Film Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

*All reviews contain spoilers*

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation. All screencaps are from Disneyscreencaps.com.

Cast

Steven Barr – Additional voices

Corey Burton – Gaetan “The Mole” Moliere

Claudia Christian – Helga Katrina Sinclair

Jim Cummings – Additional voices

Michael J. Fox – Milo James Thatch

James Garner – Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke

John Mahoney – Preston B. Whitmore (RIP)

Phil Morris – Dr. Joshua Strongbear Sweet

Leonard Nimoy – King Kashekim Nedakh

Don Novello – Vincenzo “Vinny” Santorini

Jacqueline Obradors – Audrey Rocio Ramirez

Patrick Pinney – Additional voices

Florence Stanley – Wilhelmina Bertha Packard

David Ogden Stiers – Fenton Q. Harcourt

Natalie Strom – Young Kida

Cree Summer – Princess “Kida” Kidagakash and the Queen of Atlantis

Jim Varney – Jebidiah Allardyce “Cookie” Farnsworth

Sources of InspirationJourney to the Centre of the Earth, a French novel by Jules Verne, 1864, and two of Plato’s dialogues, Timaeus and Critias (c. 4th century BCE)

Release Dates

June 3rd, 2001 at the El Capitan Theatre in California, USA (premiere)

June 8th, 2001 in New York City and Los Angeles, USA (limited engagements)

June 15th, 2001 in USA (general release)

Run-time – 96 minutes

Directors – Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Composers – James Newton Howard

Worldwide Gross – $186 million

Accolades – 2 wins and 14 nominations


2001 in History

Wikipedia is launched

The Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident occurs

El Salvador is hit by a series of devastating earthquakes

The spacecraft NEAR Shoemaker becomes the first to land on an asteroid when it settles on 433 Eros

A huge outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease costs the UK an estimated £8 billion

Former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milošević surrenders to police special forces, to be tried on charges of war crimes

The Netherlands becomes the first country to legalise same-sex marriage

Dennis Tito becomes the first space tourist, self-funding a nearly eight-day visit to the International Space Station

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, an attempt to reconstruct the Ferhadija Mosque results in mass riots by Serb nationalists against Bosnian Muslims

The Versailles wedding hall disaster occurs in Jerusalem, Israel, killing twenty-three people

Crown Prince Nipendra of Nepal commits the Nepalese royal massacre, killing his father (the king) and several other royals before shooting himself

Timothy McVeigh is executed in Indiana for the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995

The AbioCor, the first self-contained artificial heart, is implanted into Robert Tools (he passes away a few months after the operation)

The Tamil Tigers engage in the Bandaranaike Airport attack in Sri Lanka, one of their most audacious moves in their fight against the government

Popular American singer Aaliyah is killed in a plane accident in the Bahamas at the age of just twenty-two

A musical piece by John Cage called As Slow as Possible begins to be performed at the St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany; the performance is due to last until 2640

Tokyo DisneySea opens at the Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan

On September 11th, members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation hijack four airliners and fly two of them into New York City’s Twin Towers, with the others hitting the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania; nearly three thousand people are killed in the disaster and prayers and vigils are held around the world

In the wake of the attacks, the New York Stock Exchange endures its longest closure since the Great Depression

A series of postal-carried anthrax attacks plague the US, killing five people and infecting a further seventeen

US President George W. Bush declares a “War on Terror” – just weeks later, the Americans invade Afghanistan and the Northern Alliance overtake Kabul by November

114 people are killed in the Linate Airport disaster, the deadliest aviation accident in Italian history

The Provisional Irish Republican Army of Northern Ireland commences disarmament after peace talks

Apple debuts the iPod and Microsoft releases Windows XP (my first computer ran on that!)

China is admitted to the World Trade Organisation after fifteen years of negotiations

The Xbox console debuts in North America

The Hubble Space Telescope discovers hydrogen on Osiris, the first atmosphere detected on an extrasolar planet

Enron files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the largest case in US history

During the Argentine Corralito, bank accounts are frozen for twelve months and people riot around the country

Births of Ramona Marquez, Rowan Blanchard, Raymond Ochoa, Art Parkinson, Princess Elisabeth, Duchess of Brabant and Aiko, Princess Toshi


 

This week, we’ve reached Disney’s first foray into sci-fi with the film Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The directors of Hunchback came up with the idea for this one in October of 1996, while they were having lunch at a Mexican restaurant with Don Hahn and Tab Murphy in Burbank. The crew of Hunchback wanted to make another film together, so they first began to consider an adaptation of a Jules Verne classic like A Journey to the Center of the Earth before deciding to focus more closely on the myth of Atlantis, only briefly referenced in the book.

Atlantis would become the first Disney film released in the twenty-first century, so it feels rather fitting that a lot of the initial research for it was done on the internet, which was finally coming into widespread usage by the nineties. The filmmakers learned about the clairvoyant readings of Edgar Cayce and decided to incorporate some of his ideas into their story, particularly the idea of a “mother-crystal” with healing properties. To get a feel for the time period their story was set in, the team visited museums and army installations to study the technology of the WWI era, as well as taking a trip to New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns for inspiration on how to depict the underground realm that Atlantis is a part of. The whole thing was very different territory from the usual Disney fare; the crew even wore T-shirts reading “ATLANTIS – Fewer songs, more explosions” in a nod to the film’s more action-packed content.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the production was the creation of an entire fictional language for the Atlantean people to speak courtesy of linguist Marc Okrand, who also created Klingon for Star Trek. Asked to create a language which felt like it could be a “mother language” to all of the others spoken in the world, Okrand devised one with a vast Indo-European word stock complete with its own grammar that was inspired partly by Sumerian and North American languages. Okrand combined his Proto-Indo-European sources with some from Biblical Hebrew and other ancient languages – if words started to sound too similar to actual spoken words from real languages, he would change them, going for the most unusual sounds he could find.

To accompany this spoken language, artist John Emerson devised a written Atlantean alphabet. Okrand suggested that it be written in boustrophedon, which meant that it is read first left to right, then right to left, then left to right and so on, forming a flowing “back-and-forth” pattern “like water.” This, according to Okrand, was based on real ancient writing systems. The stylised letter “A” serves as a sort of treasure map, reminiscent of the “woven band” which Esmeralda gives to Quasimodo in Hunchback – it depicts Atlantis as if from above, with the location of the crystal marked at its centre.

After nearly five years of work, Trousdale and Wise’s third and final project for Disney was released to theatres in 2001 and unfortunately suffered from the same kind of underwhelming reception as Hunchback had had. The lack of music and unusually adult story seemed to put a lot of people off and the film gradually faded into obscurity, although like many other films from this time in Disney history, it has since made something of a comeback and is now considered a cult classic. So, let’s strap on our boots, load our guns and brush up on our Atlantean as we set out to explore this strange and fascinating entry in the Disney canon.

