Verne writes great adventure stories and this one was no exception. If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it is as follows:
This is the story of the quest for Captain Grant of the Britannia, who has been shipwrecked at sea. Captain Grant sends a note in a bottle requesting help and rescue. The bottle contains the same rescue note written in three different languages, but the water has destroyed most of the words and only clues remain as to his whereabouts. The bottle is discovered by Lord and Lady Glenarvan of Scotland, who put an advertisement in the newspaper hoping to contact any of Grant's survivors in Scotland. Mary and Robert, Captain Grant's children, respond to the notice and have high hopes that their father may yet be found. Lord and Lady Glenarvan decide to launch a rescue expedition.
Lord Glenarvan makes it his personal quest to locate Grant and together with his wife, Grant's children and the crew of his vessel, the Duncan, they head towards South America. Once underway they discover an unexpected passenger among them - Jacques Paganel, an esteemed geographer from France.
The group covered South America and head towards Australia throughout the course of this novel looking for Captain Grant. In Australia they find a former quarter-master of the Britannia, Ayrton, who might have some clues as to Captain Grant's whereabouts. Ayrton may not be all that he seems though and the group lands in New Zealand where they are captured by the Maoris who are cannibals. (If you've seen the movie, you are likely tracking with this storyline quite well.)
A few notes about this book in comparison to the movie:
1. In the movie, the crew receives one of their clues about the possibility of Capt. Grant's location by way of having found the bottle in a mako shark. In the book, the bottle is found in a hammerhead shark. You probably wouldn't notice this slight change unless your four year old is an expert in identifying various forms of sea creatures in which case you would immediately hone in on the fact that a completely different type of shark is being mentioned.
2. In the book, the women-folk stay on board the ship as the men-folk explore South America. But you can't exactly leave Hayley on board the ship where she would miss all of the action now, can you!?
3. The end of the book is different from the movie but that's ok.
On the whole, I'm super-duper impressed with Disney for holding true to the spirit of Verne's original story. With only 98 minutes to tell the story, they managed to pack in quite a few of the adventures, most specifically relating to those that occurred in South America. The characters on screen match the personalities in the book and my favorite character both on screen and in the book is Monsieur Paganel. He is a riot either which way and Disney cast him well!
Some of my favorite quotes:
"Can you cook, then, Monsieur Paganel?" asked Robert.
"I should think so, my boy. I'm a Frenchman, and in every Frenchman there is a cook."
I especially enjoyed Verne poking a little fun at Defoe's Robinson Crusoe:
"My dear Monsieur Paganel," said Lady Helena, you are letting your imagination run away with you, as usual. But the dream is very different from the reality. You are thinking of an imaginary Robinson's life, thrown on a picked island and treated like a spoiled child by nature. You only see the sunny side."I found this book to be a delightful read from beginning to end and I'm so glad I took the time to read it!
One note: I purchased the In Search of the Castaways (Forgotten Books) edition of the book and have to say that the printing is very sloppy. Apparently there is a publisher who handles "forgotten books" and prints on demand. Paragraphs were frequently split, notations about removed illustrations were included and it was just a pretty tacky way to read the book. It certainly wasn't impossible, and it was economical! (Ha!) Since I ended up really enjoying the story and plan on sharing it with my own kids, I wish I had invested in a decent copy. But "why cry about bad weather? Enjoy it!"
With that, I will leave you with a favorite clip of mine of Paganel from the movie In Search of the Castaways (which if you haven't seen, I highly recommend!) It's a great Disney classic. We recently watched it together as a family and my four year old LOVED it! (Makes me happy to share these films with him!)