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Film / 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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A whale of a tale.

There is hope for the future. When the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass... in God's good time.
-Captain Nemo's Last Words

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a 1954 film produced by Walt Disney Pictures and directed by Richard Fleischer. It is based on the novel by Jules Verne.

The film featured Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, Paul Lukas as Professor Pierre Aronnax, Peter Lorre as Conseil, and James Mason as Captain Nemo, as well as a memorable design for the Nautilus and, of course, the memorable giant squid attack. It has become one of Disney's classics.


This film contains examples of:

  • Age Lift: Arronax and Conseil are played by actors much older (Lukas was 59 and Lorre 50 at the time) than their book counterparts, who are respectively 40 and 30.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Nemo during the climax, as he stumbles to the window to look at the ocean one last time.
  • All in the Eyes: There is a helpful close-up of Nemo's eyes when he's dancing on the thin edge of insanity, as he has the Nautilus ram a ship full of explosives.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Esmerelda the sea lion, although it's partly because Ned is deliberately training her to do tricks and/or imitate him.
  • Anti-Villain: Nemo.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Nemo is shown using treasure taken from sunken ships as ballast as opposed to how do they dive when the tanks are empty and there are no ships nearby?
    • He also uses regular, water-filled ballasts, as he occasionally orders to "empty/fill the tanks". The treasures simply grant an additional weigth that allows for faster diving.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: An accent example. Aronnax has Paul Lukas' Hungarian accent, which doesn't sound anything close to a French one (more like German). Ironically, Peter Lorre, playing Conseil, is also of Hungarian descent, but provides a convincing French accent - Despite Conseil being Dutch.
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  • Badass Beard: Nemo.
  • Battle in the Rain: The fight against the giant squid takes place at night during a fierce storm.note 
  • Big Bad: Captain Nemo, the man responsible for the ship attacks that get our heroes involved in the first place, imprisons them, and nearly kills them all when he lets the Nautilus sink at the end.
  • Big Damn Heroes / Save the Villain: Ned Land arrives in the middle of the giant squid attack, harpoons it right in the eye and saves Captain Nemo from drowning.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Ned Land.
  • Canon Foreigner: Esmeralda, the sea lion, who doesn't exist in the book.
  • Chronic Back Stabbing Disorder: Ned Land, apparently unable to go a scene without attempting to betray Nemo in some small way.
  • Cool Ship: The design of the Nautilus in the film is considered the iconic look for the submarine. It's influenced many designs of the sub, and even appears on some book covers as well.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Ned Land.
  • Cultural Translation: Ned Land's ambiguously American in this version, where in the novel he was unambiguously Canadian.
  • Death by Adaptation: Captain Nemo, as well as most of his crew.
  • The Dying Walk: After being shot, Nemo gives orders to scuttle the Nautilus, then staggers back to his room, collapses, and opens his viewport so he can look out into his beloved ocean one last time just before he dies.
  • Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods: The notorious Giant Squid sequence and the Exotic Entree mentioned below.
  • Exotic Entree: Nemo serves a sauté of unborn octopus.
  • Fictional Country: The unnamed nation that imprisoned Nemo and killed his family since he refused to give them his scientific secrets. Their warships don't even carry flags.
  • Foil: Ned is shown as one to Captain Nemo; Ned's red and white shirt contrasts with Nemo's dark blue uniform, Ned is warm and passionate where Nemo is cold and callous, Ned is obsessed with getting back to land where Nemo wants to be as far as possible from it - Ned is The Everyman where Nemo is the Übermensch.
  • Foreign Queasine: The dinner party. Well, just the sperm whale milk pudding.
  • Giant Squid: One grabs onto the ship, and the crew has to surface in the middle of a storm in order to drive it off.
  • Grudging "Thank You" / Embarrassing Rescue: After Ned saves Nemo from the giant squid. It's the former for Nemo and the latter for Ned, despite the fact that he did the rescuing.
  • I Love Nuclear Power: While the original novel used electric power itself as Nemo's Applied Phlebotinum, the movie had him splitting the atom decades before his time.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: After Ned saves Nemo from the squid, they both question how that could have happened, and Ned decides that the only thing he can do after making a mistake like that is to "get drunk!"
  • Leitmotif: Both Ned and Nemo each have their own. Ned's is the song that he sings early in the film, "A Whale of a Tale". Nemo's is a piece called "Deep is the Mighty Ocean", which represents not only the depths of the ocean but also the depths of Nemo's soul. Both themes are used in different styles, depending on the scene of the film.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Captain Nemo's wife and child were killed by an unnamed nation since he refused to divulge his scientific discoveries.