 

Characters and Vocal Performances

According to the directors, the decision not to make Atlantis into a musical allowed them to focus more on character development than usual, specifically in regards to the supporting cast. In places where a musical might have a big song and dance number, the filmmakers were instead able to include scenes of “bonding” between Milo and the rest of the crew. That’s all very well, but it does leave the film feeling a little bloated – it’s absolutely crammed with characters and most of them get a lot of screen time, so I’ll try to keep this as succinct as possible or we’ll be here for days.

Milo in grandfather's helmetMilo we're all that's left

Milo James Thatch (yes, all the characters actually have middle names) was originally going to be a descendant of Blackbeard the pirate, otherwise known as Edward Teach. However, this was changed so that he was related to an explorer, as this made more sense thematically. To play the role, Michael J. Fox was chosen because the directors felt that he gave the character his own personality and made him more believable. Fox himself said that he found voice acting much easier than live-action work because he didn’t have to worry about what he looked like in front of the camera. Apparently, Fox was also offered a part in Fox Animation’s Titan A.E. (2000), a Don Bluth feature, so he allowed his son Sam to choose which role he should take and the lad picked Atlantis.

Milo is certainly an interesting lead for a Disney film. He is perhaps the first “nerdy” hero they’d ever had (not counting shy leads like Bernard or Quasimodo) and was also the first to wear glasses. Milo is a young man living in Washington, D.C., where he works a lowly job at Smithsonian while dreaming of bigger things. He’s inspired by the legacy of his late grandfather, Thaddeus T. Thatch, an explorer who took him in and raised him after the deaths of both of his parents (curiously, in a film loaded with so much backstory, this interesting topic is never touched upon again). Milo is a man of many talents, being both a cartographer and a skilled linguist who specialises in the study of dead languages, but the museum elite don’t take him seriously and refuse to give him any opportunity to advance his career.

Milo and Harcourt in profile

Enter Preston Whitmore. This loveable old eccentric has Milo brought in to see him and changes the young man’s life, first explaining his friendship with his grandfather and then sending Milo to join an expedition to Atlantis which he has in the works. Finally, Milo is given the chance to fulfil his grandfather’s dream and he dedicates himself entirely to his task, leading the crew steadily towards their goal. Of all the crew, Milo seems to be the only one who is genuinely interested in Atlantis for its historical and culture significance; he’s rather put-out when he finds the rest of them are only in it for the money, but this doesn’t really become a problem until they actually get there and find, to the shock of all, that Atlantis is in fact a “living, thriving society.”

At this point, a conflict of interests develops as Milo is confronted with the fact that the crew are willing to destroy the entire civilisation in their greedy pursuit of financial gain. He may be a bit naïve, but like all good heroes Milo knows what’s right and fights for it, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. He’s forced to grow as a character and step out of his comfort zone, standing up for the Atlanteans and calling his new friends out for their selfishness, before finally taking to the skies and leading a battalion against Rourke’s men in the name of justice.

Milo and Kida reading

During the twenty-four hours the group has in Atlantis, Milo quickly begins to hit it off with Kida, a beautiful Atlantean princess who is initially welcoming of the outsiders. This seems like a rather unlikely pairing at first, but it ends up working pretty well – the dynamic is similar to that from the last Trousdale/Wise production, with the tough and worldly heroine contrasting with a shyer and gentler hero, but the romantic subplot fits here because Milo hasn’t been through the kind of abuse that Quasimodo had and is thus in a healthier emotional state. He doesn’t idolise Kida in the way that Quasi idolised Esmeralda; instead, he treats her with respect as an equal and fights passionately to protect her and her people. For her part, Kida seems to find him charming and endearing, and the two of them form a fast friendship which blossoms quite naturally into love once Kida realises the lengths Milo’s gone to in order to rescue her. It may be another of those infamously short courtships, but it’s certainly not the most ridiculous we’ve seen.

Sweet, plucky and incredibly disorganised, Milo makes for an unconventional but engaging lead who is easy to root for. I applaud Trousdale and Wise for being unafraid of depicting heroes who don’t fit perfectly into the mould of traditional masculinity; it’s very refreshing and encouraging and their efforts opened the floodgates for other, more sensitive Disney heroes later on.

Rourke can you drive a truckRourke loves it when he wins

For the role of Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke, actors like Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Davenport and Kurt Russell were considered, before director Kirk Wise finally settled on James Garner because of his previous experience with action and war films, saying the role “fits him like a glove.” Upon being asked if he was interested, Garner apparently replied “I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

Following on from the likes of the Renaissance villains, Rourke is another villain motivated by greed, although he’s handled more subtly here than many earlier examples. We are first introduced to him by Whitmore as the leader of the expedition and he seems affable enough, although if you pay close attention during his interactions with Milo you can tell that our hero doesn’t quite gel with him from the start. All through the journey to Atlantis, there’s no real indication that Rourke is a bad guy; a little impatient at times perhaps, but basically a solid, efficient leader.

Only once the group has arrived at the lost city and found it to be inhabited do we begin to sense Rourke’s true nature. His right-hand woman, Helga, points out that “There were not supposed to be people down here. This changes everything.” Rourke darkly responds that “This changes nothing,” and from this point on, his smooth façade starts to melt away, revealing the greedy monster within.

Rourke shoots Kida's knife

It turns out that Rourke knew about the Heart of Atlantis from the beginning, having stolen the page about it from the journal before Milo even got it. The entire expedition has been about getting his hands on it and he won’t let anybody stand in his way, even using violence when the elderly King Nedakh won’t tell him the crystal’s location. As a character, he serves as a kind of critique of the potential pitfalls of capitalism – driven mad by his lust for wealth, he is ultimately hoist by his own petard, destroyed by the power of the very crystal he committed so many crimes to obtain.

Rourke is smart, experienced and ruthless, making him a real force to be reckoned with, but the one thing he lacks which I think prevents him from being a truly memorable villain is that extra… pizzazz that the classic Disney villains all had. It’s especially noticeable coming as he does on the heels of Yzma, with her lively personality and comic flair – Rourke is just not a likeable guy, which, bizarre as it sounds, makes him a rather lacklustre villain.

Kida speaking FrenchKida in queen's robes

The female lead here is Princess “Kida” Kidagakash Nedakh, played by voice acting master Cree Summer. Milo first meets her a little before the rest of the group does, when she uses her crystal’s healing power to tend to an injury of his after the cave collapse. Upon questioning the strangers and learning of their (supposed) intent, she welcomes them to Atlantis and takes them to meet her father, the ailing King. Kida is inquisitive and sharp, eager to learn more about the visitors while perhaps demonstrating a little carelessness in her rush to bring them in – her attitude contrasts strongly with that of her father, who has the bitter wisdom of experience on his side and recognises the potential threat posed by the outsiders.

