Personal Overview: I’m not sure what prevented me from ever seeing Atlantis: The Lost Empire before now because I’m a bit of a sucker for a ‘lost world’ type story, especially one with a Jules Verneish feel to it, which is clearly what inspired this film.
Main character Milo Thatch has a geeky type of Indiana Jones kind of vibe about him. I’m not sure if any real life character inspired him, but I kept thinking of Hiram Bingham who found Machu Picchu. Inspiration could have also come from British explorer and adventurer Percy Fawcett. Both men have also been credited as possible inspiration for Indiana Jones, too.
Bingham kept springing to mind for me, because of the timing, the film was set in 1914 and Bingham found Machu Picchu in 1911, he was also American and funded by National Geographic. Milo is initially employed by a museum in the States and then later funded by a billionaire friend of his late grandfather.
The story tends to break up into two parts, the exploration and discovery of Atlantis and then Milo’s love story with the Atlantean Princess Kida.
The action is done well and the voice cast for the most part do a good job with their roles. Standouts there were Michael J. Fox as Milo, veteran actor James Garner as Rourke and Babylon 5 star Claudia Christian as Rourke’s hard as nails 2IC Lieutenant Sinclair. There was a nice cameo from Leonard Nimoy as the Atlantean leader Kashekim Nedakh.
Unusually for a Disney film of the time there was no music. The Emperor’s New Groove wasn’t a musical either, but it also wasn’t as serious as Atlantis: The Lost Empire attempted to be, it was more of a science fiction adventure film. I guess it was less confused than Mulan, which is described as a comedy, action, drama, romance, musical. The company wanted it to be successful, there were even plans for a spin off TV show and a revamped Atlantis submarine ride at the parks, but the lack of music and out and out humour bothered them as did the fact that they didn’t seem to know how to market it. They could have helped themselves there by acknowledging that Kida was a Princess and adding her to the Pantheon.
She’s always overlooked for some reason. I can only think it’s because she doesn’t sing. Yes, she’s not entirely human, but neither is Ariel. She’s distinctive looking and I love the facial markings and the white hair. Her grey blue toga/bikini dress also makes a great costume.
The choreography of the fight scene at the end was also nicely done. In terms of humour they tried to do that with the characters of the Mole and Cookie as members of the exploration team, but they didn’t really work, which was a shame because it was Jim Varney’s final film before his passing.
Hero/es: Milo carries the film and his geekiness makes him an unlikely hero, he turns out to use his brains more than his brawn, although he has some moves later in the film and I developed admiration for how long he seemed to be able to hold his breath and swim and see underwater with his glasses still in place. Kida is the other one and I liked her character, but she was at times a little flat, which may have also damaged her chances of being added to the Princess Pantheon.
Villain/s: that’s Rourke all the way. I had hoped he may not turn out to be such a bastard because he was played by James Garner and I’ve always preferred Garner as a hero. The other is Claudia Christian’s Lieutenant Sinclair. Apart from the character being blonde she could have been a bad girl version of Ivanova from Babylon 5. She could fight too, her karate moves were nice.
Cuteness Factor: the one movie where I can’t find one. That may have affected the film, you need a Cuteness Factor in a Disney film. Kida could have had a sidekick.
Animation: there was another shift in style. At times this looked like a graphic novel and that had a lot to do with Mike ‘Hellboy’ Mignola’s involvement. It was done in that style, so they looked more like real people than cartoon characters. It was well done, but it didn’t seem to engage audiences.
Final Words: an admirable attempt to recapture the feel of a Jules Verne style story, but one that kind of fell short. It didn’t get an audience and probably reinforced Disney’s views that this wasn’t the way to go with future projects. Plus they had to try and fight off other franchises like Dreamworks and Pixar.