  • My Fist Forgives You: Ned punches Conseil before admitting friendship. And then, generously, allows Conseil to hit him in return.
    Ned: Go ahead! [sticks out chin]
    Conseil: Well if you insist. [punches Ned in the stomach]
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Ned and Conseil try sending messages in bottles with the location of Nemo's Island Base hoping for a rescue; the bottles end up in the hands of Nemo's enemies and they attack the base, just as Nemo was announcing his intentions to share his secrets with the world. It also leads to Nemo getting fatally shot and his decision to sink the Nautilus with all aboard, nearly killing Ned, Conseil, and Professor Arronax, none of whom wanted to go down with the ship and had to fight their way out.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: The dinner party. See also: Foreign Queasine.
  • Notable Original Music: "A Whale of a Tale", a G-Rated Bawdy Song sung by Kirk Douglas in-character as Ned Land. The song also becomes a Leitmotif for Ned.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Ned sees the impaled skulls and realizes the jungle is NOT friendly. He immediately turns around and moves his ass back to Conseil and the Nautilus.
  • Old Media Are Evil: Some subtext to this, when the reporters unabashedly twist Professor Arronax's words.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: Nemo plays one. Cut to Ned tuning him out with a homemade banjo.
  • Only Sane Man: Conseil and Ned see Nemo for what he is and actively looking for ways to escape, while Arronax is too awe-struck by the Nautilus and Nemo's scientific discoveries.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: In the opening scenes of the movie we see 3 ships sunk or crippled on-screen by the Nautilus, and it's clear that several other ships have met similar fates. But once the main characters come on board, Nemo and his men only attack one ship on-screen over the course of many months - and dialogue supports that this is the only ship attacked in that time period, so we know he didn't go after any other ships during any time skips.
  • POW Camp: Nemo and his crew were imprisoned in the fictional camp Rura Penthe before they escaped and built the Nautilus.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Of a sort. Screenwriter Earl Felton found the novel more of a travelogue than a story, so he rejigged it into a "prison break" narrative.
  • Race Lift: Captain Nemo, who is definitely Caucasian in this version, as opposed to the Ambiguously Brown character in the book. This version is presumably Polish, as the literary character was originally meant to be, in contrast with the book's Indian, which he ended up being in the final product.
  • Ramming Always Works: How the Nautilus destroys ships, building up enough speed to slice open the bottom of the wooden target with its reinforced metal hull. Bites them in the butt with the final ship we see be destroyed, the volatile weapon material in the ship's hold explodes from the impact before the Nautilus gets to a safe distance and damages the rudder.
  • Shock and Awe: The outer hull of the Nautilus can be electrified to administer painful shocks to anything or anyone in contact with it. This capability proves very effective against a tribe of cannibals who climb on board the ship, causing no serious injuries but inducing them all to jump off into the water and get back aboard their canoes and row away. It's initially effective against the giant squid as well, causing it to let go of the Nautilus, but when the squid grabs on again more firmly, the defense system fails and shorts out.
  • Steampunk: Harper Goff's design of the Nautilus may well be the Trope Codifier, as was Disney's decision to stage this as a period piece rather than attempt to modernize it (as did the earlier War of the Worlds). An oddity, though, compared to later versions of Steampunk is that the Nautilus is powered by a nuclear reactor made a century ahead of its time, rather than a steam engine.
  • Straw Nihilist: Nemo.
  • Sweet Seal: Captain Nemo gets a Nonhuman Sidekick in the form of Esmeralda the Sea Lion, in true Disney tradition.
  • Taking You with Me: After a mortally-wounded Nemo plants the bomb to blow up Vulcania and plans to take the Nautilus to the ocean floor for the last time, his understanding crew confines Ned, Arronax and Conseil to their quarters, intending that they go with him. However, this is averted as Ned rebels and escapes with Arronax and Conseil (and also Nemo's pet sea lion) in the nick of time.
  • Team Pet: Esmeralda the sea lion, who changes loyalties from Nemo to Ned through the film.
  • The World Is Not Ready: How Nemo justifies keeping his scientific discoveries a secret, since humans would only use them for war and destruction. Arronax comes to the same conclusion at the film's end.
  • Undying Loyalty: Nemo's crew will follow him anywhere even in death.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Ned Land frequently gives these to Nemo.
    • Arronax gives one to Nemo, after he sinks a warship loaded with gun powder.
    • Conseil gives one to Arronax, for defending Nemo even calling him "captain".
  • Wicked Cultured: Nemo keeps a small library and elegant furnishings on the Nautilus, and that pipe organ on which he plays Bach.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Nemo has collected much treasure from the ocean's depth but doesn't take any great value in it, in fact he uses it for ballast, much to Ned's chagrin.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: How Nemo justifies sinking ships - they are from a belligerent nation that carry tools for war, so he is merely avenging those who have been needlessly killed.


Example of: