark places, which seems like a rarity in Disney films today. There is always that deeper emotional current running under the surface. And what I really like about this movie, and most Disney movies of this era, is that we don’t see the characters become completely different people by the end of the film. There is change that affects them and gives them something to think about for the future. But there’s no lesson the film tries to preach to call attention to itself. We are with these characters and understand their personalities, and we’re taken on an experience. The film never once preaches or talks down to its audience. I know I may say that a lot when I look at these movies, but I think its important to note when characters should just be allowed to be who they are, without being forced to change to fit the needs of the story.
If you have never seen 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it really is an incredible film, with strong themes that still hold up today. See it for the first time, or see it again with a new set of eyes. You won’t be disappointed!
Shake that booty Kirk Douglas!