Atlantis: The Lost Empire is Disney’s first shot at animated science fiction. Like The Emperor’s New Groove, the forty-first animated outing was pitched during the Disney Renaissance. Except it was always intended to be a non-musical with more experimental risk taking. Becoming an action heavy science fantasy flick reminiscent of Jules Verne adventures. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is based on the general legend of the lost city of Atlantis theorized by Plato. The lost city is a staple of pop culture that’s traditionally depicted underwater. These Atlanteans are more like a tribe with ancient technology that emanates from blue crystals. They have dark skin, white hair, and a language created by famous linguist Marc Okrand. Atlantis was obviously a very ambitious project for Walt Disney studios. So its lackluster reception and average box office performance must have been a major blow.
I have comforting memories of seeing Atlantis in theaters when I was 6 years old. My brother and I had McDonald’s toys and watched it a fair amount of times. But like so many others, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the direction. Yet it’s the old fashioned pulp feel and Hellboy comic artist Mike Mignola animation style that gave it an identity all its own. Atlantis is an underrated Post-Renaissance traditionally animated feature that suffered the fate of being in computer animation’s shadow. Along with an ultra widescreen, Atlantis utilized more CGI then any other 2D film. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is all about bespectacled linguist Milo Thatch’s attempt to uncover Atlantis in 1914. When I say ambitious, I mean Atlantis mostly suffers from too much confusing exposition. It helps that Michael J. Fox is perfect for an unlikely hero like Milo. His proposal for an expedition is ignored and he’s instead sought out by a femme fatale named Helga. She works for eccentric millionaire Whitmore, who supplies him with a state of the art submarine.
Milo is joined by an underappreciated ensemble team. No songs means more character interactions. There’s nonchalant Italian demolitions expert Vinny, kindly black Doctor Sweet, tough young hispanic mechanic Audrey, southern cook Cookie, sarcastic radio operator Packer, and unusual French digger Mole. Don Novello improvised all his lines and this was sadly Jim Varney’s last role. James Garner appropriately voices the obvious Disney villain Roake. An all American commander who turns out to be a greedy mercenary. While on the expedition, they encounter a robotic Leviathan, literal fireflies, and eventually the Atlanteans. Kida is one of the most underrated Disney heroines ever created. Credit to voice actress Cree Summer for developing the beautiful curious strong-willed forgotten Princess. Leonard Nimoy is just as good as her father. Milo & Kida bond over their love of Atlantis, but they never kiss for some reason. Instead they fight off Roake’s forces and discover the truth behind Atlantis’ power. All the action more than warranted a PG rating. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a high concept accomplishment that deserves a second chance.