For the sixth installment of TCM’s Treasures from the Disney Vault on Wednesday, March 9th, Leonard Maltin has chosen an assortment of films and shorts with nature at the center. Walt Disney loved animals and nature conservation, themes that can be found in many of his films and the theme parks he inspired. One of the award-winning True-Life Adventure films is on the evenings roster, as is one of the narrated animal films the succeeded that series. But the headliner of the evening is without a doubt 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Those looking for familiar Disney faces will be happy to see the evening end with one of Dick Van Dyke’s lesser-known Disney comedies. This guide is designed to provide some background information on each film and to help you make decisions about when to tune in or what to set your DVR for.
8:00 PM – Nautical Animated Shorts
The evening’s lineup begins with some of Disney’s most classic characters taking to the high seas. Leonard Maltin will provide an introduction to both shorts, which he recently filmed at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. First up is The Whalers, a 1938 Mickey Mouse cartoon. Mickey, Donald and Goofy find themselves working on a whaling ship where nothing goes as planned.
One year later in 1939, Donald Duck found himself captaining another vessel in Sea Scouts. His crew is comprised of his three nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. In this short, their individual colors had yet to be established and they all wear red sailor shirts. Donald Duck’s attempts to teach his nephew’s how to sail is foiled when a hungry shark decides that Donald would make a good lunch.
Recommendation: Don’t miss these classic shorts in newly restored high definition.
8:30 PM – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Walt Disney understood that his studio needed to become a major player in live action filmmaking in order to guarantee its future. By the 1950’s, the only domestic live action films the studio had produced had relied on animated segments to win audiences over. Tied up war profits were used to create a handful of films in the United Kingdom, but his heart was set on proving to the world that Disney could produce all manner of family entertainment. 1954 was a turning point for Disney with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Jules Verne’s classic novel comes to life like never before in this Cinemascope epic adventure. Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas and Peter Lorre find themselves imprisoned aboard the Nautilus, an undersea submarine lead by the vengeful Captain Nemo, expertly played by James Mason. But when they discover the secret of Captain Nemo’s mission, they must do everything in their power to stop him.
Director Richard Fleischer was the son of one of Walt Disney’s animation rivals, Max Fleischer, but Walt took a chance on him with this production. The film was partially shot on location in the Bahamas while interiors and water tank sequences were shot between Disney, Twentieth Century Fox and Universal Studios in Hollywood. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a huge hit in 1954, grossing $24 million at the box office (the equivalent of $545 million today). When Disneyland opened, one of the highlights of Tomorrowland was a walk-through exhibit featuring many of the sets and props from the film for guests to experience. But for many Disney fans, the highlight of the film is not the battle with the giant squid, but the film’s catchy song “A Whale of a Tale.”
Recommendation: This is a must “sea” film for any Disney fan or film buff with some impressive special effects well before their time.
10:45 PM – Operation Undersea
The seventh episode of Disneyland was an hour-long advertisement for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea called Operation Undersea. Walt Disney leads this journey behind the scenes of the film, revealing some of the new underwater filming techniques used and the challenges of filming on location. This episode won the series its first Emmy Award. For some reason, this was absent from the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea DVD release, making this top of my watch list for the evening.
Recommendation: This is a rare opportunity to watch Walt Disney enthusiastically sell audiences in 1954 on his newest film while also getting a rare glimpse behind one of the studio’s earliest blockbusters. You won’t want to miss this!
11:45 PM – Merbabies
Merbabies is a Silly Symphony short from 1938. Oddly enough, the animation for this short was not done by Disney artists but was instead outsourced to MGM’s animation division, lead by two of Walt’s Kansas City friends Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising. The outsourcing was a “thank you” for the use of their ink & paint department during production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, without which that film would not have made its release date. In the short, mermaid babies lead an undersea parade that rivals an above water circus.
Recommendation: This short is adorable and one that I fondly remember from the days when Disney Channel played this type of content regularly. Stay awake or set your DVR for this short.
It may be past my bedtime, but TCM’s Treasures from the Disney Vault isn’t even halfway through. For the rest of the evening’s lineup, go to the next page.