4 of Our Favorite Disney Adventure Movies
Summer means blockbuster movies, a chance to stay up late while snacking on popcorn and watching high action adventures. Disney will add to this grand tradition at the end of this month when Jungle Cruise, starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, debuts on July 30. While we anxiously await its release, here’s a look back at four of Disney’s greatest adventure films of all time.
The Great Locomotive Chase
It’s no secret that Walt Disney loved trains. They feature heavily in Disney parks and are a frequent element in Disney films and cartoons. Speaking of his vision for Disneyland, Walt once said, “I just want it to look like nothing else in the world, and it should be surrounded by a train.” This love was on full display in the 1956 film The Great Locomotive Chase.
The movie tells the real life story of 22 Union spies who stole a Confederate train in Atlanta, Georgia and the subsequent railroad chase that took place. While the Union men were caught and many were eventually hanged, those who survived were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor.
Union leader James J. Andrews was portrayed by Disney Legend Fess Parker (best known for his portrayal of Davy Crockett). To make the film, Walt Disney enlisted the help from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum. The museum provided him with the William Mason, a 4-4-0 steam locomotive, which was used to represent The General, the train stolen by Andrews and his men. A remarkable train in its own right, the William Mason was built a year after The General and was, for a time, one of the oldest operational trains in the world.
In 1956, Disney also released a television special called Behind the Scenes with Fess Parker. The show featured Walt Disney discussing trains and provided behind the scenes footage of the filming of The Great Locomotive Chase which was narrated by Parker.
Originally a comic book character created by Dave Stevens, the Rocketeer was based on the pulp characters that dominated pop culture from the 1930’s-1950’s. While it seems unthinkable now, at the time studios were reluctant to produce a movie based off of comic books, and multiple studios turned the film down. Disney was the last studio on Disney’s list and, lucky for us, brought his comic book hero to the silver screen.
Bill Campbell played Cliff Secord, a racing pilot who would become the Rocketeer after discovering a rocket pack. His girlfriend, Jenny Blake, was portrayed by Jennifer Connelly. The movie might have looked much different, as both Johnny Depp and Vincent D’Onofrio were considered for the role of Secord. However, the role was ultimately given to Campbell. Ironically, for a man portraying a racing pilot, Campbell had a distinct phobia for flying in planes with engines. The film also starred Alan Arkin as Peevy, Secord’s partner, and Timothy Dalton as matinee idol and Nazi agent Neville Sinclair. The movie is a blast of high action and intrigue as Secord attempts to keep the rocket pack from the Nazis.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
A true cinematic masterpiece, Disney released 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in December of 1954. The film brought to life Jules Verne’s classic novel about Captain Nemo and his crew on the Nautilus. The movie starred Kirk Douglas as the roguish sailor Ned Land and James Mason as Captain Nemo.
The movie was the first Disney movie filmed in CinemaScope, a method of film using an anamorphic lens for widescreen. Along with the beauty of the Nautilus (which was designed by Disney Legend Harper Goff), the film is perhaps best remembered for the battle with an enormous squid. According to D23, the Disney effects team, “constructed the giant squid of rubber, steel spring, flexible tubing, glass cloth, Lucite, and plastic, with tentacles measuring 40 feet with two feelers of 50 feet.” It took 28 men to operate the squid, which was powered by a mix of hydraulics, electronics and compressed air. The initial filming of the squid scene proved problematic, with too many of its mechanics visible. To correct the problem, a storm was created to obscure the mechanics. The storm required 100 workers to create.
Richard Fleischer, the director of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was the son of Max Fleischer, an early animation rival of Walt Disney. Out of respect, Walt Disney requested permission from Fleischer before hiring his son.
Another memorable part of the film is the song, “A Whale of a Tale” performed by Kirk Douglas. The song was written by Al Hoffman and Norman Gimbel and has become a favorite of Disney fans everywhere. It was even referenced in Pixar’s Finding Nemo.
The film won two Academy Awards, one for Best Special Effects and one for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, and was nominated for Best Film Editing. It also inspired the fan favorite 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage attraction at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The attraction, which operated from 1971 to 1994, took Guests on an underwater tour aboard the Nautilus.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Since its opening in 1967, Pirates of the Caribbean has been one of the most popular attractions in Disney history. It only seems natural that it would eventually become a film. Released in 2003, the movie Pirates of the Caribbean starred Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Zoe Saldana, and Geoffrey Rush. With such an all star cast, and with production by Jerry Bruckheimer, it’s no surprise that the movie became a smash hit, spawning a film franchise that has gone on to earn over $4 billion dollars.
The first film tells the story of Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann, and Will Turner battling the cursed crew of the Black Pearl, which is captained by the villainous Barbossa. A brilliant blend of treasure hunt, ghost story, romance, and swashbuckling on the high seas, the film was so popular that it even led to changes to Disney Parks. Today, Jack Sparrow and Barbossa can be seen on Pirates of the Caribbean. Davy Jones, who first appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, plays a pivotal role in the Shanghai Disneyland attraction Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure. The movies also spawned the re-imagining of Tom Sawyer Island in Disneyland. In 2007, to coincide with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the attraction became Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, with Harper’s Mill transforming into Lafitte’s Tavern and the island cave becoming Dead Man’s Grotto.