IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS
In Search of the Castaways, adapted from Jules Vernes 1867 novel of the same name, which is sometimes also known as Captain Grants Children, is one of the more lunatic films to come out of the 1960s cycle of Jules Verne adaptations. Like all of these adaptations of Vernes voyages extraordinaires, In Search of the Castaways ventures into exotic locales that cinematically never took place outside of Hollywood soundstages. Verne took his stories seriously but most of the films adaptations Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Five Weeks in a Balloon in particular did not, usually adding songs, comic pratfalls, buffoonish foreign caricatures and the like.
The makers of In Search of the Castaways Disney and most of their in-house crew have an inability to the take any of the material seriously. There is a completely silly sequence with most of the cast skidding down a mountainside on a giant plate of rock, for all the world like they are on a tobogganing holiday and guiding the rock around by shifting their weight, heading off on divergent paths when an encounter with another rock splits them in two and then sailing into the air as they reach a cliff edge, whereupon one of them is caught and carried away by a giant condor. Or the sequence where they are stranded in a giant tree by a flood (that appears out of a nowhere in the midst of a completely bare plane!), are then menaced by a jaguar but saved when the entire tree is uprooted and carried away by a giant waterspout from which they all manage to survive miraculously unscathed. During the sequence where Keith Hamshire is lowered out of the cell window and swung across the other side of the ravine on the end of a rope, his pendulum-like swing is scored by jaunty carnival like music, which betrays a lack of belief in the seriousness of the material upon the part of the filmmakers.
Wilfrid Hyde Whites Lord Glenarvan is played as one of the bumbling upper-class British twits that occupy many of these films, while Maurice Chevalier is paired up against him as a bumbling comic Frenchman. There is a wonderful jingoism to it all of it there is the classic moment when (in another moment of improbable absurdity), after managing to trigger off a volcanic eruption by rolling a boulder into the mouth of a volcano and sending the attacking Maoris fleeing, Maurice Chevalier shouts, Have no fear, mademoiselle, the Maoris can run faster than the lava. Enjoy!
Indeed, despite the lack of any traditionally Vernian fantastique elements, the wild improbability of the adventures that take place (not to mention their complete lack of resemblance to real world locales) makes In Search of the Castaways a far more genuinely fantastic film than many of the other adaptations in the Jules Verne film cycle. In fact, rather than being a betrayal of the source material, In Search of the Castaways is preposterous good fun, a good deal more so nowadays when the jolly jape of it has dated enough for one to be able to appreciate the films more surreal virtues.
The Jules Verne novel In Search of the Castaways/Captain Grants Children has been filmed several other times, although this Disney version is the only adaptation that has received any adequate English-language release. The story was previously filmed in a silent French version in 1913; a Russian film version in 1936; and a 7½ hour mini-series also made in the USSR in 1985.
British director Robert Stevenson made a number of other films for Disney that include Disney include Darby OGill and the Little People (1959), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1963), Son of Flubber (1963), Mary Poppins (1964), The Monkeys Uncle (1965), The Gnome-Mobile (1967), Blackbeards Ghost (1968), The Love Bug (1969), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Herbie Rides Again (1974), The Island at the Top of the World (1974) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976). Before moving to Hollywood, Stevenson also made the Boris Karloff mad scientist film The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936) and the sf film Non Stop New York (1937).