Atlantis: The Lost Empire is Disney Animation Canon's 41st feature film.
Many centuries ago, an accidental weapons discharge would cause a titanic tsunami that threatens do destroy the capital city of Atlantis. The giant crystal that powers the city, known as the Heart of Atlantis, calls upon the Queen and pulls her up so that they would be bonded in order to save the city. Her young daughter, Kidagakash, watches in tears before her father, King Kashekim Nedakh, covers her eyes. The power of the crystal creates a protective barrier around the center of the city, keeping it from being destroyed by the tsunami. However, it also results in the city being buried beneath the subsiding waters. In 1914, Milo James Thatch is preparing his presentation to his employers at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. on the lost continent of Atlantis. He notes that he believes there is a power source that the Atlanteans used and that it could still be hidden within the sunken city. He reasons that there is a book called the Shepherd's Journal that has been seen throughout history that would contain a detailed road map to the city and believes that the book is in Iceland. During the presentation, he gets a call to fix the boilers, revealing that he is not an employed linguist or cartographer, but rather the janitor. The Institution's board then attempt to deceitfully back out. Milo chases after them and manages to corner Mr. Fenton Harcourt, who completely dismisses the existence of Atlantis as myth. Even when Milo threatens to quit, Harcourt notes that the search for Atlantis is a career killer, which is what happened to Milo's late grandfather Thaddeus Thatch.
Milo returns home disheartened, only to suddenly meet a woman named Helga Sinclair. She tells him that she is there on behalf of her employer with a proposition. When Milo asks who her employer is, she instead drives him to the estate of Preston Whitmore. Upon arriving in Whitmore's private study, Milo discovers that Whitmore was friends with his grandfather. He finds Whitmore in the middle of completing a yoga session before pointing out a parcel addressed to Milo from his late grandfather. Milo opens the parcel to find, to his disbelief, the Shepherd's Journal. Whitmore explains that he is fulfilling a bet me made to Thaddeus by financing the expedition, though it is clear that he is willing to do it regardless because of his friendship with him. Whitmore adds that everything is set and all they need is someone who can read the book, which is Milo. Without much hesitation, Milo agrees to participate.
In preparation for the expedition to begin, Milo discovers that Helga is more than just Whitmore's personal assistant as she is the expedition's second-in-command. He also has run-ins with the elderly cook Jebidiah "Cookie" Farnsworth and demolitions expert Vincenzo "Vinny" Santorini before Whitmore introduces him to the expedition's commanding officer Commander Lyle Rourke. Announcements are heard from elderly radio operator Wilhelmina Packard, with the last being for final boarding on the advanced submarine ship the Ulysses. After Milo waves Whitmore good-bye, the submarine is launched.
Milo continues to meet some more of the expedition crew, such as French geologist Gaetan "Mole" Moliére, chief medic Doctor Joshua Sweet, and teenage mechanic Audrey Ramirez before conducting a briefing of where to find the entrance leading them to Atlantis. Suddenly, they are attacked by a giant mechanical Leviathan. Despite best efforts to defend themselves against the beast, all hands are forced to abandon ship after it sustains too much damage. The path to the entrance is located and all surviving ships follow with the Leviathan chasing after them until it can no longer do so. Upon reaching an air-pocket, only a small fraction of the crew have survived.
The remainder of the expedition continues forward with Milo leading the way through his translating of the directions in the Shepherd's Journal. Tricks are played upon him by other members of the crew until they finally take him in during a stop for rest. Milo comments that the Shepherd's Journal may be missing a page, but the others get him to ease off the book for a moment. He comments that he is just so excited on being on such an adventure, though the others note their mainly in it for the money. After opening up about himself, Milo gets to hear about Sweet, Audrey, and Vinny, though is warned by Sweet not to learn about Mole's story. As everyone sleeps, a figure that has been watching the expedition digs through Milo's possession until it is run off by Milo awakening to use the bathroom. While he is unbuckling his belt, he points the flashlight at what appears to be a lamp. The light causes a wave of fireflies to attack the camp. Most survive the attack and try to escape into a cave, but the amount of weight of their vehicles cause the bridge to collapse.
