Classics Rediscovered through Walt Disney Archives

Photos by Charly SHELTON
The El Capitan organist plays on the stage prior to the screening of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.


Jules Verne published “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A World Tour Underwater” in serialized form from 1869 to 1870. The story was first set to film in 1907 by Georges Méliès, the father of motion pictures. But today upon hearing the title, people call to mind the 1954 Disney version starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Peter Lorre. And last week, it was shown on the big screen again.

El Capitan Theater in Hollywood is hosting a screening series this year of classic Disney films to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Walt Disney Archives. January’s film was “Fantasia,” which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. February’s film, as mentioned above, was “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” The screening was announced in January and, coincidentally, the film’s star Kirk Douglas passed away just two weeks ago on Feb. 5 making this a perfect tribute to the Hollywood legend who stepped out of his comfort zone to take the first big budget, live action project from a cartoon studio.

Introducing the film was James Duke Mason, grandson of James Mason who stars as Captain Nemo in the film. And being that this was part of the Disney Archives Anniversary Series, a presentation of rarely seen concept art and production photos preceded the film and a display of original film merchandise greeted guests in the lobby.

A presentation preceded the film of rarely seen concept art and production photos.

For those unfamiliar with the film, the story follows Professor Pierre Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre) as they investigate the mysterious sinking of several ships off the coast of California. When they encounter the supposed sea monster responsible, they find that it is actually a submarine captained by Nemo (James Mason). The pair and one shipwrecked sailor, Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), are taken aboard and swept away on an adventure under the sea. Along the way they encounter sunken treasure and a tribe of angry cannibals, fight a giant squid and finally investigate Nemo’s nefarious motives behind his Nautilus campaign of sinking ships.

This movie holds up after 66 years because the story is timeless. The film and storytelling style definitely feel like classic cinema – it isn’t in a rush to unfold everything, there are subtle laughs instead of pratfalls every few minutes, the soundtrack is just instrumental mood music – things that adults can handle and fans of classic films appreciate. Several families, however, left throughout the film with fussy youngsters who are used to the bright colors and goofy faces of “Frozen,” “Jumanji” and other properties beloved by modern children. But for those who made it through, it is a masterclass in filmmaking of the ’50s with a perfect cast, incredible (for the time) effects and a solid script.

Next month, the Disney Archives bring another classic film to the big screen at the El Capitan – “Mary Poppins” – for one showing only on March 4 at 7 p.m. And then in April, to celebrate Earth Day, the film will be “DisneyNature Earth,” to be shown at 10 a.m. on April 22.

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