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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

A classic action-adventure for older kids.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Some mixed messages about justice and the value of human life. Captain Nemo wants to destroy slave ships because he was once a slave, but he kills everyone on board as a consequence. He is viewed as a madman, but his evil genius is also admired. Electrocution of natives is played for comic effect.

Positive role models

Main characters use violence to solve problems. Both Nemo and the professor use their ingenuity to better technology.


Fisticuffs are pretty common among these sailors. Some fighting gets pretty extreme, though there is no blood. Cannon fire and ship collisions sinks ships. "Cannibals" are electrocuted and ridiculed while they dance in agony.


As we see in the first scene, when two dolled up gals are hanging on his arms, Mr. Land is good with the ladies. He sings songs about women whom he wants to kiss. He talks about "native" women on an island who are longing for his touch.


"Hell" is as strong as it gets.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Men smoke cigars in many scenes. Mr. Land says that in a case of bad luck, there is "nothing to do ... but get drunk." This he does, with the resident seal as his drinking buddy. He then is very moody and throws a glass against the wall.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is Disney's version of the classic 19th century Jules Verne novel of the same name. Some old stereotypes come through in scenes where island natives are portrayed as primitive and brutal. There are no female characters with speaking roles in this film, either. Lots of punching among sailors, and some perilous scenes with a giant squid might frighten younger viewers.

What's the story?

Professor Aronnax boards an American frigate intending to put to rest rumors that an enormous sea creature is destroying ships throughout the South Seas. His efforts are dashed when the vessel is attacked and only he, his apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre), and hot-tempered harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) survive. The three find themselves not in the belly of the beast, but onboard the Nautilus, an impressive submarine created by Captain Nemo (James Mason) solely to sink ships bearing weapons of destruction. Blind to the hypocrisy of his acts, Nemo takes Aronnax and company with him on his murderous crusade, but leaves his guests no choice but to escape the Nautilus before its captain takes them all to a watery grave.

Is it any good?


This is one heck of a family adventure movie. The visionary Jules Verne wrote about submarines and diving suits -- not to mention space travel -- back in the 19th century when it was all just science fiction. Walt Disney, a 20th-century visionary, had his studio turn Verne's ambitious deep sea tale into the studio's first live-action feature, and the result is impressive.

Captain Nemo's pet seal, the run-in with cannibals, and the stormy tussle with a giant squid will have every 10-year-old captivated. Best of all is Nemo's creation, the Nautilus, a beautifully designed submarine with all of the gothic trimmings, including an imposing pipe organ that plays Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor." The sleek metal tub steals the show from human stars James Mason and Kirk Douglas. This 1954 release won Academy Awards for Art Direction and Special Effects.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Captain Nemo could have better directed his genius. How does each family member channel his or her intellectual and creative energy?

  • Talk about some of the old-fashioned stereotypes in this movie. What kinds of stereotypes in today's movies will one day seem old-fashioned?

  • What more modern undersea adventure movies have you enjoyed?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 23, 1954
DVD/Streaming release date:December 15, 2010
Cast:James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas
Director:Richard Fleischer
Studio:Walt Disney Pictures
Topics:Adventures, Book characters, Ocean creatures
Run time:127 minutes
MPAA rating:G

This review of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was written by

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Kid, 8 years old November 29, 2009
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent of a 14 year old Written byTsion September 19, 2009

A Magnificent Family Journey...

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA by Jules Verne is a crowning achievement of imagination. It is a magnificent novel, and a chore to adapt into any movie. However, this 1954 Disney film nails it in every way. This movie is a journey of wonder and amazement, filled with beauties and dangers the silver screen had never seen and will likely never see again. The film is rated G, but that was in the 70s. Know that, if it were rated now, it would be rated PG for violence and thematic elements. Not to say that the film is particularly violent or graphic, but there are several scenes (battle with a giant squid) that are very frightening. A man is shot in the back, and characters are in peril most of the movie. There are tense discussions of revenge and violent acts, and one man speaks of how his wife and children were tortured to death. However, most of this stuff (except for the squid, maybe) will fly over young kids' heads. They will be more interested in the imaginative creatures and spectacular visuals. 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA is nothing short of a masterpeice, a true whale of a tale, and a journey to take over and over again.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Adult Written bytommysportsgirl April 9, 2008

Nice adventure film!

Pretty clean Disney romp!