Most everyone survive the collapse. Examination of their position finds them, according to Mole, placed in the bowels of a volcano that is dormant and will erupt if disturbed by a powerful enough force. Further examination finds that there is a possible escape route through what appears to be the top of the volcano when everyone realizes that Milo is missing. Milo awakens to find himself surrounded by strange figures until one of them pulls off its mask, revealing a human woman behind. She uses a crystal hanging around her neck to completely heal a cut on his shoulder before taking off. Milo follows with the expedition catching up and in the process they find themselves looking at Atlantis, alive and thriving. The figures, discovered to be Atlanteans return with Milo being able to communicate with them before they realize the Atlanteans can speak any language as theirs is the root source for all others. The woman, revealed to be Princess Kidagakash, agrees to take them to meet her father the King. Along the way, Helga expresses to Rourke hesitation about the mission since there are people alive. Rourke, on the other hand, feels it doesn't change the objective of their mission.
Milo, Rourke, and Helga are brought before the blind King Kashekim by Kida. Only Milo is able to understand through the interaction between the father and daughter that outsiders are not welcome and would have originally been killed on sight. Kashekim then speaks English, recognizing why they're really down there and tells them to leave. Rourke manages to talk him into letting the crew stay for one night so they can rest and resupply. After Milo, Rourke, and Helga leave, Kida and her father continue to argue with Kida believing the outsiders can help them rediscover their dying culture while Kashekim firmly states their way of life is being preserved. Meanwhile, the crew still wish to get some answers about what's going on and what to do next. They decide to have Milo speak with Kida. Milo has no trouble talking to Kida as she ends up the one to engage in the conversation.
Milo and Kida start to get to know one another as well as understand where each came from. Kida tells of her witnessing the great flood, which shocks Milo since it makes her much older than she appears. Milo attempts to find out about the power source he is looking for, but gets sidetracked with another shock when it is realized that no one in Atlantis can read the written Atlantean language. Through Milo, he and Kida are able to figure out how to activate one of the Ketaks before they tour the city. The tour is really Kida leading Milo towards a deep pond underneath which a great number of written information is found. Milo and Kida swim around with Kida's crystal providing light needed for Milo to read. Milo discovers that the power source he's been looking for is the very crystal that took Kida's mother and it is the reason Atlantis is still able to thrive alive. However, the location of the Heart of Atlantis is unknown and Milo suspects the missing page contains its whereabouts.
When Milo and Kida surface, they are surprised to find Rourke leading the rest of the expedition to begin a more forceful manner in finding the Heart of Atlantis, horrifying Milo that even Sweet, Audrey, and the others are in on it. Rourke reveals to have possession of the missing page and forces Milo to translate by pointing a gun at Kida after he initially refuses since the crystal is needed to keep Atlantis alive. They end up in the King's chamber as the page notes that the Heart of Atlantis lies where the eyes of the King can see. Kashekim refuses to elaborate on the riddle, even after being punched and under threat of execution, much to the horror of the others. Just before pulling the trigger, Rourke is able to figure out the riddle that the middle of the room leads to the chamber containing the crystal. Rourke and Helga force Milo and Kida to join them as they descend into the chamber to find the Heart of Atlantis with stone effigies of the past kings orbiting it. While Rourke and Milo argue about how to retrieve the crystal, which is levitating in the air, the crystal calls to Kida and she is soon infused with the crystal. By warning of Milo, they do not touch her while Rourke's men place her in a container.
Just before Rourke and the rest of the expedition make off, Milo makes another plea that their actions will kill the Atlanteans. Sweet, Audrey, Vinny, Mole, Cookie, and Packard decide to side with Milo, not wanting the death of innocent lives on their conscious. The pleas fall on deaf ears with Rourke, who destroys the wooden bridge to keep them from following. With the Heart of Atlantis no longer in the city to keep it powered, it places Atlantis and its civilians in danger. Milo meets with the dying King, who explains that the Heart of Atlantis calls upon one with royal blood to bond with to protect itself and the people, heaving developed a consciousness of its own. Because of his arrogance in ruling Atlantis with the crystal, it became too strong to control and it lead to the sinking of the city as well as his wife being sacrificed to save them. Before he dies, he notes that the crystal needs to be returned not only to save Atlantis, but to prevent Kida from being loss by bonding with the crystal for too long. After a encourage talk from Sweet, Milo directs everyone to a Ketak and how the crystals they posses still has enough power to activate them.
