Movie 41: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

atlantis poster Today is a good example of why I am glad I started this project.  In 2001 when Disney’s 41st animated film Atlantis: The Lost Emperor came out I was underwhelmed by it.  I remember thinking it was boring (an adjective I try to never use in my reviews because it doesn’t mean anything).  It seems hard to believe because the movie I watched today was a fast paced delight.  I am truly shocked how much I enjoyed it!  (I was 20 by the way in 2001 so it wasn’t like a child who might be more likely to find this boring).

This review is going to be a little different than some of my others because I want to give you guys the chance to go into the film spoiler free.  I am spoiler proof.  For some reason repetition doesn’t bother me and I legitimately do not care if I know the ending to things.   But that said, I think for this type of action adventure movie it will be more fun to not have every detail dissected like other Disney films which most people have seen.

Go out, rent it and give it another shot!!!!  At the very least I don’t think you will have a terrible time at the movies and I bet you will enjoy it!

Here’s the trailer to give you an idea of the story (it is a very good non-spoilery trailer.  They don’t even give away the villain and I won’t either)

The Production-

I can talk a little bit about the production without giving anything away.  After Hunchback the crew wanted to stay together but go in a radically different direction so Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, Don Hahn and others set out to make Disney’s first science fiction movie and one of their few original stories.

There is a definite steampunk feel with its influences from Jules Verne and Victorian/futuristic mashups.  The ship could be the nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

ship2

They visited museums, researched a variety of cultures and created their own version of Atlantis.  According to my research it had Mayan, Greek, Cambodian, Indian and Tibetan elements.

atlatnis language
The Atlantean language was created both written and spoken.

They even hired the guy who created the Klingon language to make one for Atlantis.  That is just cool.

atlantis

They had good writers including Joss Whedon who worked on the project for a while and then Tab Murphey took over and it has a Whedon team feel to it.  Milo is the lead in the movie looking for Atlantis but he quickly gets joined by a rag-tag crew that is very diverse for Disney and full of surprises.  It’s like the Steampunk Avengers!

atlantis crew

The voice acting is mostly unknowns except for Michael J Fox as Milo, James Garner as Captain Rourke, John Mahoney as Whitmore, Jim Varney as Cookie and Leonard Nimoy as the King.

They also hired Mike Mignola, creator of the Hellboy comics,  as a production designer and you can see his influence in the film even down to the hands he uses in his drawings:

“I remember watching a rough cut of the film and these characters have these big, square, weird hands. I said to the guy next to me, “Those are cool hands.”

And he says to me, “Yeah, they’re your hands. We had a whole meeting about how to do your hands.” It was so weird I couldn’t wrap my brain around it”

I love that comic book influence on the film and yet it avoids cliches in a lot of the characters (yes they fulfill certain tropes like the tough talking female mechanic but then she has moments of softness).  There’s a moment where you feel like Milo is alone and it actually seems like he is being left and then the movie is very clever with what happens with the characters and story.

I liked every character in the movie, and I’m not normally a sci-fi person.

They were also influenced by anime at the time and particularly Hayao Miyazaki and his amazing adventure stories, and I think they pull off a lovely homage.

kida

Some of the mysticism is a little convoluted with the blue crystals and everything but for this kind of story I bought it.  And the imagery is beautiful.

The only thing parents will want to be aware of is Princess Kida wears very skimpy clothing and bathing suits throughout the film.

Kida02

The score is by James Newton Howard and it is excellent but there are no songs (funny coming from the troop of Hunchback and Beauty and the Beast!).  But I’m glad because they really weren’t necessary.  The score is all we need to create tension.

The movie is also very funny.  Characters like the Moleman and Cookie were a lot of fun.

It is also one of the few Disney movies that doesn’t really have a strong romance.  It just allows you to focus on the characters.  I like that.

Movie Review/Conclusion-

I’ll say it again I was genuinely shocked how much I enjoyed Atlantis: The Lost Empire.  It was exciting, beautifully drawn, with a fun troop of characters to root for.

atlantis crew1Unlike in 2001, I did not think it was boring this time around.  In fact, it seemed to clip along quite quickly.  There also isn’t tons of exposition.  They just present the world, language and everything else and let you figure it out as the characters do.