Kida is relatively young for an Atlantean (a mere 8,800 years old) and demonstrates the optimism of youth combined with a little of its naïveté, but her curiosity has a higher purpose; she longs to restore Atlantis to its former glory and chafes against what she sees as her father’s negativity. Despite this disagreement, however, she and her father have a warm relationship and clearly care a great deal for one another, as evidenced by their reactions when the other is harmed. Kida’s grandiose dreams and her frustrations at not being taken seriously mirror Milo’s, which is perhaps part of the reason they hit it off so quickly.

Like all the other women in this film, Kida’s as tough as nails and certainly knows how to handle herself, quickly disarming Milo with her straightforward manner and holding her own in a fight against several of Rourke’s henchmen (seriously, she’s on the point of killing one before he stops her). Much like Milo, she is also passionate about what she believes in and cares deeply about her people and their plight, as we see from her respectful awe upon seeing the crystal surrounded by effigies of past kings.

Kida close-up in cave

Admittedly, Kida does end up in a kind of “damsel in distress” situation, but to be fair, this isn’t because of any weakness on her part. It’s completely out of her hands; after descending into the crystal chamber with the others, the crystal detects the threat of Rourke and chooses the royal princess as a “host” to protect itself. Unfortunately for the crystal, this doesn’t take into account modern technology – Rourke’s crew are still able to pack Kida up and ship her out of the city, leaving Milo and his friends as the Atlanteans’ only hope. Only after Kida is successfully brought back to the city does the crystal’s protective power begin to work, enveloping the city in a shimmering force-field which saves them all from a volcanic eruption. Then, its task completed, the crystal returns Kida to the ground, where Milo waits to embrace her. In her hand is a tiny bracelet, a memento of her mother’s from the time when she, too, was taken by the crystal but failed to return. It is a simple but powerful way of bringing some closure to Kida’s story arc.

With her father deceased, Kida ends the film as Atlantis’s new Queen, the first “Disney princess” to become one within her original film. Sadly, she suffered from the same problem as poor old Eilonwy; chained to a poorly-performing film, Kida wasn’t deemed popular enough to be included in the official princess line-up, despite being an actual princess (her scanty attire may also have had something to do with it). It’s a shame she doesn’t get more attention, but that’s Hollywood for you. If it doesn’t make enough money, they don’t want to know. Given this film’s message, it’s kind of a cruel irony… eh Yzma?

Whitmore says ah Thatch

Lloyd Bridges was originally cast and even recorded in the role of Preston Whitmore, but sadly he passed away before completing the film. John Mahoney was thus brought in to replace him, with his zest and vigour causing the filmmakers to rewrite Whitmore’s personality. Mahoney called the experience “freeing” and said that voice work allowed him to be “big” and “outrageous” with the character. I’m sorry to have to say that Mahoney himself has just passed away this month, and he will be sorely missed by animation fans – we’ll be seeing more of him in future reviews once the Disney marathon is over.

Whitmore might only have a minor role here, but thanks to Mahoney’s energy, he really makes the most of it. We’re introduced to him as the financier of the expedition, a rich old eccentric with a passion for exploration who was a former friend of the late Thaddeus Thatch. After Helga has brought Milo to him, he quickly proceeds to figure the young man out, probing him with careful questions delivered at a rapid-fire rate to find out just how deeply he cares about his Atlantis proposal. As soon as he’s sure that Milo is the man for the job, he unveils his plans for the expedition and cheerfully informs Milo that everything has been taken care of and he’ll be on is way before he knows it.

Whitmore in naval gearWhitmore in crystal

Whitmore sees Milo and the others off in full naval regalia, suggesting that he may have had a life at sea in his past, but we don’t see him again until the very end of the film. Here, he is hosting the other members of the expedition after their return – all agree to pretend that Milo, Rourke and Helga were lost in the attempt to reach the city and that nothing was found (although if this is the case, how they were able to afford the finery we see them in is anyone’s guess). Milo encloses a personal note to Whitmore along with a piece of crystal, which closes another story arc nicely as this was the one thing Whitmore most wanted to vindicate his old friend’s name.

Like most comic characters, Whitmore is strengthened by the fact that he is given some believable emotional weight to balance out his wackiness. Do you think we would have cared half as much about the Genie if he hadn’t had a burning desire for freedom? Whitmore is a warm presence in the film because of his past with Thaddeus; that relationship gives him a layer of realism which makes him feel more fully fleshed out and the character benefits hugely from it.

Helga's introduction

Oh baby. I know I don’t normally focus on a character’s looks, but wow… Helga Sinclair is a true work of art. I’d say she’s the sexiest character Disney has created to date, but that’s not entirely down to her appearance. Helga is Whitmore’s assistant and Rourke’s lieutenant – we first meet her with Milo when she turns up unexpectedly in his apartment to recruit him for the expedition. She oozes cool confidence and handles herself with a kind of bite, rarely letting her guard down and always in control of her emotions. She does also have a playful side, though, delivering some hilariously dry one-liners (mostly regarding Milo, who she seems to have a bit of a soft spot for).

As Rourke’s right-hand woman, Helga remains loyal to him till the end and is the only significant crew member to stay with him when he leaves Atlantis with the crystal. However, we have a few early hints that she isn’t as callous as he is – when he’s making his speech about their fallen comrades, for instance, she looks genuinely upset, and she is also briefly thrown off by the presence of living people in Atlantis. Although she is apparently still ready to carry out the awful deed and help Rourke to wipe out the Atlanteans, she doesn’t bargain on his treachery. Out of nowhere, even after all she’s done for him, Rourke betrays her and chucks her out of the hot air balloon, presumably to avoid having to split the spoils from the crystal with her. Naturally, she doesn’t take this lying down and in her absolute best moment manages to swing back up onto the balloon to deliver a few well-placed kicks to Rourke’s face, before he catches her and finishes the job.

Helga kicks Rourke's assHelga fires gun

Or so he thinks. Even being thrown out of a hot air balloon can’t take down this badass, and in her final moments Helga deals Rourke some truly spine-tingling vengeance by shooting down his balloon with her gun, while sneering his final words to her back at him – “Nothing personal.” This act is really what saves Atlantis, as Milo’s team weren’t having much luck in taking him down prior to this. Keep in mind that she doesn’t have a change of heart; she’s fully committed to stealing the crystal and only shoots the balloon down in revenge for Rourke’s betrayal, so she can’t really be said to become one of the “good guys” at the end, but she’s still an awesome character and electrifies the screen whenever she appears.

