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Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-Action Edition. In Search of the Castaways

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically, and yes, we’ve already done the animated ones. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: In Search of the Castaways

Year: 1962

Source materials : Based upon Jules Verne’s 1868 adventure novel Captain Grant’s Children (“Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant”).

Box office: $21,745,500

Plot: In England in the 19th century, Professor Paganel, a whimsical French geography professor, finds a bottle containing a note which he believes to have been written by the missing Captain John Grant. Paganel and Grant’s two teenaged children, Mary and Robert, approach John Glenarvan and his father, the wealthy shipping magnate Lord Glenarvan, the owner of Captain Grant’s ship, and persuade them to finance a search expedition.


The expedition sets sail and ventures halfway around the world to South America. In the Andes an earthquake sends them down a mountain on a glacier. A giant condor snatches up Robert but Thalcave, an Indian chief, rescues him. He later claims to know the whereabouts of Captain Grant. After surviving a tidal wave and a lightning storm, the group discovers that the well-meaning Thalcave was mistaken. Meanwhile, a budding romance develops between young Mary Grant and Lord Glenarvan’s son John.

They then depart for Australia, where Paganel feels sure they will find Captain Grant. In Melbourne they meet a treacherous gunrunner, Thomas Ayerton, who produces evidence that Captain Grant is in New Zealand. Unaware that Ayerton is the third mate who caused a mutiny on Grant’s ship, the search party once more sets sail. Ayerton causes another mutiny and sets the group adrift. They are captured by Maori cannibals, and are imprisoned along with Captain Grant’s shipmate, Bill Gaye, who helps them escape to a volcano. They evade their pursuers by starting an avalanche which triggers off an eruption.


They finally find Captain Grant, overcome Ayerton and his mutineers, and sail for home. As they all sit around talking, the note that Professor Paganel initially found (and that was supposedly in Captain Grant’s handwriting) is brought up. Captain Grant states that he never wrote any note, to which Bill says: “The voice be the voice of a God-fearing man. But the hands are the hands of a forger”, implying that he imitated Captain Grant’s handwriting and wrote the note himself.


Background: One day on set, Hayley Mills almost accidentally burned down her dressing room. After filming a scene in which her clothes became soaked, without thinking, she put a pair of wet trousers on top of an electric heater before leaving the room. If it had not been for a crew member noticing the smoke which began to billow out of the room, Mills’ dressing room, and possibly part of the set itself, could have been destroyed


Changes from the Source Material: Once again, I will let Belle take this, since she actually read the novel and prompted me to add it. It is the Lord who finds the bottle, not the professor, who then places the ad, which the children respond to. The Lord is married, and John is not his son, just a crew member. Belle states they cut the journey to South America in order to give Hayley Mills a song. Mary and John stay on the boat in South America. The sledding scene is not in the book. There is so suggestion that Bill forged the note.


Songs: Songs composed by the Sherman Brothers include

  • “Castaway”
  • “Merci Beaucoup”
  • “Let’s Climb (Grimpons)”
  • “Enjoy It”


Cast: Hayley Mills returns as Mary Grant. We have already profiled Maurice Chevalier (Jacques Paganel) and George Sanders (Thomas Ayerton).

Wilfrid Hyde-White 1 2 as Lord Glenarvan. He appeated in The Third Man, Carry on Nurse, On the Double, and Let’s Make Love. He is probably best known as Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady. He also appeared on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica Michael Anderson, Jr. as John Glenarvan. His film roles include The Moonraker, The Sundowners, Major Dundee, The Glory Guys, The Sons of Katie Elder and Logan’s Run.

Antonio Cifariello 3 as Thalcave, the Indian Chief. He appeared in many Italian films such as Love in the City,Woman of the Red Sea, Neapolitan Carousel, Scandal in Sorrento, The Belle of Rome,Roman Tales, The Awakening, and Young Husbands. Wilfrid Brambell 4 as Bill Gaye. He is best known for his role as Albert Steptoe in the television series Steptoe and Son. He also performed alongside the Beatles in their film A Hard Day’s Night.

Jack Gwillim 5 as Captain Grant. Some of his most notable roles include Sink the Bismarck!, Sword of Sherwood Forest, Lawrence of Arabia, Jason and the Argonauts, Thunderball, A Man for All Seasons, Patton, Clash of the Titans, and The Monster Squad. He also had recurring roles on the TV series Danger Man, The Saint, and The Troubleshooters. Inia Te Wiata 6 as Maori Chief. He was a New Zealand Māori bass-baritone opera singer, film actor, whakairo (carver) and artist. His film credits include The Seekers, Man of the Moment, Pacific Destiny, and Sands of the Desert.

Ronald Fraser 7 as Guard at Dockyard Gate. He was perhaps best known as Basil “Badger” Allenby-Johnson in the 1970s television series The Misfit. Other credits include Trail of the Pink Panther, Brideshead Revisited, Minder Lovejoy, Life Without George, and Doctor Who. Norman Bird as Senior Yacht Guard. His long list of credits include Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, Rising Damp, Ever Decreasing Circles, Yes Minister, To Serve Them All My Days, All Creatures Great and Small, Z-Cars, Public Eye, The Saint, Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and Boon.

George Murcell as Ayerton’s Assistant. He appeared in many television roles such as Danger Man, The Baron, The Saint, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Persuaders! and Jason King. His film roles included Sea of Sand, The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Heroes of Telemark, Kaleidoscope, The Fixer, A Dandy in Aspic, The Assassination Bureau, A Walk with Love and Death, Penny Gold, Penelope Pulls It Off, Inside the Third Reich, Year of the Gun, and Cutthroat Island. Mark Dignam as Rich Man at Yacht Party. His credits include Murder in the Cathedral, Sink the Bismarck!, Lancelot and Guinevere, The Taming of the Shrew, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Isadora, Hamlet, There’s a Girl in My Soup and Jude the Obscure.

Milo Sperber 8 as Crooked Sailor. He had roles in such films as Foreign Intrigue, The Spy Who Loved Me, Operation Crossbow, Billion Dollar Brain and four episodes of Are You Being Served? Roger Delgado 9 as Patagonian Prisoner. He is probably best known as the first actor to play the role of The Master in the long-running series Doctor Who. His films included The Terror of the Tongs, The Road to Hong Kong, The Mummy’s Shroud and Antony and Cleopatra.

Critical Reception: The New York Times declared, “It is, as we say, a whopping fable, more gimmicky than imaginative, but it doesn’t lack for lively melodrama that is more innocent and wholesome than much of the stuff the children see these days on television.”A review in Variety said, “Walt Disney has come up with another splendid piece of spectacular hokum, lavishly colored and packed with incident and special effects. It can hardly fail to appeal to all types of audience, though apparently aimed mainly at the moppets.”The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, “Well-timed for Christmas, this film is designed to keep the family wide-awake after the plum-pudding, when the critical faculties are not too sharp. Attention is discreetly drawn away from the rather cardboard characters, and the Fauntleroy smile of Michael Anderson, by a kaleidoscope of colour and movement.”

My take: I suppose you don’t cast Maurice Chevalier without giving him a song to sing. Of course, he’s ridiculously charming. Belle is convinced that Chevalier has never cooked scrambled eggs in his life. The special effects have not aged well. Then there are the cannibals…

Next Week: We return to animated film just in time for Ralph to break the internet.