I liked the women in the picture.  Kida isn’t the perfect savage you expect.  Mechanic Audrey had some layers to her.  Not every decision was easy, and Helga is not someone to get pushed around (she surprised me!  Totally kicked butt!).

audrey

wilhemina All the characters have their moment and there is humor and tough action.  I loved the sound design.  In fight scenes you hear punches and grunts.  It helps immerse you in the experience.

There are some holes in the story and things happen in relatively tidy ways but isn’t that usually the case for these kind of movies? I mean if you start to take apart Indiana Jones movies they are very tidy too and completely implausible but it’s a B Summer movie with great action and fun characters so you go with it.

In any case, for whatever reason, I didn’t buy it at 21 but really enjoyed it at 33.  Maybe I’m not the same person I was back then?  Go figure!

But seriously, give this movie another shot.  Go out, rent it, and let me know what you think.  I bet a lot of you will be pleasantly surprised like I was!

Overall Grade- A-

It might be a little hard for kids under 7 to follow so keep that in mind.

63 thoughts on “Movie 41: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

  1. This is not a good movie by any stretch. The design is great. That’s it. 90% of the plot is lifted from Stargate (the movie, not the TV show) which is already a guilty pleasure of mine…Atlantis is only guilty, without pleasure. Guilty of creating the biggest Gary Stu in canon. Guilty of creating what must be the blandest romance of them all. Guilty of letting a bunch of stereotypical side characters act however the plot requires them to. Guilty of having gigantic plot holes to go with the big scales.

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    1. Ha. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a fun adventure. Like I said these type of movies all have tons of plotholes. Indiana Jones has pages but you don’t care if the characters are fun and the action engaging. Same is true with Goonies.
      I really liked the side characters and thought they were funny versions of this type of team.
      I liked the steampunk feel and was glad they didnt explain everything about the world and it’s rules. That’s where movies like stargate lose me is all the exposition. Even some comic book movies like Thor annoy me with all the exposition. Just get to the fun part.
      Oh well. Like I said I didn’t care for it at one point so I can certainly see your point of view. For whatever reason today I went on the ride and enjoyed it

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    1. Me too! I wasn’t that into it back in college but I’m a much bigger steampunk fan now than then so I think I will like it much better. We will see! Fun to be caught off guard and enjoy something you weren’t expecting too.

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      1. No but I’m that way. I never really tire of things. I could read the same 5 books every year for the rest of my life and be totally fine.

        But if I had to pick one even though I gave it a high grade and enjoy it maybe Aladdin I don’t like quite as much as an adult as I did as a child. Also I was tougher on Pocahontas which I remember enjoying as a child.
        I guess Pocahontas would be the film I liked as a child but really disliked as an adult. Good question.

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      2. I’d agree. Peter Pan wasn’t bad but not as good as I remembered it. I would have thought it was better than average

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      3. And I did see more flaws in Lion King this go-around than I had before. It had been a while since I had seen it and although it’s a really good movie it isn’t as perfect as I remember it being.

        The 2000s I was pretty dismissive of because I was so in love with Pixar, so it probably has the most potential for surprising me.

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  2. I just cannot get into the mess that is this film. It tried to be so Anti-Disney, and to pander to the teen audience, that it failed in almost every single aspect. One of Disney’s worst in my opinion.

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    1. I can see how it could be so. I didnt like it for many years. I guess I like adventure, treasure hunting movies like The Goonies, Tintin or Indiana Jones that makes no sense when you think about it but you enjoy the ride.

      But I get that type of B movie action adventure isnt everyone’s cup of tea. Thanks for reading!

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      1. Well, for me, a Disney film that I like and possibly many other people hate would probably be Brother Bear and maybe even Treasure Planet if many hate that one too. Oh, you want to animated film that I liked and yet many others hated that’s not even Disney? Did you ever see a Warner Bros. cartoon by the name of Quest For Camelot? Also, did you know that Atlantis was Disney’s attempt to make a film for a little more of an adult audience?

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      2. Cool. I personally see Atlantis as more teen oriented and Hunchback as their attempt to do an adult picture (even though they chickened out in the end). But it is definitely more grown up than other films.
        In the end, it doesn’t matter if nobody else likes it. If you like it, who cares?