Helga holding Kida

What’s interesting about Helga and the other characters here is that they each have detailed backstories which are only briefly touched upon (if at all) in the film. In Helga’s case, nothing about her past is mentioned as Milo doesn’t interact with her much, but upon looking into it I was intrigued. She was apparently something of an “army brat,” the eldest of six children, who lived in three different countries in her youth and was even briefly married a few years prior to the start of the film before losing her husband to war. I was amazed to learn that she’s actually two years younger than Milo – who is thirty-two at the time of the film! The clean-up for her animation was unique among the cast for being done largely at the Paris studio, and she was also one of the few characters with a performer hired for live-action video reference footage, in this case Dawn Heusser. The more you know!

So that’s our main cast – but of course, Atlantis isn’t complete without its bunch of rag-tag crewmates. The named six are a colourful bunch, each of them given an amazingly detailed backstory even if little of it is ever revealed (Mrs. Packard, for instance, has apparently been married seven times!), but with so many characters the film inevitably feels a little overcrowded. There simply isn’t room to give them all an engaging subplot, so they all end up functioning largely as comic relief with a few standout scenes here and there for them to show off their special skills. (Incidentally, it’s a pity the TV series was cancelled, as such a diverse and developed cast would have been ideally suited to one).

Audrey explains her past

One of the youngest members of the team is eighteen-year-old Audrey Ramirez, who is replacing her father as the chief engineer. Jacqueline Obradors said that playing the character made her “feel like a kid again” and greatly enjoyed her recording sessions, always hoping that they would run on for longer. Audrey apparently started working as her father’s apprentice aged just five, showing a stunning aptitude for mechanics from the beginning.

Audrey is presented as a tough, no-nonsense tomboy who states that she “used to take lunch money from guys like this” (in reference to Milo). She doesn’t take well to being told what to do and is initially annoyed with Milo for tampering with her machinery. At first, she’s rather fierce and closed-off – perhaps the result of having to prove herself as a very young woman in a world dominated by men – but gradually, she warms up to Milo and begins to open up to him. One thing the two of them have in common is that they are both new members of the team; on the group’s previous expedition to Iceland to find the journal, we see in a photograph that her father was the engineer that time. Sweet seems to have taken her under his wing somewhat and the two of them appear close; they are the first two to welcome Milo into their inner circle while the others continue to play pranks on him. Audrey is also the first of the team to listen to her conscience and goes over to help Milo up after Rourke knocks him down, glaring reproachfully at the others. In the final battle, her main role is helping Sweet to free Kida’s chamber from the bottom of the balloon.

Sweet explains his past

Joshua Sweet, the medical officer of the group, is notable for being the very first named African-American character with a significant role in a Disney canon film (the Muses were more like narrators and weren’t named on screen, while Duke the Riveter from Fantasia 2000 is neither named nor voiced). Yep, it took until 2001. He’s also part Native American, just to add to the diversity. His supervising animator, Ron Husband, also happened to be one of the first black animators at Disney and he maintained constant contact with Howard University during production, who provided him with photos of the kind of medical supplies the character would likely have carried in that time period.

Sweet is a kind-hearted ball of energy and a very fast talker whose main function seems to be to add a little warmth to the rather solemn expedition. It almost feels uncharacteristic of him to ignore Milo along with the others at first, especially after giving him such a friendly introduction on the ship, but he is one of the first to decide to include the young cartographer and thereafter remains one of his staunchest allies. In addition to helping Audrey out at times and keeping Mole under control, Sweet’s biggest contribution is when he tends to the dying Atlantean King following Rourke’s brutal assault; although he cannot save the old man, he does what he can to make him comfortable in his final moments. After the king’s passing, he packs up his equipment with a resigned sigh, then turns to Milo and helps to bolster him when he’s at his lowest moment, doing so by quoting his beloved grandfather. Sensitive and funny, Sweet is an enjoyable member of the cast.

Mole inspects the dirt

The excavation expert, Gaetan Moliere, was originally conceived of as a “professional” sort until story artist Chris Ure reworked him into a “horrible little burrowing creature with a wacky coat and strange headgear with extending eyeballs.” Although Sweet warns Milo that he doesn’t want to know Mole’s background, I couldn’t find anything especially off-putting in the material available online! While playing the character, Corey Burton explained that he “found” the character by allowing him to “leap out” of him while making funny voices. He would throw himself into his scenes and imagine he was in “this make-believe world.”

As a character, Mole is essentially just the film’s comic relief. He scarcely has a moment of seriousness in the entire film, almost always goofing around or being weird. Despite the gaggery, even he is obviously still good at what he does – he demonstrates remarkable sensual acuity and analytic abilities (when needed), identifying Milo from a single tiny speck of dirt taken from under his fingernail. Mole, along with Vinny, who he seems closest too, is one of the team members who takes the longest to warm up to Milo. For much of his early screen time he is engaged with pulling pranks on the hapless linguist to his own great amusement, but once the others have accepted Milo he soon follows suit and gives him an enthusiastic goodbye at the end. His main function plot-wise (aside from gags) is to operate the digger and to identify the inner tube of a volcano after the group fall into it, but beyond this he isn’t really given much to do. There’s not a whole lot to say about Mole; he’s just kind of there, but whether or not you’ll find him funny is a matter of personal taste. (I don’t, for what it’s worth).

Vinny explains his past

Director Kirk Wise and supervising animator for Vinny, Russ Edmonds, noted Don Novello’s unique ability for improvisation while recording. Edmonds said that Novello “would look at the sheet, and he would read the line that was written once, and he would never read it again! And we never used a written line, it was improvs, the whole movie.” That’s pretty impressive! Vinny’s surname, Santorini, may have been taken from the Minoan eruption of Thera, which devastated the island of Santorini (then called Thera) around the mid-2nd millennium BCE and may have been the origin of the Atlantis legend as described by Plato.

Vinny is one of the less interesting characters in the team, played in an understated, almost laconic way with little of the energy that makes Sweet or Audrey so compelling. He is the demolitions expert whose main function is to “remove obstacles” on the journey to Atlantis, which he does with swift skill and no fuss. The most excited we ever see Vinny is when he’s teaming up with Mole to prank Milo, but eventually he develops a more protective attitude towards him, rather like an older brother, helping him pitch his tent and standing by him before the final battle. Vinny is rather closed-off emotionally and is the most reluctant to deliver his backstory, doing so in a detached and embarrassed sort of way, but he’s obviously a loyal friend once you’ve gotten to know him and proves himself to be one of the best fighters in the final battle. It’s worth noting that Vinny seems to be more of a neutral character than a good one; he does have a conscience, but his morality is a little… well, grey (“Well, maybe somebody got hurt, but… nobody we knew!”)

