May 26, 2015

Jules Verne: The Disney Version

During the 1960s, every boy I knew loved Jules Verne -- journeys to distant corners of the world, weird dangers, lost civilizations, monsters, volcanoes, maelstroms, and nick-of-time escapes, all in an environment so masculine you could practically taste the homoerotic tension.

I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, Mysterious Island, and A Journey to the Center of the Earth in elementary school, in abridged Scholastic Book Club editions.  In high school, I read the originals, and collected some of the Ace paperbacks of Verne's lesser-known works: Michael StrogoffThe Begum's Fortune, The Carpathian Castle, Master of the World, The Village in the Tree-Tops.  

During the 1950s and early 1960s, "Disney" versions of these Verne classics appeared, with two important changes:
1. To draw the all-important Boomer audience, a teenager.
2. To ensure a Hollywood fade-out-kiss, heterosexual obsessions were added.

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the French scientist Pierre Aronnax, his assistant Conseil, and his Canadian friend Ned Land are captured by Captain Nemo, who holds them prisoner in his electronic submarine.  Nemo became an outcast after his wife died, but no other women are mentioned or longed for.

In the 1954 movie (the only one actually from Disney), Ned (Kirk Douglas, not a teenager) sings about "the girls I've loved on nights like this," whose kisses make him "bubble up like molten lava."

In A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Professor Lindenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their Icelandic guide Hans journey alone, although Axel does have a girlfriend waiting back home.  In the 1959 Disney version (actually from 20th Century Fox), the Professor meets a lady, and the girlfriend gets a more substantial role.  But at least there are substantial shirtless shots of teen idol Pat Boone as Alec (Axel).  And in the last scene he's completely nude except for a sheep.

In The Mysterious Island , five Civil War POWs escape in a hot-air balloon and end up on the mysterious island, where they fight giant bees and pirates, encounter Captain Nemo (Omar Sharif), and flee a volcano eruption. In the 1961 Disney version (actually from Columbia), there are women on the island for the men to fall in love with.

But at least they are shirtless or semi-nude most of the time, especially Herbert Brown (Michael Callan).  The scene where he and the girl hide from a giant bee in a honeycomb is still scary today.

In Five Weeks in a Balloon, three men explore Africa in a hot air balloon. Again, no women are mentioned or longed for.

The 1962 Disney version (actually from 20th Century Fox) changes the cast, adding pilot Jacques (teen idol Fabian Forte) and newspaper report O'Shay (Red Buttons).  Each falls in love with a woman en route; the movie ends with two couples enthusiastically kissing. And there's no beefcake (although Fabian, right, often appeared shirtless and nude in other productions).

This was also the era of the Disney Adventure Boys -- like Tommy Kirk, James MacArthur, and Kurt Russell -- hired to display Cold War masculinity, which meant two things: muscular physiques and heterosexual obsession.