Grade: B
Rated G

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is available now on DisneyPlus, but since it came out on Blu-ray last year as a Disney Movie Club exclusive copies are also turning up on eBay now, if your family is building a Blu-ray library.

With Treasure Island (1950) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Disney made it clear that they were going to be big-time players in the live-action filmmaking business. How big? Well, to do the Jules Verne undersea adventure justice, Disney decided to shoot it in CinemaScope and Technicolor, which was so brand new that this was one of the first major films to get the vivid colors and ultra-widescreen treatment. Disney also spent a half-million dollars to reshoot the famous squid scene in order to get it right, and back in the 1950s that was a lot of Mickey money.

But it paid off. Anyone who’s been to one of the Disney theme parks knows that it’s all about attention to detail, and that holds true with the live-action adventures as well. It’s also about family and a certain level of wholesomeness. Though 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea features sci-fi elements, slave exploitation, and a mad captain who wants to destroy humanity to save it, this remarkable adventure is perhaps even more remarkable because it’s rated G. Ships explode and it’s known that lives are lost, but nothing graphic is shown except for that epic giant squid battle, a shark encounter, and a large- and small-scale fight where one main character is shot. Apart from several characters smoking, the use of the word “hell,” one character getting drunk, and some outdated cultural depictions of cannibals, it’s all pretty sin-free. Yet it remains exciting nearly 70 years later.

Verne was a visionary who was ahead of his time, but that also makes it last into the future, where some of his predictions came true and others remain to be discovered or implemented. It’s quite fascinating climbing aboard the uranium-powered Nautilus and witnessing how he’s able to derive everything from the sea.

In many respects, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a multi-layered monster movie. Set in the 1868, the film begins with reports of a monster that’s destroying ships worldwide. Professor Aronnaux (Paul Lukas) wants to investigate, and with his assistant (Peter Lorre) tries to book passage on a ship that can actually recruit a crew willing to go to sea in the midst of all this monster mania. Even when the “monster” is exposed as a futuristic submarine, other monsters take its place, like the kraken-sized squid and the crazed Nemo himself. James Bond films would thrive off of villains cut from the same cloth: men who are convinced humanity is too full of hate and violence and needs a fresh start, a destruction of the many and survival of the elite few as envisioned by the evil genius.

Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) is at his best as a harpooner who doesn’t believe the monster tales and seeks refuge aboard a strange surfaced vessel after their own ship is sunk. Along with the professor and his assistant, he finds himself the captive “guest” of Capt. Nemo (yes, Finding Nemo is a tip of the hat to this character), played brilliantly by James Mason (Lolita, A Star Is Born, North by Northwest), who, with the organ playing, the misplaced sincerity, the stormy menace lurking under the surface of calm civility and sophistication, gives us a complex character who’s both sympathetic and antagonistic.

The Oscar-winning special effects still hold up pretty well, considering their age—better than the stop-motion Ray Harryhausen effects that charmed a generation. Filmed in The Bahamas and Jamaica, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea nonetheless has a few scenes that were obviously shot in a pool at a Universal Studios back lot. Some of the more complex shots required close to 400 technical staff to film, and with a reported (over)budget of $9 million 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the most expensive Hollywood movie to date. Added touches for family viewing include an adorable pet seal aboard ship and a catchy sailor’s song (“A Whale of a Tale”) performed by Douglas and the crew.

Entire family: Yes
Run time: 127 min. (Color)
Studio/Distributor: Disney
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Rated G for general audiences

Language: 1/10—Other than a few “hells,” nothing here

Sex: 1/10—The harpooner has two women on his arms at one point and there’s some innuendo in a sailor’s song, but nothing that little ones will get

Violence: 4/10—Slaves are whipped in the distance, there’s a gun (and hand-to-hand) battle at one point, and there’s that giant squid fight

Adult situations: 2/10—One character is shown briefly drunk, while several characters briefly smoke

Takeaway: The first screen adaptation occurred in 1916, and a handful of others followed on the big screen and television; Disney is rumored to be working on a remake (Captain Nemo), but until something better comes along this is the version of the Verne classic that’s the most accomplished and entertaining