Cookie shows off his tattoos

For the two eldest members of the expedition, the roles of Cookie and Mrs. Packard would prove to be the last for both Jim Varney and Florence Stanley. Sadly, Varney passed away after a battle with lung cancer in early 2000, shortly before production ended, so the film was dedicated to his memory. Producer Don Hahn was particularly sorry that Varney was never able to see the finished film, but they did apparently show him clips of his character’s performance and “He loved it.” Shawn Keller, who supervised Cookie’s animation, said that “It was kind of a sad fact that [Varney] knew that he was not going to be able to see this film before he passed away. He did a bang-up job doing the voice work, knowing the fact that he was never gonna see his last performance.” Due to Varney’s passing, the “I ain’t so good at speechifying” line had to be provided by Steven Barr, the only one not to be recorded by Varney.

Cookie apparently attended culinary school in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, even enjoying a brief stint as chef at the Waldorf Astoria, so there’s a lot more to this character than meets the eye! In the film, he serves as the group eccentric, always lost in his own world and wandering off into nostalgic reminiscences of times gone by without ever realising that he’s grossing people out. He is supposed to serve as the group’s cook because of his skill for whipping up meals out of almost nothing, but his food doesn’t seem to be going down well with anyone the few times we see them eating it. Milo looks suitably disgusted at being presented with “the bacon grease from the whole trip” at the end, but it is a quite a touching gesture considering how highly Cookie prizes his limited ingredients. Being elderly, Cookie isn’t able to offer much in the action scenes – he’s just along for the ride, enjoying himself immensely as if he were on vacation. Like Mole, he serves mainly as comic relief, but I find him a lot funnier than his younger companion.

Packard's conscience kicks in

Florence Stanley played Mrs. Wilhelmina Packard as very “cynical” and “secure,” saying, “She does her job and when she is not busy she does anything she wants.” She was one of the last Disney characters to be depicted as a chain-smoker and was apparently based on several Lily Tomlin characters. Looking into her backstory, it’s actually one of the most interesting in the entire cast – she was raised by travelling performers and has been married no less than seven times, being widowed by her last husband in 1912 just before the time of the film. She’s quite the innovator, with a list of inventions and contraptions to her name, so it’s no surprise that she was made the radio operator on such a secretive expedition.

Mrs. Packard is a very dry character and her style of humour may not be to everyone’s taste, but I love it. The running gag with her is how jaded and disinterested she is; she’s always chatting to friends when she’s supposed to be working and shows not a glimmer of surprise at anything she sees in Atlantis (although she does take plenty of pictures). She’s obviously seen a lot in life – they say nothing surprises Rourke, but she really takes the cake when it comes to detachment. Once again, as one of the older members of the group (sixty-one, apparently) she isn’t able to bring much to the table once the group actually reaches Atlantis; her special skill is useless underground so she becomes more of a tourist than anything. That said, she remains her sarcastic and salty self all the way through to the end, and I enjoy her limited appearances. The last we see of her is in Whitmore’s study, where she’s menacing Cookie with an umbrella to remind him to stick to the story about the fate of the expedition.

King says you'll destroy yourselves

For the small but important role of the Atlantean King, Kashekim Nedakh, Tim Curry was considered (I’m honestly surprised Patrick Stewart wasn’t at this point, especially considering the Star Trek connections), before the role went to Leonard Nimoy. Michael Cedeno, who supervised the character’s animation, was astounded at Nimoy’s talent in the recording sessions, stating that he gave the King “so much rich character” with his performance. Apparently, the crew would sit and watch Nimoy in astonishment as he acted.

The King is a Disney father along the lines of Powhatan or Fa Zhou, but he is far, far more ancient than any earlier human character, having been born in the early Mesolithic at a time when most other humans were hunter-gatherers and North America had yet to be settled by people (any people). He is first seen briefly in the prologue as a somewhat younger man, protecting his young daughter from the might of the crystal as it summons his wife to protect the city – while shielding Kida from its rays, he looks at it for too long and is blinded.

In 1914, he is a wizened and frail old man who seems finally to be reaching the end of his days, but he still has strength enough to challenge his rebellious daughter on her dangerous ideas about engaging with the militant strangers. Stubborn to the last, the King tries to prevent the mercenaries from getting to the crystal but is overcome by the brute force of Rourke, who delivers a punch to the old man in one of the most sickening scenes in the film. Slowly dying in pain from internal bleeding (don’t you just love Disney), the King’s final words are given to Milo, as he urges the lad to save his daughter and, by so doing, Atlantis itself. It really is a testament to Nimoy’s talent that such a frail character is able to command himself with such presence – King Nedakh may be only a minor character, but he’s a memorable one.

Fenton Harcourt

The last role of significance here is that of Fenton Harcourt, the stuffy museum bureaucrat who Milo believes is his ticket to funding an Atlantis expedition. Played by Disney stalwart David Ogden Stiers (who by this time had become a sort of good luck charm for the directors), Harcourt has only a single scene near the film’s start where he desperately tries to escape Milo’s attentions. After sneakily moving and then cancelling Milo’s meeting regarding the expedition, the persistent bloke manages to track Harcourt down anyway and tries to talk him round while Harcourt and his fellow bureaucrats scurry for cover. Harcourt represents the general backwards attitude towards the myth of Atlantis in general, urging Milo to give up his foolish notions and focus on his career as a linguist and cartographer. While he probably means well, he has a very rude way of dealing with Milo that makes him instantly unlikeable – although he is very funny, too!

 

Animation

The supervising animators for Atlantis included John Pomeroy for Milo, Randy Haycock for Kida, Michael Surrey for Rourke, Yoshimichi Tamura for Helga, Anne Marie Bardwell for Audrey, Anthony DeRosa for Moliere, Russ Edmonds for Vinny, Rob Husband for Sweet, Shawn Keller for Whitmore and Cookie, David Pruiksma for Packard and Harcourt, Michael Cedeno for the King and Mike “Moe” Merell for the Leviathan (the latter being a particular highlight of the animation).

At the peak of production, around 350 animators, artists and technicians were working on the film from all three of Disney’s studios in Burbank, Orlando and Paris. The action scenes are definitely the film’s best, well-choreographed and fast-paced with plenty of intricate details to be spotted if you pay close attention. The scene with Kida in the crystal chamber has also become a well-known one among Disney fans with its striking and unique cinematography.

Biplanes loaded in fight

Milo’s physical appearance was apparently based to some extent on that of Marc Okrand, the language consultant, with Okrand himself stating that John Pomeory would sit and sketch him because he claimed not to know how a linguist was supposed to look or act. Meanwhile, Randy Haycock stated that Kida’s animation was greatly influenced by his early interactions with Cree Summer, whom he initially found “intimidating”; he decided that that was how he wanted Kida to appear to Milo when he first meets her.

