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Cinema's star fish

'Nemo' is just the latest guppy in Hollywood's aquarium full of creatures from the deep.

May 30, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

When it comes to re-imagining creatures of the deep, Hollywood has cooked up numerous kettles of fish, and the new Disney/Pixar animated adventure "Finding Nemo" is just the latest addition to an extensive roster of movies exploring the critters that inhabit the seas. These films run the gamut from children's tales to dramas to thrillers to horror movies. Trolling the depths (and shallows) offers a revealing glimpse of the fish stories spawned for the big screen over the decades.

Kid stuff

"Pinocchio" (1940): There are two famous marine creatures in the beloved Disney animated film: Cleo, Geppetto's pet goldfish, and Monstro, the hungry whale who devours Geppetto, Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket.

"Make Mine Music" (1946): Disney's uneven "A Musical Fantasy in 10 Parts" features animated tales set to popular songs. At least Disney saved the best for last: "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met," a.k.a. "Willie the Operatic Whale," a charming story that finds movie operetta star Nelson Eddy supplying the voice for the singing whale who dreams of performing such roles as Pagliacci at the Metropolitan Opera.

"Flipper" (1963): The popular kiddie film from producer Ivan Tors about a boy (Luke Halpin) and the dolphin he rescues and befriends. Chuck Connors plays the rugged father who wants his son to return the dolphin to the wild. The film did so well that a sequel, "Flipper's New Adventure," was released the following year. The NBC-TV version premiered as a series in fall 1964.

"The Incredible Mr. Limpet" (1964): "Limp" is the perfect word to describe this dopey live action-animated fantasy starring Don Knotts as Henry Limpet, a mild-mannered man who loves fish and wishes he could turn into one. His dream comes true, and he helps the Navy during World War II.

"The Little Mermaid" (1989): Fanciful animated adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale signaled the return of Disney as an animation powerhouse and revived the genre as a viable box office draw. Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll and Samuel E. Wright supply the voices for this musical that includes the Oscar-winning "Under the Sea."

"Free Willy" (1993): Simon Wincer of "Lonesome Dove" fame directed this sleeper hit about a street kid (Jason James Richter) who risks everything to save a 3-ton killer whale from being killed by aquarium owners. "Free Willy," and its two less effective sequels, turned Keiko the whale into a celebrity.

"Zeus and Roxanne" (1997): Kathleen Quinlan and Steve Guttenberg headline this syrupy family flick about a marine biologist, a canine stowaway, a captive dolphin and a musician who rides a bike.

Comedy

"Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid" (1948): William Powell shines as a man going through a midlife crisis who vacations with his wife in the Caribbean and becomes the object of affection of a beautiful mermaid (Ann Blyth).

"Splash" (1984): Ron Howard directed this delightful romantic comedy, which made Tom Hanks a major star. Hanks plays a young man who falls in love with the mermaid (Daryl Hannah) who rescued him from drowning when he was a youngster.

Drama

"Moby Dick": Numerous adaptations have been filmed of Herman Melville's allegorical tale of Capt. Ahab's obsession with the gigantic white whale that munched his leg. John Barrymore starred in a seaworthy 1926 silent version, "The Sea Beast," which gives Ahab a romantic interest (Dolores Costello, who married her leading man). Four years later, Barrymore returned as Ahab in the talkie "Moby Dick," with Joan Bennett co-starring as the captain's main squeeze. Perhaps the best-known feature film of the story is John Huston's 1956 adaptation, with a miscast Gregory Peck as Ahab.

"The Old Man and the Sea" (1958): Spencer Tracy received an Oscar nomination for his performance as an old Cuban fisherman who hooks a giant fish, but this static adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's acclaimed novel is as exciting as watching paint dry. John Sturges directed.

Thriller-horror

"The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" (1953): Production designer Eugene Lourie directed this sci-fi classic, one of the best of the '50s creature features. In this outing, a nuclear test in the Arctic thaws out a hungry dinosaur that begins a rampage on the East Coast of North America.

"Creature From the Black Lagoon" (1954): Originally released in 3-D, this low-budget Universal horror flick is tons of campy fun. Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning and Antonio Moreno are members of a scientific expedition traveling up the Amazon who encounter a gilled man who, a la "Beauty and the Beast," takes a shine to the fetching Adams.

"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954): In Walt Disney's Oscar-winning version of the Jules Verne adventure novel, a giant squid attacks the crew of the submarine Nautilus during a torrential storm. Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas and Peter Lorre star.

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