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  3. Great review once again! Yes, I can see why you gave this one an A-. I would definitely give this one a B+, which is pretty close. As I mentioned in your Treasure Planet review, I liked that one slightly better, but this one was great too. So a couple questions. So Stephanie Zacharek loathed this film saying, and I quote, “The problem with Disney’s latest feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire is that it doesn’t seem geared to kids at all. It’s so adult that it’s massively boring.” Just curious, would you agree or disagree? Also, I’m also curious, did you know that in the spring 2002, there was going to be a TV show called Team Atlantis (which was cancelled thanks to the film being only a moderate success). And another thing, do you think this film would have performed better at the box office if say it hadn’t been released around the same time as say Shrek and Tomb Raider and maybe been released in say November 2001 instead of June 2001 (which would have meant that Pixar would have had to move the released date of Monster, Inc. to May 2002 because of that)? Oh, and one final question, did you think that this film had similarities with say Tarzan and maybe even Aladdin as well?

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    1. Thanks Matthew. I’m glad you liked it! Let me try to answer your questions.
      1. It’s tough because when I saw it back in the day as a college student, so not a child, I found it boring then but I didn’t now. I don’t know why that is? But I suppose it depends on the kids. Aside from the skimpy clothes there’s nothing in Atlantis that would offend children, so why not give it a shot? If they don’t like it you can always stop watching. Nothing ventured. Nothing gained. I don’t see it as a movie made for only adults. Kids often like stories of treasure hunters and could have fun with the eclectic cast of characters. Probably best for 10 and up but Hunchback of Notre Dame is the movie made for adults which I have issues with. Read that review and let me know what you think.
      2. I had heard that about the TV show. I think they were trying to go for an anime inspired feel, with a little bit of Indiana Jones and The Mummy thrown in. Actually if you want to see the TV show it is the sequel. They cobbled together the TV episodes into a movie and released it as the sequel. I suppose they may have had more success if they had used voice talent recognizable to young kids and perhaps based it on a comic book or serial. I like the fact it was an original world, story, and characters but that does make it tougher to market and find an audience.
      3. As far as the release date it is tough to know. What I wish is Disney would have a little more faith in their products and not pull advertising so quickly. Rescuers Down Under faced the same problem with marketing pulled after one bad weekend. Sometimes movies need word of mouth. You might find it interesting to read Roger Ebert’s reviews on both Atlantis and Treasure Planet as they mirror my own pretty well. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/atlantis-the-lost-empire-2001 and http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/treasure-planet-2002. The box office is a finicky thing and extremely hard to predict but I do appreciate Disney’s willingness to take risks. They aren’t given enough credit for that.
      4. Hmmm…Tarzan and Aladdin. Well, they all have leading men who aren’t taken seriously by the world. Aladdin has a little bit of a treasure hunt like Atlantis and Tarzan and Atlantis have similar villains. So some similarities but all 3 are quite different in tone and scope. All great films! Great thing about Disney is there is something for everyone.

      Thanks for reading and the questions! I really appreciate it!

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  4. You’re welcome! I did see the sequel Milo’s Return and you’re absolutely right, it is basically the first three episodes of the series that got scratched. Anyway, the only reason I thought it was, first of all similar to Aladdin was not only because of the treasure hunt thing, but also because 1) the kingdom thing (which the majority of Disney films have that), 2) the villains are obsessed with getting something and succeed in obtaining it and keep it until they’re both defeated, 3) the villains both have a sidekick (or sidekicks) who, either in the first installment or a sequel, ends up betraying him (in Rourke’s case, all of them except Helga and the guys with breathing masks, that is (though I guess one might argue that Helga more or less did by shooting the hot air balloon after Rourke just turned his back on her)), 4) Jafar and Rourke both say “I’m just getting warmed up” during the climax, 5) both villains turn into something monstrous (only difference being Jafar at least is alive to make it for a second fillm), 6) the main character and any characters with him in both films has to escape from an erupting volcano at some point, & 7) the princess in both films end up marrying someone who’s not even a prince (which is the main character in both cases). So, that’s as far as Aladdin goes.
    As for Tarzan, I thought both Atlantis and Tarzan were both similar in that 1) of course the villains are very similar to each other and 2) the villain in both films brings a team of explorers. I guess the only difference is that Tarzan living in the jungle was the main character while in Atlantis, the explorers were the main characters instead of Kida and the Atlanteans. Oh, and let’s not forget that both Jane and Milo stay behind because they’ve fallen in love with Tarzan and Kida respectively (though for Milo, there were other reasons too, weren’t there?).
    Anyway, I’m glad you liked the questions that I asked earlier. And for the record, I think maybe Atlantis might have done better if they had released it in November (preferably a couple weeks before the first Harry Potter) only because, well, then most people will have seen Shrek and Tomb Raider by then and the competition probably wouldn’t have been as bad. But who knows, right?

