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Between Jules Verne and Walt Disney: Brains, Brawn, and Masculine Desire in "20,000 Leagues under the Sea"

James W. Maertens
Science Fiction Studies
Vol. 22, No. 2 (Jul., 1995), pp. 209-225
Published by: SF-TH Inc
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240426
Page Count: 17
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Between Jules Verne and Walt Disney: Brains, Brawn, and Masculine Desire in "20,000 Leagues under the Sea"
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Abstract

Periodic interest in Jules Verne's novels has often been sparked by film adaptations. One of the most famous of these is the 1954 Disney film of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". This film may be read as a symbolic text exploring myths of masculinity, science, technology, and power. Reading the film against the original novel reveals a pattern of changes and shifts in the four main characters and their relationships. Produced under the shadow of the Cold War and the launching of the first nuclear submarine-named the Nautilus after Captain Nemo's famous boat-the Disney film of Leagues shows viewers a Nemo grown far less heroic. The enigmatic captain emerges as a desperate fugitive dogged by military and imperialist powers, rather than the infallible champion of science as a means to freedom from the surface world of European empires and warfare. Disney's film elevates the American, Ned Land, a working-class sailor and harpooner, to the level of hero, suggesting that brawn and not brains is the true source of male power. Analysis of the symbolic undercurrents of the texts reveals a struggle for the symbolic phallus of the fathers and the Promethean fire of intellectual and technological superiority. Between Verne and Disney, an ideology of individualism and anti-intellectualism struggles with the Vernian romance of technological man. An image of men as cooperating brothers sharing a love for Nature clashes with the image of men as inevitably subordinated to institutional brotherhoods founded on violence, competition, conquest, and the repression of the individual.

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