Ron Husband described the greatest challenge in animating Sweet as being the syncing of his speech with Morris’s rapid line delivery. For his part, Morris considered Sweet an “extreme” character with “no middle ground,” saying that “When he was happy, he was real happy, and when he’s solemn, he’s real solemn.” Helga, of course, is one of the highlights of the character animation – Claudia Christian described her as “sensual” and “striking” and said that she was relieved to finally see Helga’s design, as she had been afraid that after all her voice work the character would turn out to be “a toad.” (She certainly didn’t have to worry about that!)

Helga someone needs to talk to that girl

At the time, Atlantis made greater use of CGI than any previous Disney canon film except Dinosaur. It was supervised here by Kiran Joshi and both CAPS and the Deep Canvas system developed for Tarzan were used to bolster the film’s animation. The directors made sure that the digital artists worked with the traditional ones throughout the production to ensure high productivity. There were many key scenes featuring extensive use of CGI, including those with the Leviathan and the submarine Ulysses, the crystal and the stone giants that protect the city near the end. After the elements were first designed on paper, Greg Aronowitz would then sculpt physical models of them to be used as reference for drawing them on the computer – further computer effects were then added to seamlessly marry the traditional and CGI elements, with the final film including 362 digital effects shots.

Milo inside Ulysses

The technology available at the time was allowing the crew a greater degree of creative control over their productions than they’d ever had before. For instance, in the scene where the 3D Ulysses is dropped from its docking bay, we get a fantastic tracking shot as the camera floats towards it and focuses on the 2D Milo inside, before continuing on past the sub and rising to hover above it as it slowly sinks into the depths. As we noted way back in The Rescuers Down Under, digital production created lots of opportunities for more inventive camerawork like this. On this film, the camera could be moved through a digital wife-frame set, into which the backgrounds and other details would be hand drawn later on. The flight through Atlantis in the prologue and the fight with the Leviathan were just two of the scenes which benefited from this method of shooting.

Atlantis final panorama

At the end of the film, we get a final pull-out panorama of Atlantis, restored at last to its former glory. This was described by the directors as one of the most difficult scenes in the entire history of Disney animation, noting that their previous attempt at such a shot at the end of Hunchback had “struggled” and “lacked depth.” With advances in technology and technique, they decided to try the shot again for the end of Atlantis, beginning with one 16-inch piece of paper depicting Milo and Kida in close-up. The camera gradually pans out to reveal the entire city, reaching the equivalent of an 18,000-inch piece of paper which was actually composed of many much smaller pieces of around 24 inches each, which were all carefully combined and composited into a single image. The animated vehicles flying around it were added last to complete the impression of a cohesive image and the final effect is very impressive.

 

Plot

In the early stages, writer Joss Whedon was involved with the film, but he then left to work on other Disney projects, leaving “not a shred” of his work in Atlantis, according to him. Tab Murphy replaced him, and he later said that the time between the initial story discussions and the production of a satisfactory script was “about three to four months.” The first drafts were enormously long by Disney standards, at least sixty pages longer than a typical Disney feature and featuring two acts that were each timed at about two hours apiece. The directors thus decided to cut a whole mass of extra scenes and characters to bring the focus back to Milo, where it belonged.

Murphy created the Shepherd’s Journal as a plot device because the characters needed a map to get them to Atlantis, and a series of trials the group would encounter on their way there were dropped for time (although a couple remained in tweaked forms). The film’s pacing was thus improved as the group reached the city a lot sooner. For the Alanteans themselves, the directors were inspired by the example of the Egyptians, who were encountered by Napoleon in the late eighteenth century having completely forgotten the significance of the many grand monuments of their past which surrounded them.

Alarm sounding in Atlantis

Producer Don Hahn explained that there was initially going to be a very different prologue to the film involving a set of Viking characters, who would use the Shepherd’s Journal to find Atlantis themselves and then be quickly eliminated by the Leviathan. However, story supervisor Jon Sanford later felt that this didn’t allow the audience to engage emotionally with the Atlanteans and reworked it, despite the Viking prologue already being finished and fully animated. It cost a lot of time and money to alter, but the directors agreed with Sanford and made the change. Gary Trousdale went home to work on the storyboards for the new opening that very evening and the new prologue was soon ready, depicting the destruction of Atlantis in ancient times from the perspective of Kida and her family. (The Viking idea can still be found on the DVD release as an extra).

Milo with map of ancients

One of the things I found most impressive about this film’s story is that there’s so much additional material to be found outside of the film in online and printed sources. Each character, however minor, has an incredibly detailed history, and even though much of this wasn’t seen in the final film it really adds to your impression of them when you watch it again. Just knowing how the characters came to be on this expedition and imagining some of the other adventures they’ve had in their lives gives them a whole new layer of richness and believability which the writers didn’t necessarily need to provide – the fact that they did is a testament to the effort everybody put into it.

The film’s plot serves as a kind of critique of capitalism and war, making it feel distantly reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli work at times. This is made most obvious in the contrast between Rourke, the greedy leader who even describes himself as an “adventure-capitalist”, and the King, who in his extremely long life has learned better through bitter experience and now knows the dangers of seeking too much power.

My only real criticism of it is to do with the anachronisms, an inevitable pitfall of setting the story in a specific year. Some elements of the story simply feel too far-fetched for 1914, a late-Edwardian and pre-WWI era in which American women did not even have the right to vote. Somehow, in this film’s world, these same women can still secure positions as engineers, military lieutenants and boxing champions (Audrey’s sister), at a time when most other women couldn’t even wear trousers. Perhaps there are examples of such pioneering women to be found in the historical records, but to me, it just felt like a bit of a stretch. Some of the technology is also similarly fantastical given the time period (I seriously doubt a behemoth like the Ulysses could have been constructed just two years after the Titanic), but this is more forgivable as a stylistic choice, given the steampunk aesthetic.

 

Cinematography

Atlantis scenery #1Atlantis scenery #2Atlantis scenery #3Atlantis scenery #4Atlantis scenery #5Atlantis scenery #6Atlantis scenery #7Atlantis scenery #8Atlantis scenery #9Atlantis scenery #10Atlantis scenery #11Atlantis scenery #12Atlantis scenery #13Atlantis scenery #14Atlantis scenery #15Atlantis scenery #16Atlantis scenery #17

The film is famous among Disney fans for basing its look on the comic-book style of artist Mike Mignola, who served as one of the four production designers along with Matt Codd, Jim Martin and Ricardo Delgado. After being hired by Disney to provide style guides and preliminary character and background studies, he set to work bringing his signature graphic and angular style to the film’s “look”, greatly influencing the final design. Mignola was apparently quite surprised to be contacted by Disney (when called by a representative, his response was “How did you get my phone number?”), but he went on to greatly enjoy the experience and his influence was a key reason why the film later went on to develop a cult following.

