Captain Grant disappeared in the south seas. A bottle with some message suggests he is not dead, as most people in authority choose to believe, but alive and imprisoned. His three children determine to rescue him.
THE CHILDREN OF CAPTAIN GRANT was written in 1866-1868 (the year it was published). It followed Verne's first novel successes (FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON, A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, and - his first North Pole novel - THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN HATTARAS). Of these first six titles, five have been made into films. CAPTAIN HATTARAS can't be made into a film, because Verne was wrong about the state of the North Pole (he put a live volcano there that we know is not there). Pity because it is a good story, deserving a film treatment, with a chilling conclusion.
It has been suggested that the genesis of CAPTAIN GRANT is the determination of Lady Jane Franklin in sacrificing her fortune to find out the fate of her husband Sir John Franklin and his Northwest Passage Expedition of 1845-48. Possibly, however, it is something more current than the Franklin Mystery (already solved in 1859, and somewhat old-hat in 1868). The question of whether Thomas Castro was the actual Sir Roger Ticheborne, wealthy, missing baronet, was a growing issue in England in 1868 (it would not be legally settled - against Castro/Arthur Orton - in 1874). That may have been tied to what Verne had in mind. Also the long lost fate of the French explorer La Perouse in the South Seas (in 1788 - his fate is mentioned in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA).
In any event, THE CHILDREN OF CAPTAIN GRANT was the first three volumes of seven (or eight - depending on one's counting of sections of TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES) volumes that were interlinked. Verne loved cross-connecting stories (in ROBUR THE CONQUEROR he suggests the appearance of an orbiting mystery at the start of the novel is actually an artificial satellite created by Professor Schultz in THE BEGUM'S FORTUNE). He never got this involved again (subsequently, however, he plays a private joke in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, when Princess Aouda is rescued from being burned alive at her husband's funeral: the husband is the usurper of the title of Prince Dakar who is Captain Nemo). CAPTAIN GRANT traces the world wide search for the Captain by his three determined children and their French tutor, which go through South America and the South Seas. The villain is one Ayrton, a sailor who imprisoned Grant for his own purposes on a small island near New Zealand. At the end of the novel, Aryton is punished for his treachery to Grant (and Grant's children) by Lord Glenelg, who promises to leave him there for only 10 years alone, roughly the time Grant was marooned. Then comes the story of Nemo and the Nautilus in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES (published in 1870). Then comes THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1873). A party of five men, led by Captain Cyrus Harding, from Libby Prison in Richmond escape in a balloon in a hurricane as the American Civil War is ending. They land on an uncharted island in the Pacific (called "Lincoln Island"), which they build up into a livable environment. They keep finding machinery and books to help them. Also they find a trail that leads them to the rescue of Aryton, nearly insane from loneliness, off a nearby island. Eventually they learn that the dying Nemo (on his submarine) is responsible for their safety and survival. Nemo dies, the island is destroyed in an eruption (the novel has been compared to a study of the growth and destruction of civilization), and Lord Glenelg's yacht comes to rescue the castaways and Aryton.
It is a long, complex series of stories. Movies have been made of CAPTAIN GRANT, TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES, and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLANDS. However, no miniseries (nine parts possibly) has been suggested for the whole three novels. Possibly because the adventures are so fantastic they stretch our imagination too far.
This Walt Disney production is satisfactory for CAPTAIN GRANT and good fun. Hailey Mills was given another of her early star turns in this film, and Maurice Chevalier was coasting on his starring turn in GIGI four years earlier (as well as his appearance as Panisse in FANNY). One can watch this film as an entertaining adventure flick, with Disney's typical good production values. It is actually quite easy to take.