In 1914, Milo Thatch
Has got a hare-brained scheme to hatch,
A trip to find an ancient book
To reach Atlantis, but the hook
Is none will pay him to dispatch
A team to reach this awesome catch.
But, led by one Helga Sinclair,
Thatch meets a quirky millionaire,
Who lost a very costly bet
To his granddad. To pay the debt,
He’s funded Milo’s whole affair
To find Atlantis deep somewhere.
Aboard the great sub (quite a feat),
The linguist has a chance to meet
Commander Rourke, who heads the mission;
Vinny, who likes demolition;
Mole, a burrower; and Sweet,
The kindly doctor for the fleet.
Deep underwater, soon they find
A monster that comes from behind.
This huge Leviathan attacks;
The sub is wrecked, but they make tracks
And reach a cave that is designed
To reach Atlantis, once it’s mined.
Once more is said of those with names,
Strange fireflies burst into flames.
The fire spreads; to flee from it,
They find an old volcano’s pit.
From there, within a couple frames,
They reach the truth of Milo’s claims.
They’re welcomed to Atlantis by
The Princess Kida, who’s not shy.
Impressed at what Milo can read,
She takes him to a sunken screed
That notes a crystal power supply,
But Rourke butts in as our bad guy.
He and the crew start acting rash;
They’ll sell the crystal just for cash.
Once Rourke has hurt Atlantis’ king,
He still locates that crystal thing.
It bonds with Kida in a flash,
And giant stones fall with a splash.
They pack up Kida to depart,
But Milo’s pleas to have a heart
Create misgivings in the many;
Rourke and Sinclair haven’t any.
Before the city falls apart,
They must bring Kida back, to start.
Thatch leads a team of those who stayed
On flying fish ships, unafraid.
They battle Rourke, who’ll get out soon
If he escapes in his balloon.
When Thatch flies in to Kida’s aid,
Rourke’s killed by his propeller blade.
That same volcano starts to wake,
So all our heroes make a break.
When Kida’s back, she forms a shield,
And soon the lava has congealed.
The crystal, which can give and take,
Lets Kida go for Milo’s sake.
Though most died in this enterprise,
We still have all the named good guys.
While Milo stays, his friends return,
Concealing what their group did learn.
The crystal on which life relies
Now floats above Atlantis’ skies.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an outlier among Disney movies. It has no princesses, no musical numbers, and no cute and funny animal sidekicks. Mole doesn’t count. It also has a different kind of animation, more angular and intentionally reminiscent of old pulp magazine tales. While there’s much humor throughout, Atlantis is more mature than most Disney films, with hundreds of people dying, albeit off-screen. This large number of redshirts makes it almost funny that only the good characters with names end up living.
The characters are actually what attracted the most criticism when Atlantis was released. The film is like Indiana Jones crossed with a caper film, and the latter’s habit of collecting a team of uniquely skilled individuals for the mission is well utilized. While I personally like all the characters, it’s true that most of their backstories, if any, are glossed over so quickly that any development is relegated to humorous character moments, like Cookie’s grease-based cooking or Dr. Sweet’s chiropractic assistance for Milo’s neck. The voice acting, though, is spot-on, with Michael J. Fox as Milo, James Garner as Rourke, Don Novello (“Fr. Guido Sarducci”) as Vinny, Phil Morris as Sweet (Disney’s first animated African American character), and Corey Burton as Mole being the stand-outs.
Watching it again, I was reminded of other films, particularly Prometheus. The scene in which Milo gives a presentation about their mission’s goal to the unimpressed crew, which was commissioned by an eccentric millionaire, is suspiciously similar to the same scene in the much later Ridley Scott film. As for the action scenes, they are extremely well-done, if implausible at times, and critic Roger Ebert wrote that the finale “stands by itself as one of the great animated action sequences.”
The main issue for me is the whole “explanation” for Atlantis itself. The advanced power source Milo seeks turns out to be a sentient New Age-y crystal thing that protected Atlantis against the flood, which its misuse supposedly caused. Using this New Age crystal as the film’s MacGuffin is just not as successful as, say, the Biblical ones of the first and third Indiana Jones movies.
There are many unanswered questions. Where did it come from? If it’s sentient, why would it allow itself to be misused so terribly? Why did it give Kida back but not her mother? On top of these questions, there are others. The crystal was under Atlantis, which was underground, so what provided daylight? Even if Atlantean was the root of every language, how could they speak perfect English, having not been exposed to its modern development? If Atlantis sank 10,000 years ago, how did Plato know about it?
Despite these problems, Atlantis: The Lost Empire was an entertaining new direction for Disney that sadly didn’t deliver as executives had hoped. It remains a cult classic and a worthy addition to my list.
Best line: (Packard, over the intercom, like something from MASH) “Attention: Tonight’s supper will be baked beans. Musical program to follow.”
Visual Effects: 8
Other (New Age themes) -8
TOTAL: 34 out of 60
Next: #269 – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
© 2014 S. G. Liput