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On the eve of the DVD release of Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Buena Vista Home Entertainment is calling the 1954 adventure classic one of the most famous and requested films in the Disney catalog. That sounds like typical hyperbole, but in this instance it may indeed be true — and Disney has undertaken a painstaking restoration process for the DVD (available May 13). Among its special features: an audio commentary by the film's director, octogenarian Richard Fleischer, who takes a 21st-century look back at his crowning achievement in film fantastica — and other credits (Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle, Soylent Green, Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja) — in this STARLOG interview.

When Fleischer's first documentary feature Design for Death won 1946's Academy Award for that category, his father, pioneering animator Max Fleischer, sent him a wire: "What took you so long?" The younger Fleischer says, "It was my first year in Hollywood and my first effort in Hollywood and I had been hurrying as fast as I could."

His family background had given him a head start. Born in Brooklyn, the son (and nephew) of the men who animated Popeye and Betty Boop, Fleischer got involved with drama and theater in college. He left the university torn between pursuing a medical career and theater, eventually opting to take a stab at the latter. He next branched out into working in films, initially in short subjects.

Fleischer soon graduated to directing B-pictures at RKO. When his contract at that studio ran out, he began freelancing, working on films ranging from crime and suspense dramas to horror, SF and fantasy.