Disney Film History: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Let me first start by saying that I apologize for not having this up sooner. I took a break from the film articles because I was watching so many movies and television that I thought I was going to personally be stuck in my couch cushions. I needed to get away from this and enjoy some other things in life. I typically spend a few hours on these articles so I wanted to clear my head.


Disney  had numerous live action films that were made over in the U.K. after World War II and they did pretty well at the box office. In fact, the live action films were cheaper and quicker to turn around than the animation features that Disney had been producing. So after the success of the U.K. films, Disney decided to continue his live action film making back in the United States while downplaying the animation department. During the mid-1950s, and all the way through the 1970s, very few animated films were put into production as Walt focused his attention towards his new passion in film. The first of the new live action films he was basing out of the Walt Disney studio in Burbank was a classic tale that turned into one of his biggest successes of the decade, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

Jules Verne’s classic novel was chosen and put into production in the Spring of 1954. The film starred several Hollywood A-list actors including James Mason and Kirk Douglas. (The father of Michael Douglas.) It was also intriguingly directed by Richard Fleischer. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Richard was the son of Max Fleischer, who, for years, was Disney’s rival in the animation world, being the creator of Betty Boop and Popeye. An interesting choice as well because Disney had not ever worked with Richard Fleischer before. To his credit, Fleischer had many films under his belt and had a good reputation as a director.


The film was shot on location in the Caribbean. Many of the shots done in caves were shot inside the cliffs of Negril. As much fun as I can imagine shooting a film in a tropical paradise would be, the technical shots for this film were not so fun. It took as many as 400 people to pull off many of the shots in the film including the giant squid which had to be reshot after Walt Disney saw it, changing it from a daytime attack to a nighttime attack in the middle of a rainstorm.

Costs for the film continued to soar and during production, budgets were continuing to be pushed. The film would eventually cost $5 million. That’s over $3.5 million more than Snow White, which was an outstanding budget only 15 years earlier. Despite the large film cost, the film was finished and ready for a release just two days before Christmas in 1954.


20,000 Leagues went on to become the second highest grossing film of the year, making $8 million at the box office. (White Christmas was the highest grossing that year, having the advantage of coming out a few months earlier.) Audiences flocked to the theaters and critics also gave praise to the film. Many said this was James Mason’s best acting and that the film’s technical work, including the fight with the squid, was some of the best special effects out there. In fact the film won an Academy Award for special effects as well as another award for it’s art direction. The success continued at Disneyland since many of the sets were transported there and put on display until 1966.

So much praise and love for Walt Disney, the man of cartoons. He had conquered another realm of film. With that said, the success of 20,000 Leagues gave Walt the desire to continue into the avenue of live action films, but not many will ever be better than that of this film and it shows. Despite live action films taking over much of the decades to come, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of few live action films to ever get their own attractions at Disney parks. It’s also a film that continues to be synonymous with Disney and has been included in many film clips of Disney’s best films as well as how it continues to influence future films and Disney parks. It’s truly an amazing film that everyone should enjoy and see at least once!

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: The Vanishing Prairie
Next Film: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier


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Posted on April 30, 2014, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I have actually been a follower of your web site for a lengthy time, however this article The Whole Picture: 20,000 Leagues
    Under The Sea | Modern Mouse Radio is the best.

  1. Pingback: Disney Film History: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier | Modern Mouse Radio

  2. Pingback: Disney Film History: The Vanishing Prairie | Modern Mouse Radio

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