Treasures from ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’: never-before-seen Disney artwork

May 07, 2010 | 2:05 p.m.


I recently got a rare tour of the Disney archives (you’ll be reading a lot more about that visit very soon), and I can’t tell you how fascinating it was to see such a vast collection of artifacts and “lost” art. These costumes, props, animation cels, posters, documents, paintings, models, etc. are more than the ultimate cache of pop-culture collectibles — they chart the history of America’s most amazing entertainment success story.

We’re going to be digging a bit into that archive over the months to come to bring you glimpses into these treasures, and we start off with some compelling images that date back to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Disney’s landmark 1954 live-action film.

These are preproduction drawings from 1953 that show early visions of the famous battle against a giant squid that plays out atop Capt. Nemo’s Nautilus. These drawings have been meticulously preserved by the archive staff but never published in any form, anywhere, before now.

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These show the squid attack taking place against a dramatic sunset and indeed that’s how it was filmed — but Walt Disney watched the footage and felt it could be better. The entire sequence was refilmed, this time during a vicious rainstorm, a more frenetic setting. That’s the version that moviegoers saw when the film reached theaters in December 1954.

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“20,000 Leagues under the Sea” was just fifth live-action feature film from Disney (that’s not counting the nature films) and it tied with “White Christmas” as the top box-office draw of the year.

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This final image below is a painting that is just amazing to see in person. It’s the original artwork for the cover of a record album that tied in to the “20,000 Leagues” re-release in 1963. The artist isn’t credited, unfortunately, and the archivists at Disney say if anyone has some insight into who did this great piece, he or she should leave it here in the comments section so the archivists can follow up and make their own records more complete.


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As I said before, there’s a lot more to come from the Disney archives, and if there are specific things you readers would like to see, let me know. Also, for you hard-core Disney fans, the archives are typically closed to the public but they are scheduled to be opened several times a year to members of D23, the official Disney fan club.

— Geoff Boucher


20000 leagues under the sea

ESSAY: Berkeley Breathed on the pre-pixel magic of “20,000 Leagues”

Disney deep-sixes “20,000 Leagues” revival

Is the “Pirates” franchise sailing into rough waters?

Gotta have it: The sweet 4-foot eFX replica of the Nautilus

VIDEO: Dick Jones, the voice of ‘Pinocchio,’ looks back

50 years later: ‘Sleeping Beauty’ star dazzles D23 audience

AMAZING PHOTO: Disneyland, opening day 1955 

Image credit: Walt Disney Archives

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9 Responses to Treasures from ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’: never-before-seen Disney artwork

  1. I'd never been to Disneyland until this April, when I took my friend for her birthday. I was concerned it wasn't like all the books from the 60's I'd read as a kid, and it wasn't, but The Haunted Mansion ride was neat! I'd love to see more stuff about how they did what they did, and how it was received way back then.

  2. Trent says:

    This is beautiful. But how could they not know who painted that piece???

  3. David Rubin says:

    Great stuff. Reminiscent of an old "Classics Illustrated" comic book version of "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea". Great story and a great Kirk Douglas movie.

  4. delfloria says:

    Disney's ace in the hole over Fox's remake is this design of the the Nautilus. Ever since 1953 all kinds of designers have tried to match the magic of this design but none have ever come close. I hope Disney realizes this and does not try and "update" it.

  5. Guy says:

    I am searching for a children's book of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea produced in the late 50's or early 60's. The book is heavily abridged. The unique piece in the book was a side view of the Nautilus with a compartment by compartment breakdown of the interior. I would be grateful for any information you may have.

  6. Ed Kimpel says:

    Regarding the record album painting, if you look straight down from the screw of the Nautilus, there is a signature that appears to read "Wenzel". There shouldn't be too many people with that name working in the Disney art department during the time frame in question.

  7. WayneO says:

    I'm always ready for more "lost treasures" from 20,000 Leagues. Looking forward to further postings.
    There's a signature that looks like "Wengel" on the uncredited 1963 album cover artwork in the enclosed green area above the lower tentacle.

  8. Kenneth Mourino says:

    The artist of this artwork used in the record, re-release press book cover, super 8mm product box covers (2 different art designs with the other showing men of the Nautilus battling the squid that has Nemo in its clutches suspended in tha air) is Paul Wenzel. This was the most popular & recognizable film poster artwork artist at Disney who was also responsible for the portrait portion of the 1967 commemorative Walt Disney 6¢ stamp.

  9. Phil says:

    I own a piece of this artwork "watercolor" on Flaxon illustration board that was given to me by the artist's mother. It is a picture of an octupus and hardhat diver fighting it. If interested feel free to contact me.

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