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    1. You make fair points about Aladdin and Tarzan. I had never thought about it before but agree! They say there are only 7 stories which are retold with different window dressing, so I suppose all movies share more similarities than we might at first think. Very interesting.

      You may be right about November and like I said they could have done a few things to make it more appealing to kids at that time. I mean young kids don’t really know Michael J Fox and so if you could tie it into a franchise or popular actor that might have helped. But then again in 2003 Kangaroo Jack was a big hit at the box office so who knows why some things sell and others dont.

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      1. Agreed! Just curious, have you seen the Aladdin sequels The Return of Jafar and Aladdin & The King Of Thieves? Also, I’m guessing the only way that Atlantis could have been more appealing to kids was if maybe it wasn’t as violent as it was or something like that, am I right? Or could you think of other ways that Atlantis could have maybe been more appealing to kids?

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  5. Well, I’m glad that we can both agree that kids can even enjoy Atlantis as well. Honestly, I think it can likely be at least for older kids from like 10 or up as well. I mean, because if we compare it to say the 20th Century Fox film Titan A.E., I think we can agree that there was more kid friendliness in Atlantis than that film. That is since Titan A.E. was way more violent than Atlantis, that is. Just curious, did you ever see Titan A.E.?

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    1. I never did but I want to. It’s on the list! Glad I’m not the only one who was entertained by Atlantis. We are a small but proud group.😉

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      1. Indeed! So basically, you definitely agree about what Roger Ebert said about Atlantis and Treasure Planet respectively then, eh?

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      2. Pretty much. There may be little things I wouldn’t agree with but for the most part they are basically my opinion on those films.

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      1. You’re welcome! That reminds me, I have a possibly mini-story to tell regarding Quest For Camelot and a couple other films. But I’ll wait until you review Princess & The Frog to tell that. Yes, I know that probably doesn’t make sense now, but you’ll understand soon enough once you get to that one. Anyway!

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  6. Oh, for the record, I’m glad I finally know someone else who likes Atlantis: The Lost Empire as much, or better than, The Emperor’s New Groove or even Lilo & Stitch. That is since most people who’ve seen all three have seemed to like New Groove and Stitch better than Atlantis. At least so I’ve noticed up to this point, that is.

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  7. Maybe it’s just my opinion, but I don’t think Kida’s skimpy clothing is the only thing that parents want to be aware of. I’m sure they also want to be aware that it’s a little too violent for a Disney film (thankfully not even close to as bad as Titan A.E., but still).

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      1. You’re asking what age I would say for Titan A.E.? I would probably say maybe 13 and up. But that’s at least my opinion. Maybe you could let me know if you would agree or not if you get around to watching it.

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  8. Oh, by the way, you mentioned in this review that there were a couple plot holes in this film. Would you mind giving some examples? I may have a good idea of what kind they might have been, but I thought I’d ask just in case.

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    1. I’d have to watch it again to remember but he seems to stumble upon Atlantis at just the right time with weak clues and for a lost city he sure knows the language perfectly.
      But the same things could be said about Indiana Jones or the Goonies. It’s part of this kind of story

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      1. Gotcha! Just out of curiosity, you know how a meteor came out of the explosion of the hot air ballon (which oddly enough, when fell on the lava floor, left such an impact that it caused the volcano to erupt)? Anyway, would you perhaps consider that a plot hole too?

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      2. I did seem to come out of nowhere. You have to consider the type of story they were telling and this is in the spirit of summer b action movies. Best not to overthink it and enjoy the ride

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  9. Agreed! Still, I just thought I’d ask since you were talking about this film having a couple plot holes and such, you know? Anyway.