Rourke and his men blow a hole through the top of the volcano and attempt to fly out through a Gyro-Evac when Milo and the others arrive to stop them. During the battle, Vinny accidentally discovers how to discharge an energy bolt from the vehicles to counter the guns and firepower Rourke and his men possess. Milo and Vinny then distract Rourke and Helga while Sweet and Audrey try to release the container with Kida. Though Rourke and Helga drive off Sweet and Audrey, Milo crashes his Ketak into one of the balloons and causes it to slowly descend. Helga tries to lighten the load, but they are still dropping when Rourke decides to push her off. She manages to swing back on and kick him around for betraying her, but he catches her and throws her off for good. Milo and Rourke get into a scuffle with the balloon once again ascending, but a badly hurt Helga gets back at Rourke by firing a flare gun and destroying the main balloon, thereby causing it to descend permanently.
An enraged Rourke goes after Milo with an axe, during which he brakes a glass hole from the container. Milo notices one of the glass shards has elements of the crystal and uses it to cut Rourke when he holds him up by the neck. The cut causes elements of the crystal to mix into Rourke's blood, turning him into crystal form. Nevertheless, he still attacks until a chance positioning causes Rourke to shatter after connecting with the still turning propellers of the hot air balloon. The act disconnects the container, though Milo has to move it fast to prevent the hot air balloon from crashing down upon it. The crash is enough force to cause the volcano to reawaken and Milo and the others quickly bring the container back to the city. Milo opens up the container and Kida and the Heart of the Atlantis ascend. They awaken giant stone guardians to create a force field to prevent lava from destroying the city. With the city saved, Kida is released from the crystal and into Milo's arms.
The Atlanteans thank those who helped Milo save them, donning each of them with crystals and providing them with an acceptable pile of gold to return to the surface with. Milo is staying behind, as he and Kida have fallen in love and he is needed to help the Atlanteans rediscover their lost culture. Back on the surface, Whitmore debriefs Vinny, Sweet, Audrey, Mole, Cookie, and Packard into rehearsing a false story about them finding nothing as well as the made-up fates of Helga, Rourke, and Milo. While going through photos Packard took, Whitmore discovers a package for him containing a picture of Thaddeus and child Milo, a crystal, and a message thanking him on behalf of the Thatches for helping them realize their dream. Back in Atlantis, Milo completes the construction of a stone effigy of Kashekim to join the other past kings orbiting the Heart of Atlantis as it once again hovers above the newly restored city.
- Michael J. Fox voiced Milo James Thatch, a linguist and cartographer who has followed his grandfather's footsteps in studying the Atlantean culture and learned to translate the Atlantean language.
- James Garner voiced Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke, the commanding officer of the Atlantis expedition and secretly a mercenary looking to sell the power source of the city.
- Cree Summer voiced Princess Kidagakash "Kida" Nedakh, the princess of Atlantis who believes the outsiders, in particular Milo, can help the people rediscover their lost culture.
- Don Novello voiced Vincenzo "Vinny" Santorini, an Italian demolition expert who was fascinated by explosives after the Chinese laundromat next to his family's flower shop exploded one day.
- Phil Morris voiced Doctor Joshua Strongbear Sweet, an African-American/Native American medic who, despite his bulky appearance, is very agile and quick both in movement and speech.
- Claudia Christian voiced Lieutenant Helga Katrina Sinclair, the blonde, seductive personal assistant to Whitmore and second-in-command of the expedition who is loyal to Commander Rourke.
- Jacqueline Obradors voiced Audrey Rocio Ramirez, a teenage female Puerto Rican mechanic filling the role her father had previously and is a tough, yet sweet tomboy.
- Florence Stanley voiced Wilhelmina Bertha Packard, the elderly and sarcastic radio operator who is very cynical and very secure, doing her job and then doing whatever she wanted.
- David Ogden Stiers voiced Fenton Q. Harcourt, Milo's former employer at the Smithsonian who does not believe in the existence of Atlantis and considers the Thatches to be crazy in their belief of it.
