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Round the World in 80 Days (1955)


Main image of Round the World in 80 Days (1955)
35mm, Technicolor, 17 mins
DirectorsAnthony Gross
 Hector Hoppin
Production CompanyH.G. Productions
SponsorBritish Film Institute Experimental Film Fund
MusicTibor Harsanyi

Cast: Donald Pleasence (voices)

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Phineas Fogg bets £50,000 that he can circumnavigate the globe in eighty days, and has an adventure in India.

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In the 1930s, animators Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin were contracted to Alexander Korda's London Films, for which they made their best-known film Joie de Vivre (1934) and Fox Hunt (1936), the first British animated film in three-strip Technicolor.

In 1938, after the worldwide success of Walt Disney's groundbreaking feature-length Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Gross and Hoppin began work on an ambitious adaptation of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, but only two sequences were completed before war intervened and production shut down. In 1955, a grant from the BFI's Experimental Film Fund enabled the film to be, if not completed according to the original plans, at least put into releasable shape with a coherent structure and soundtrack (with Donald Pleasence providing all the voices).

Without advance knowledge of the production history (though the film's full onscreen title, A Sequence From Round the World in 80 Days, provides a hint), the film seems distinctly lop-sided, paying inordinate attention to the start of the story (Phineas Fogg's hiring of his manservant Passepartout, the Reform Club wager that he can circumnavigate the globe in just eighty days) while rushing through the rest - but the Indian sequence at least hints at the extent of Gross and Hoppin's ambition.

Although clearly under-resourced compared with Disney's features, the film has a highly distinctive graphic style (sinuous figures with elongated heads) and a great deal of imaginative energy, particularly in the Indian scenes (the film is also known as Indian Fantasy, reflecting their dominance). These incorporate a race against time to save a bride from immolation in her husband's funeral pyre (the flame effects are particularly well realised), a chase involving elephants, horses and a rickety wooden bridge, as well as more subtle effects such as the bride's diaphanous flowing purple veil. If the other planned sequences had been completed to a similar standard, there's every possibility that the film could have stood comparison with Max Fleischer's late 1930s Disney-challengers like Gulliver's Travels (US, 1939).

Michael Brooke

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Complete film (15:30)
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