Hellboy_The_Wolves_of_St_August
Mignola’s Hellboy

For the design of Atlantis itself, the filmmakers wanted to stay away from the typical depiction of it as a kind of crumbling, undersea version of Ancient Greece. Director Kirk Wise said that “From the get-go, we were committed to designing it top to bottom. Let’s get the architectural style, clothing, heritage, customs, how they would sleep, and how they would speak. So we brought people on board who would help us develop those ideas.” The film’s art director, David Goetz, said that he took a lot of inspiration from around the world because they wanted the city to look like the “mother culture” for the rest of the world, drawing on Mayan architecture as well as that of Cambodia, India and Tibet. The circular design and layout of the city were apparently taken from the writings of Plato, whose quote opens the film.

Characters look out at Atlantis

When talking about this film’s cinematography, the most interesting thing to note is that it is one of the few in the canon to be produced and shot in the 70mm anamorphic (or “CinemaScope”) format. The directors chose to do this as a nostalgic reference to classic adventure films of the past, many of which had also been shot in the format, noting filmmakers like David Lean and Akira Kurosawa, as well as Spielberg classic Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) as particular influences. The format hadn’t been used for a Disney film since the time of The Black Cauldron (1985), so doing so here required purchasing all-new animation desks and equipment – naturally, this made the studio executives a little reluctant at first.

To solve this problem, the production team simply drew within a smaller frame on paper and equipment of the standard size, and the executives were placated. Layout supervisor Ed Ghertner created a guide for the artists on how to work with the widescreen format and noted that he was able to keep more characters on screen for longer than usual as the additional space prevented the need for them to leave the frame. The format does indeed work well for such an epic adventure as this and Atlantis benefits hugely from the wonderful sweeping panoramic shots we get of it. However, as cool as it looks, I have to note that the format doesn’t translate well to home media – none of my DVD players are able to show the complete frames from left to right, no matter how I adjust the settings, so characters standing at the very edge of the screen are often cut out.

Atlantis coelocanths

As always, it is the attention to detail which really sets Disney apart. To give a few examples, the unusual fish we see in Whitmore’s aquarium are in fact coelocanths, a type of “living fossil” from ancient times which were considered extinct until they were rediscovered in the 1930s (how Whitmore has found such beautiful specimens in 1914 is anyone’s guess, of course). Whitmore’s mansion, meanwhile, is based on the Arts and Crafts style of architecture that was popular in that time period, so it must be quite a new construction. Then there are the weapons; Rourke carries a German Luger and Helga has a German C-96, but all of the other firearms depicted are based on real weapons from the 1910s. The vehicles the expedition drive were inspired by a trip to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, where the filmmakers were able to view a variety of them from the relevant period. Of course, the trip to Carlsbad Caverns also paid off in a big way, as the mysterious passages leading to Atlantis look excellent.

Carlsbad_Interior_Formations
Carlsbad Caverns

 

Soundtrack

For the second time, James Newton Howard was asked to join a Disney team as the composer. He approached the assignment as he would a live-action film, choosing to give the surface world and Atlantis different musical “themes.” For Atlantis, he went with an Indonesian orchestral sound which incorporates chimes, bells and gongs, creating an ethereal and mystical atmosphere which can really be felt in the scenes of the crystal chamber in particular. The directors informed Howard that the film would contain a number of scenes with no dialogue, in which the characters’ emotions would need to be carried solely by the music – as we see in the finished film, Howard was more than up to the task and the film’s score is a solid one (but then I always enjoy his work, so perhaps I’m a tad biased).

Heart of Atlantis

For the sound production, Disney hired Gary Rydstrom of Skywalker Sound, who worked with his team to create two different sounds for the two different cultures of the film, just as Howard did. Due to the time period, Rydstrom focused on the mechanical sounds of the early industrial era for the American scenes, while giving the Atlanteans a “more organic” sound incorporating ceramics and pottery. The distinctive soft “whirring” sounds of the Atlantean fish vehicles were especially challenging to create; in the end, Rydstrom got them from a recording he made of a semi-truck driving by him at high speed, which he sped up on his computer to create the final effect. The Heart of Atlantis, which is frequently described by characters as being “alive” in some way, was given a “harmonic chiming” from Rydstrom rubbing his finger along the edge of a champagne flute, while the sub-pods moving through the caverns to avoid the Leviathan were done with a water pick.

Atlantis main title

The film’s one song is Where the Dream Takes You, a shimmery pop-ballad which I chose as my twelfth favourite credits song in an earlier post. It was written by Howard in collaboration with Diane Warren and performed over the film’s end credits by Mýa at the peak of her career. The inclusion of the song was thanks to the studio’s marketing department, who felt that the film needed at least one to adhere to Disney tradition. Mýa was hired because of hers and the studio’s shared business relationship with A&M/Interscope Records, but it may also have been intended to boost her career in the way that Reflection boosted Christina Aguilera’s after she covered it for the credits of Mulan. The song is very soothing and nostalgic, but it failed to impress music critics at the time, most of whom considered it generic and uninspired. (Perhaps I just have bad taste). Still, despite this, the song did manage to be nominated for Best Original Song Written Directly for a Film at the World Soundtrack Awards.

The writing for the film is generally strong, with some scenes better than others. Kida’s early conversation with Milo is a highlight, as are pretty much all of Helga’s scenes (“I came down the chimney – ho, ho… ho”… “Cartographer, linguist, plumber… hard to believe he’s still single!”). One of my favourite lines comes from Sweet at the end of the “group bonding” scene, where Milo asks, with some incredulousness, “What’s Mole’s story?” Sweet quickly replies, “Trust me on this one – you don’t wanna know. Audrey, don’t tell him. You shouldn’t have told me, but you did, and now I’m telling you: you don’t wanna know!” The plot is perhaps a little rushed in places and the writing doesn’t quite hold up to the standard set by The Emperor’s New Groove, but it’s still pretty solid for the most part.

Sweet talks about Mole

Among the voice cast, Leonard Nimoy, John Mahoney and Michael J. Fox are some of the major highlights, but I really can’t pinpoint anyone who does a bad job here. All of the actors seem to have had a thorough understanding of their characters’ personalities and do a marvellous job of bringing them to life – some credit must go to the writers for giving them all such detailed backstories to work with, as that must have made it a lot easier for the actors to inhabit the characters’ minds.

 

Final Verdict

Atlantis was one of the first Disney films to make use of internet marketing. The film was promoted through the cereal brand Kellogg’s, which created a special website filled with mini-games and a movie-based video game give-away for UPC labels from special packs of Atlantis cereal. Atlantis also benefited further from the use of technology with a mobile network marketing plan, which allowed users to download games based on the film. Disney’s old stalwart partner McDonald’s were also involved (they had an exclusive licensing agreement for all Disney releases), promoting the film with their Happy Meal toys and in-store décor as well as advertising it on TV, radio and in print. Frito-Lay also offered free admission tickets in specially marked snack packages.