- Jim Varney voiced Jebidiah Allerdyce "Cookie" Farnsworth, a Western-styled chef who is not very good at cooking. Varney passed away of lung cancer in February 2000 before production ended, and the film was dedicated to his memory.
- John Mahoney voiced Preston B. Whitmore, a wealthy and kind millionaire who funds the expedition to Atlantis to honor his friendship with Milo's grandfather Thaddeus.
- Corey Burton voiced Gaetan "Mole" Moliére, a 39-year-old French geologist who often behaves like a mole and whose backstory is apparently something that, according to Sweet, shouldn't be known.
- Leonard Nimoy voiced King Kashekim Nedakh, the King of Atlantis and Kida's father who is blind, dying, yet firm in his belief that the past should remain in the past.
- Jim Cummings voiced Helmsman
- Jennifer Seguin voiced Queen Kashekim Nedakh, the Queen of Atlantis and Kida's mother at the beginning of the film.
- Holly Gauthier-Frankel voiced Third Driver.
- Kath Soucie voiced Smithsonian Woman.
The idea for the film that would ultimately become Atlantis: The Lost Empire took place during lunch between Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, Don Hahn, and Tab Murphy at a Mexican restaurant in Burbank, California on October 1996. Just months earlier, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released, upon which all four worked on. Based on a desire to keep as much of the crew they had on Hunchback together, they started throwing around story ideas and the notion of doing an adventure film came to mind. In addition to the tradition of Disney animation, they also recognized that there was a great tradition of adventure films Disney released such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Island at the Top of the World. By the time they finished their lunch, the four knew what kind of film they wanted to make. To illustrate the point, Trousdale had T-shirts made out for the production crew that read "ATLANTIS - Fewer songs, more explosions."
In research, there was interest in doing an adaptation of the Jules Verne novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth. Later, they noted curiosity with the brief Atlantis passage in the book and would later pick the lost city as their primary subject. The filmmakers used the internet as their primary research tool, looking up as much information as they could find on the mythology of Atlantis. In the development of the visual look, filmmakers visited museums and toured old army installations to study the technology of early 20th century time-period and traveled 800 feet underground in New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns to observe the subterranean trails that would serve as the model for the approach the character would take to Atlantis.
With regards to the visual design of the city of Atlantis, filmmakers wanted to avoid the common look of crumbled Greek columns underwater. They looked into Mayan architecture and unusual architecture from around the world, in particular southeast Asia. The overall appearance of the film, they wanted to evoke the look and feel of comic books and graphic novels. They were primarily inspired by the designs of Mike Mignola, creator of the Hellboy series. Mignola was hired, along with Matt Codd, Jim Martin, and Ricardo Delgado, as a production designer and offered story suggestions and ideas.
Aside from Plato's account, Tab Murphy and the directors drew inspiration from Edgar Cayce in the development of the story. Cayce's belief of Atlantis having a mother-crystal with provided power, healing, and longevity to the Atlanteans provided a crucial plot device. With the Atlanteans having forgotten their past culture, the directors took note of Egypt when Napoleon wandered the country with its people not knowing of the meanings to the artifacts found. Murphy developed the idea of the Shepherd's Journal out of a need for the characters to have a map to follow and it would later be developed with a historic back-story that spanned centuries and supposedly went through the hands of many historical figures. According to Murphy, the first draft of the script turned in was 155 pages, well over the typical length of a Disney animated feature which was generally 90 pages. When the first two acts were timed at 120 minutes, the directors decided to cut characters and sequences as well as focus more on the development of Milo as a character. Among the more truncated was the events taking place between when the explorers escaped the Leviathan to when they arrive in Atlantis as the original treatment featured what Mike Mignola described a "monster parade" of the expedition encountering one creature after another. Because they were developing a film that was not a musical, this change in direction required the filmmakers to ensure the action sequences would carry the film while also spending time to showcase character development.
Atlantis was one of the few Disney animated films to be presented in the anamorphic widescreen format of 2.35:1. Others in this format include Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, The Black Cauldron, and later Brother Bear. This was done to the nostalgia of the film's action-adventure setting. In order to prevent the need to purchase and implement larger animation desks, longer animation paper, and so fourth, the production team managed to figure out how to work within a smaller frame on the same paper and equipment used for the standard aspect ration of 1.66:1 while still maintaining the CinemaScope appearance.
