The giant squid is based off of the, "squid of colossal dimensions" from Jules Verne's 1870 book Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (20,000 Leagues under the Sea). At both the time of writing the novel and the time of Disney's film adaptation, the existence of the giant squid was unconfirmed and it was considered a cryptid, best known under the moniker of the Kraken.
The original animatronic squid was of similar color to real giant squid, being red. However, this animatronic was difficult and clumsy to operate, and it had several major malfunctions; chunks of the tentacles would fall off during filming and the wires that operated and supported them were too visible during filming because of the lighting.
The second model, which was black, was superior in construction, with specially designed tentacles that could move and coil like snakes thanks to hydraulics and air pumps. Due to its black color and problems with the original sunset backdrop, it was decided that the stormy scene that appeared in the final film would be used.
As the badly damaged Nautilus was sinking in the ocean from an attack by a warship, Captain Nemo's crew managed to stabilize the submarine, Nemo realized that they had gone "deeper than any man has gone before". The squid then moved toward the submarine. They were initially able to repel it with an electric charge, but the damage the submarine had taken made it harder to withstand the squid, and the electrical elements burned out on its next attack. Nemo then decided the only thing to do was to travel to the surface, and fight the squid hand-to-hand. As they prepared for battle and surfaced in the middle of of a raging storm, Nemo instructed his crew that they would be facing the "most tenacious of all sea beasts", to stay clear of the tentacles, and to aim for the spot between the squid's eyes in order to kill it.
Nemo and his crew ventured onto the deck to fight the squid, taking a side hatch as the squid attempted to send tentacles down the main entry hatch to grab the crew. Nemo was soon caught by one of the squid's tentacles after trying to harpoon it himself but was saved by the first mate and his crew in the battle, only to be caught again during the fight. Meanwhile, Ned Land, having managed to get onto the deck, joined in the fight after being informed by one of the crew of the squid's attack and threw a harpoon at the beast, hitting it right between the eyes and killing it outright. He then dived in as the squid sank beneath the waves and managed to cut Nemo free of its tentacles before it could posthumously drown him.
The squid makes a cameo in the Wonders of the Deep episode of Mickey Mouse. In this episode largely based on the Submarine Voyage attraction of Disneyland, the squid attacks Ludwig von Drake's submarine, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and it apparently ate Gepetto and Pinocchio prior. The squid is defeated when Goofy fires torpedos and uses a sonar to cause an underwater rockslide which crushes the beast, causing it to upchuck Mickey and Donald.
The giant squid, called the Kraken, appears in the sixth episode of the sixth season of Once Upon a Time, lurking in an underwater cave. It attacks Captain Hook briefly before Hook is saved by Captain Nemo's first mate.
The original film-used mechanical figure was displayed as part of the Disneyland exhibit on the film that ran from 1955 to 1966.
The Giant Squid attack served as the finale of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage when the guests' Nautilus comes across "Nautilus XIII" under attack by the giant squid. As the tentacles wrap around our sub, the ship's electrical defense system is put to work to get it off.
At Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at Disney's Polynesian Resort, a giant squid tentacle holding a bottle of liquor can be seen at the bar, the tentacle being hung on the wall. When the special "Nautilus" drink is ordered, the squid's arm comes to life and lowers the alcohol to pour for the drink. A photograph of Walt Disney holding up the squid's arm is also hung on the wall.
Prince Eric's Village
The squid is depicted on a weather-vane featured on the "H. Goff Cartography Shop" across from Under the Sea: Journey of The Little Mermaid. This area is a Disney Vacation Club location and occupies space once taken up by the lagoon and show-building of 20,000 Leagues' lagoon.
An illustration of the squid attacking the Nautilus can be observed on a map of the Mediterranean made by Captain Mary Oceaneer found within the Skipper Canteen.
The squid appears in its Mickey Mouse cartoon incarnation within the underwater segment of this attraction, being seen playing a trumpet.
The Disneyland exhibit would later be re-imagined for Disneyland Paris as Les Mystères du Nautilus with a more involved Squid attack.
The ride's Tokyo DisneySea successor moves the Squid attack to the middle of the ride and it features a much more stylized and menacing appearance.
- In a TV special made to promote the film, Walt Disney stated that "It's the squid who is the real villain." He also said that horror-actor Peter Lorre, who plays Conseil, claimed, "the squid got the part that's usually reserved for him".
- The original version of the scene took place during sunset. It was ultimately rejected and was eventually replaced with the version which appeared in the final movie. The 16mm footage of the original scene is still intact, miraculously having survived being burned, and an edited version with added background music is available on the Special Edition DVD.
- In the original novel, there were half a dozen squids that attacked the Nautilus with the crew losing one of their men due to the one of the squids before it was killed.
- Robert A. Mattey who was the head of the effects for the squid would later do the effects for the great white shark in Steven Spielberg's Jaws.
- Interestingly enough, the only inaccuracy regarding the squid in the film was the beak. Squid beaks have lower jaws that protrude and fit over the upper jaw.