UltimateDisney.com's Top 30 Live Action Disney Movies Countdown
6. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is simply one of the finest science fiction/fantasy/adventure films ever made. Based on the great Jules Verne novel, the 1868 story centers on Captain Nemo, a tortured genius who has harnessed some incredible power (presumably atomic energy) to build a fantastic submarine, the Nautilus. He uses this vessel, designed to look like a sea monster, as a tool of vengeance--attacking warships that are in league with war profiteers who, years earlier, enslaved him and murdered his family.

He takes on board three prisoners/guests--sea expert Professor Pierre Aronnax, his assistant Conseil, and harpooner Ned Land--late of the warship Abraham Lincoln, which was hunting the Monster/Nautilus, only to be disabled by it. Aronnax tries to persuade Nemo to share his secrets with the world, but the cynical captain fears that information would only ensure Mankind's destruction. Despite his misgivings, however, he begins to share his secrets with the professor, including the location of his secret island base, Vulcania.

Meanwhile, Ned (conspiring with Conseil) seeks to escape. Upon learning Vulcania's location, he manages to send bottled messages into the open sea. It ultimately works, because warships await the Nautilus as it approaches the island. Bypassing the ships, Nemo goes ashore to destroy all his works, but is shot in the process. Dying, he decides to take the Nautilus down with him for the last time. Ned manages to escape, bringing Aronnax and Conseil with him, where all three witness an enormous explosion that destroys the island and the warships in a single flash.

This is such an absolutely perfect movie, I don't know where to begin. I first saw it when I was 10 years old during its 1963 re-release, and I was totally blown away, not the least by Captain Nemo himself. I mean, here's a guy who does really bad things, but I found myself feeling empathy for him. And, of course, there was that incredible submarine! And that giant squid. Wow!

As an adult, my appreciation for the film has grown even deeper (a common reaction with the great Disney films). The Academy Award-winning production design is breathtaking; the giant squid sequence is still one of the great action set-pieces, helping the film earn a Special Effects Oscar, as well; and the casting is brilliant. I can't even begin to imagine anyone other than Kirk Douglas swaggering around as Ned Land, or Paul Lukas as the idealistic and somewhat naive Aronnax, or Peter Lorre's perfectly timed semi-comedic turn as Conseil. The film, however, belongs to James Mason, whose performance as Captain Nemo perfectly walks that fine line between madman and genius--never over the top, always right on the mark.

-Glenn Freeze

It's hard to describe just how great Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is, because there are so many great things about it. This movie has well earned it's place over time as one of the hallmark achievements from a company with a wealth of hallmarks already achieved by the time of it's release.

First of all, 20,000 Leagues is a multi-genre delight. It's a high-seas adventure film, as you set sail with Kirk Douglas for eventually who knows where. It's a mystery film, as you try to figure out what has been happening to the ships that have been disappearing at sea, supposedly destroyed by a sea monster. It's a science fiction film, as you discover the sea monster to really be the awesome Nautilus. Last but not least, it's a horror film when you're standing on deck with Captain Nemo fighting off a giant squid.

Great memorable moments abound: the sight of the sea monsters "eyes" - the eerily glowing front windows of the Nautilus as it zooms along just beneath the surface of the water; the plush interior of Captain Nemo's submarine; and the aforementioned battle with the giant squid. Add to that a wonderful cast with James Mason, Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre all giving fine performances, and you have one of the signature Disney masterpieces of all time.

20,000 Leagues also has the distinction of being one of the few live action films to have a presence in the theme parks, with it's own ride (which is now defunct, at least in Disney World) - but after a very claustrophic experience on that ride I decided to limit my enjoyment of this particular bit of Disneyana to the screen!

-Geoffrey Gardner

The main reason I love this movie is not its epic story, or fantastic setting, or breakthrough special effects - although those are certainly stand-outs. I love it mainly because of the character of Captain Nemo.

Nemo is brought from the page to the screen perfectly, with a great script and an actor who portrays him so well, I can't see anyone else fitting the bill: James Mason. He is a complex character who you can despise one minute, and feel sorry for the next. It's one of the few Disney films that really explored a personality like that.

To quote one of my all time favorite movie lines, Nemo utters in the film: "Do you know the meaning of love, professor? What you fail to understand is the power of hate. It can fill the heart as surely as love can."

-Jack Seiley

I have always long considered 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea one of the finest action adventure flicks ever. Adapted from Jules Verne's fine novel, 20,000 Leagues is a great work of science fiction. All the players, the passionate and fierce Captain Nemo, rational yet fascinated Professor Arronax, wild and loose Ned Land, and devoted Conseil have as much good chemistry as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on Star Trek! It gives a fascinating and imaginative view of the treasures of the sea. Not just currency treasure but scientific and agricultural treasure as well. The scene where Nemo's guests discover their entire meal is from the sea is quite amusing. The battle against the giant squid is one of the most memorable moments in live action Disney history. Ahead of it's time, 20,000 Leagues indirectly gives a cautionary tale of nuclear capabilities and great power in the hands of men. Not to paint the world in black and white, Leagues also gives a social commentary of the evils of tyranny and exploitation of the poor.

-James Mar

DVD Details
One of Disney's earliest live action films, 20,000 Leagues is delightfully presented on DVD as a 2-Disc Special Edition. In addition to wonderfully remastered picture and sound, hours of bonus features await, including a new 90-minute making-of documentary. What makes a good thing even better is that this set carries a retail price of just $19.99, the same price or lower than most feature-less catalogue discs!
Buy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2-Disc Special Edition)
Read the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea DVD Review
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