The film was noted for having used more CGI than any other animated Disney feature at the time. At the peak of production, it had 350 animators, artists, and technicians from all three of Disney's animation studios in Burbank, Orlando, and Paris, though the majority of work was done from Burbank. There were 362 digital effects shots used in the final film with computer programs that seamlessly branched the 3-D and 2-D artwork together.
Music and SoundEdit
James Newton Howard was hired to compose the music score for the film, which was the second of three Disney animated features after Dinosaur and before Treasure Planet. Howard developed two different musical themes, one for the surface world and the other for Atlantis. With regards to the Atlantean world, Howard was inspired by Gamelan, an Indonesian orchestral sound featuring heavier use of chimes, bells, and gongs. Gary Rydstrom supervised the sound development of the film using his team from Skywalker Sound. Like Howard, he incorporated two different sound types for each of the opposing cultures. For the explorers, he focused on machine and mechanical sounds of the early industrial era. For the Atlanteans, he created "more organic" sounds utilized from ceramics and pottery. Rydstrom and his team would receive the only award ever given to the film, a Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in an Animated Feature Film.
Linguist Marc Okrand, creator of the Klingon lanaguage for Star Trek, was hired to help create the Atlantean Language for the film. Okrand stayed true to the directors' intention of Atlantis being the "mother-culture" and implemented Indo-European word stock with its own grammar. Artist John Emerson created the written alphabet with the written language designed to be read left to right on the first line, then right to left on the second in a zigzag pattern to simulate the flow of water. Marketing
Atlantis: The Lost Empire was one of the first Disney films to utilize internet marketing for promotion. Among these was through Kellog's, who created a website that featured mini-games based on the film while also giving away a free video game through the redemption of UPC labels from specially marked cereals. The film was also Disney's first attempt at marketing through wireless carriers and allowing users to download games based on the film. At the time of the film's release, Disney maintained a promotional contract with McDonald's. Through them, the film was promoted with Happy Meal toys, food packaging, and in-store decor while also advertising these promotions on TV, radio, and print.
The soundtrack to the film was released on May 23, 2002. It consisted primarily of James Newton Howard's score along with the end credits song "Where the Dream Takes You" written by Dianne Warren and performed by Mýa. A "limited edition" of the soundtrack was released containing a unique 3-D album cover insert depicting the Leviathan, 20,000 copies of which having been produced.
A rare "promo" edition was also made, intended only for members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The promo edition runs at 73 minutes as opposed to the 53 minute length of the commercial release, containing pieces of the score present in the film but not in the commercially released soundtracks. The promo edition has since been bootlegged by fans, who have also provided their own artwork to go along with the release.
Dark Horse Comics was commissioned to print a graphic novel that covered the entirety of the film. It was published on June 6, 2001 and was written by Greg Ehrbar using the script, pencils by Claudio Sciarrone, inks by Sonia Matrone, and cover art by Mike Mignola. The 56-page comic also contained some of Mignola's production designs for the film with his comments on their development. Disney would print additional comics through the Disney Adventures Magazine leading up to the film's release. Disney also released an Illustrated Script book on June 2, 2001 that was a combination artbook and screenplay publication. In addition to the script and a collection of production designs and illustrations, there were also comments from the directors and producer as well as humorous sketches exclusive to the book.