Prior to its release, there was a lot of speculation that Atlantis would suffer from competition from DreamWorks’s all-CGI release Shrek (which it did) and with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (whose central character resembles Helga in some ways). Even Kirk Wise felt that they were going to have a struggle on their hands, recognising the market’s shift away from traditional animation and onto computerised films: “Any traditional animator, including myself, can’t help but feel a twinge. I think it always comes down to story and character, and one form won’t replace the other. Just like photography didn’t replace painting. But maybe I’m blind to it.” Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly felt that CGI films like Shrek had a better chance of attracting teenagers who were not typically interested in animation and considered Atlantis a “marketing and creative gamble.” He wasn’t wrong.

The film had one of the most lavish premieres of any Disney canon film since the mid-nineties, with an entire themed area called “Destination: Atlantis” displaying behind-the-scenes props and information on the legend of Atlantis, along with video games, laser tag and fish loaned from the Aquarium of the Pacific. Despite this, the film didn’t end up doing all the well at the box office; it wasn’t a bomb, exactly, but it certainly didn’t cover itself in glory and was regarded as a failure by President Thomas Schumacher, who later said “It seemed like a good idea at the time to not do a sweet fairy tale, but we missed.”

Critical reception was mixed. Some praised Disney for trying something new (good, I’m glad some people acknowledged that), but others felt the film had an unclear target audience and suffered from its lack of songs. The visuals, action-adventure elements and the attempt to appeal to older viewers were all noted as positives, however, with Roger Ebert giving the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and praising its “clean bright visual look”, as well as the “classic energy of the comic book style.” Ebert also enjoyed the story and the climactic battle scene, writing that “The story of Atlantis is rousing in an old pulp science fiction sort of way, but the climactic scene transcends the rest, and stands by itself as one of the great animated action sequences.” Still, the lacklustre response from audiences caused Disney to cancel a planned spin-off TV series called Team Atlantis and the re-theming of an underwater attraction at Disneyland (which was eventually re-opened in 2007 as the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage instead).

Like several Disney films before it, Atlantis also came in for some criticism of plagiarism. Apparently, some viewers felt that the setting, story and character designs were awfully similar to those of the 1990-1991 Japanese anime Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, as well as the 1986 Ghibli film Castle in the Sky. Disney never formally responded to these claims, but Kirk Wise did address them briefly on a Disney animation newsgroup forum in 2001, saying that they’d “Never heard of Nadia till it was mentioned in this [newsgroup]. Long after we’d finished production, I might add.” Both works were actually inspired by Jules Verne classics like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but Lee Zion, reporting for the Anime News Network, considered there to be “too many similarities not connected with 20,000 Leagues for the whole thing to be coincidence.” In addition to all this, some other critics found the film similar to the 1994 feature Stargate and its spinoff TV series, with Milo in particular being criticised for being too similar to that franchise’s protagonist, Daniel Jackson. Funnily enough, the TV series later launched its own spinoff called Stargate Atlantis. Personally, I haven’t seen Nadia or Stargate, so I can only comment on the Ghibli comparisons – I can see where people are coming from, but it’s honestly so subtle that it’s more of a homage than anything, certainly nothing serious enough to be considered plagiarism.

Atlantis was released to VHS and DVD in early 2002, with a Blu-ray release following in 2013. There was also a really, really crappy direct-to-video sequel called Atlantis: Milo’s Return in 2003, which was basically just three episodes of the abandoned TV series stitched together into a weak package film. (That’s an afternoon I’m never getting back).

 

Nowadays, the original film is gaining a rather better reputation as one of the more underrated Disney classics, due in part to the stylistic influence of Mike Mignola. In a way, I consider it similar to The Rescuers Down Under as the two films suffer from similar problems; both are non-musical action-adventures with nerdy male leads and a problem with overcrowding in their casts, which both suffered from competition from other popular films during their theatrical runs. Despite this, both are strong films with a lot of enjoyable aspects, including stunning visuals made possible by the magic of computers, so there’s definitely a lot to like. If a classic adventure sets your heart racing, this is the Disney film for you – there’s really nothing else like it anywhere in the canon.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this review. I’m going to be going on holiday next week so there won’t be another film review until early March, but I’m intending to preschedule a shorter article or two for next week while I’m gone. The trouble is, I’m still suffering from computer problems. My poor old desktop PC is over seven years old and seems to be on its last legs; these Disney reviews must have taken their toll on it, as it’s begun crashing at random whenever I use it for too long (it’s done it twice during this very review as it is). I’m planning to replace it once I come back from my holiday so depending on how long it takes to get this sorted out, there may be a short delay in my posting, but I’ll try my best to keep you informed if this becomes the case. Either way, thank you so much for visiting and please come back again soon for more! (I will get this problem sorted, one way or another).

My Rating – 4/5

Atlantis group shot

 

References

I consulted my own books to research for this review, as well as some standard web sources:

The Art of Walt Disney (2011 ed.) by Christopher Finch

Atlantis: The Lost Empire: The Illustrated Script (2001) by Tab Murphy and Don Hahn (confusingly, Jeff Kurtti is sometimes listed as the author of this work, but the written portions only really consist of Hahn’s foreword and Murphy’s script, so I don’t know what that leaves for Kurtti to have written)

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3828896 – credit for poster

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30320231 – credit for Mignola image

By Eric Guinther, User:Marshman – Uploaded to the English Wikipedia August 2003 (deleted page), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64449 – credit for Carlsbad Caverns image

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis:_The_Lost_Empire – wiki page

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0230011/ – IMDB profile

19 Replies to “Film Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)”

  1. The concept behind ATLANTIS is super creative, and the characters are extraordinarily well-developed; the one problem I see with it is that the filmmakers couldn’t seem to decide on a central theme, to thread the whole thing together. In fact, Christopher Finch states that the film “falls apart for lack of thematic structure” due to the story team’s “inability to make sense of disparate and unrelated plot elements, resulting in a series of blatant narrative non sequiturs.” (Still, you can’t say they didn’t try…)

    Kida’s desire to reconnect with her past and help the rest of her people to do the same strikes an especially resonant chord with me, since human cultures the world over are now dying out faster than they ever have before, and holding onto the traditions of the past is getting harder and harder. One line of hers sums this up succinctly and poetically: “We are like a stone that the ocean beats up against; with each passing year, a little more of us is worn away…”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it is a little messily handled in places and there are some rather tedious scenes mixed in with the stronger ones. I do like this one and I’m glad it’s gaining a following, but it’s not Disney’s best.

      An interesting take on Kida! I wish I’d looked more deeply at the cultural angle of her character, but I was under a lot of time pressure with my computer giving up the ghost. Perhaps a future post – I’ll certainly be exploring the Disney heroines in more detail down the line.

      Like

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