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      1. Oh trust me, you’re not. I’m sure there are more people out there who enjoy Atlantis than we might think. Why, had you not heard of anyone else who enjoyed this film until now?

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      2. I dont know anyone who likes it and most of the blogosphere as you can tell from the other commenters dont like it. They miss the spirit of it as homage to be b action movie like Indiana Jones and Goonies and take it to seriously. I thought it was fun. If you look at most in this genre they have holes and are silly but fun.

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  10. “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” completely flew over my head as a kid, which is weird because I think I might have liked it back then. Watching it for the first time today, I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it! I was drawn in by the characters, the setting, the visuals and music, and even the story which felt very familiar. It felt like a spiritual successor to ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, but in some respects that might have been its downfall at the box office. If this was released by Warner Bros Animation, it might have been enjoyed as this kid-friendly sci-fi action-thriller, and not criticized for being different from the usual Disney crowd. My biggest gripe is ultimately the villain, I know his motivations are fairly realistic, but after Percival McLeach, Gov. Ratcliffe and Clayton, Disney probably played the money-hungry antagonist one too many times. He was kinda like John Silver if you took away his relationship with Jim Hawkins, there’s not much to him, or his femme-fatale sidekick.

    But thats really my only major flaw with the film, even if the story isn’t that original it’s just a feast for the senses and you can see all the effort the creators put into this film! In fact, I really wish Disney would attempt another movie like this, with that same Jules Verne/Steampunk/early 20th century sci-fi some time in the future. Were it up to me, I’d love to see them tackle the original ‘Lost World’ by Arthur Conan Doyle in a similar style to this, invoking that early science fiction feel with a lot of fun dinosaur action and timeless themes from the book.

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    1. I totally agree with all you said. I remember thinking it was boring but watched it for this project and was delighted. It has that steampunk feel but unlike Treasure Planet the world makes sense and the story is new even if full of tropes. I loved the world building and visual style. I loved all the humor and diversity of the troop and agree with different marketing and maybe a different studio it could have caught on. I was shocked how much I liked it on this rewatch.

      I agree on the villain and dont think the Kiia and Milo have much chemistry but as a steampunk action adventure story it is a delight

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  11. I came onto this comment board to vouch that not only is this my favourite Disney movie, but it has been since I was a young child (I’m a teenager now, as a reference). I can remember fond memories of forcing my family to rewatch this movie continuously with me over many childhood years. I think what truly compelled me to adore this movie (even now) was, as many people are saying with distaste, the lack of both romance and of the characters. As a young child I can remember being awed by this magnificent scene set so far back, wishing to be Milo. I think it’s where I subconsciously drew this idea and fascination of these myths, and also where I can look back to see diverse characters (albeit if they may be cliched, which I found not the case in my opinion) and these strong characters without the need for a subplot of direct romance.
    I thin it’s funny, too, as I can remember my fondest movies were both Atlantis and Hercules (and Treasure Planet was another fantastic film, watched it several months ago and it brought back much nostalgia). The flaws that others point out are what I found and currently find to be my most favourite parts of Atlantis. Like Hercules and Treasure Planet, neither center directly around the romantic basis many would associate a young girl with, but yet here I am wishing desperately that people would not be so quick to bash the “Disney trying to appeal to older audiences”.

    I think the essence of this post was to raise my hand in saying that I was far younger than ten when I first watched the film, and I adored it far greater than any other Disney film. I think it’s a film that, as many are clearly stating, you can either love or hate. It is unfortunate that many can’t come to see this as what it really is: a movie that doesn’t require romance to be achieved for it to work. And it also (as I’ve been rewatching, draws on the ideas of capitalism, friendship, peace, and how humanity can’t always go searching for new things. But this movie shaped me in many ways, and I do get a bit miffed seeing all these comments directed towards how the movie is tailored to older audiences.

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    1. I’m so glad to have a fellow Atlantis fan! I’m not sure why people couldn’t appreciate the adventure and creativity on display. Milo is a little bit bland but the team and everything around him is so big I think he grounds the picture. I love the culture, language and world they created and the steampunk look. I was thoroughly impressed by it and have it on bluray and more I watch it, more I like it! Welcome to the blog. Hope to hear more from you

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