There were a number of video games developed based on the film. Zombie Studios developed two games made primarily for the Microsoft Windows platform. The first game Atlantis: Search for the Journal was released on May 1, 2001 and was free video game redeemed through Kellog's. The second game Atlantis: Trail by Fire was released on May 18, 2001. Eurocom developed the official Atlantis: The Lost Empire game for the Sony Playstation console. It was an action-adventure title that was released on July 12, 2001. THQ would develop Atlantis: The Lost Empire for the Game Boy Advance and later the Game Boy Color. It was an action platformer initially released on September 19, 2001.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire opened #2 on its debut weekend, earning $20.3 million in 3,011 theaters. The film faced difficulty is being released within the same screening period of DreamWorks' CG-animated feature Shrek and Paramount's action-adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Furthermore, the interest in traditional hand-drawn animated features was starting to dwindle as CG-animated features were on the rise and attracted audiences more. After a 25-week theatrical run, the film would gross a worldwide total of $186 million, $84 million of which came domestically from the United States and Canada. While the film was not a box-office bomb, it was perceived as a disappointment as it was not as successful as the previous line of films. Home Release
The film was released on VHS and DVD on January 29, 2002. It would be among the last Disney films to be released on VHS, upon which it was presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. During the first month of release, it led in VHS sales and was third in combined VHS and DVD sales. Overall sales of the VHS and DVD releases have, to date, accumulated $157 million in revenue.
The film received two DVD editions. The single-disc release contained the option to view the film either in its original theatrical ratio or in a modified 1:33.1 ratio utilizing pan and scan. It also contained audio commentary from the directors and producer, a virtual tour of the CG models, the Atlantean language tutorial, an encyclopedia on the myths of Atlantis, and the original Viking prologue.
The two-disc "collector's edition" presented the film in only its original theatrical ratio. It contained all the bonus features in the single-disc release along with a visual commentary track in which during the regular audio commentary the directors and producer will occasional pause the film and show a bonus feature exclusive to the track before resuming the film from where they left off. There is also a two-hour comprehensive documentary on the making of the film, three deleted sequences, and a plethora of production stills and animation tests.
On April 2, 2012, it was announced that the film will be released on Blu Ray sometime in October. No details has been released regarding what special features, if any, will be included.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire garnered mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes has 49% of 140 professional critics giving the film a positive review, with an average rating of 5.5 out of 10. The site's consensus writes, "Atlantis provides a fast-paced spectacle, but stints on such things as character development and coherent plot." Another review aggregator in Metacritic weighted the film with an average score of 52 out of 100 based on 29 reviews from mainstream critics. A CinemaScore poll conducted during the opening weekend, however, revealed that the average grade cinemagoers gave the film was A-. Among the more positive reviews came from Roger Ebert, giving the film three-and-half out of four stars. He and fellow Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper would give the film "Two Thumbs Up" on the Ebert and Roeper At the Movies TV show. On the other hand, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C+ rating. A key complaint about the film is that it may have been too adult for younger audiences to enjoy or understand given it's lack of musical numbers and cute sidekick characters.
Controversies and SimilaritiesEdit
Prior to and following the film's release, a number of viewers noted similarities between the film to a popular 1990's Japanese animated television series called Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. These include seemingly identical character designs, story flow, and background settings. Co-director Kirk Wise noted that, even though he and co-director Gary Trousdale were anime fans, they were not aware or even heard of Nadia during production of Atlantis. The controversy involving similarities between a Disney film and an anime series was not new to producer Don Hahn, who produced The Lion King which was accused of ripping off Kimba the White Lion. Another anime with noted similarities to Atlantis was the Hayao Miyazaki film Castle in the Sky. There are also similarities to the 1994 science fiction film Stargate with the plot and more especially Milo being similar to the character of Daniel Jackson. Coincidentally, there would be a spin-off series named Stargate Atlantis in 2004, with a cast that included Cree Summer's brother Rainbow Sun Francks. Furthermore, Phil Morris' son Jamil Walker Smith was in the cast of another spin-off series called Stargate Universe in 2009.
In the years since the film's release, Atlantis: The Lost Empire has developed a cult following. In large part due to the influence of Mike Mignola's art style being implemented into the design of the characters, other aspects of the film's art have been recognized. The film has also been considered an underrated classic, recognizing the strong voice acting and energetic pace while others believe the storytelling was another key aspect of the film's enjoyment. Because of the film's box-office performance, plans for an animated series called Team Atlantis and it's inclusion into the planned revision of the Submarine Voyage ride were quietly dismissed. However, there was a direct-to-video sequel released on May 20, 2003 called Atlantis: Milo's Return, primarily consisting of three stories originally planned for the aborted animated series. Characters from the film such as Milo, Kida, Packard, and Rourke would also make appearances in the ABC Saturday morning cartoon series House of Mouse.