Vault Disney

Vault Disney #41 – Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Original Release: June 3, 2001

Runtime: 96 Minutes

Directed By: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Notable Actors: Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, Don Novello and Phil Morris

Wow, can you believe we only have 15 films left until the end of the Vault Disney films…well, the end of the films that are out so far. I can’t believe it! This week we’re going to get to know a fellow named Milo who just wants someone to believe him. I get it Milo, no one believes me when I say that my dog talks to me. I hear you buddy. More so, we have the first science fiction film in the Disney animated timeline. This is an interesting film. It takes its roots in comic book and sci-fi novels. It has action scenes instead of musical numbers. It has a mole man. One thing’s for certain, Atlantis: The Lost City is quite unlike any film before it. So strap into your underwater diving gear and let’s find out more about this peculiar adventure film.

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Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but I’m obsessed with lost cities, so call me Milo.

Upon the completion of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the production team decided they wanted to do another film together and this time it would be centered around the adventure stories of Jules Verne. They visited several museums and did extensive research in underground caverns in order to get a look and feel for the story that was different than any images of Atlantis which had been done before. It was something of a deconstruction of all other architectural design throughout history. They didn’t want Greek columns. They wanted something new. More than this, they wanted the culture to feel alive. They wanted us as viewers to understand the way this culture ate and slept and breathed.

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Hey guys, welcome to Atlantis. This is where we eat and sleep and breathe!

The look of the film was heavily based on the work of comic book creator Mike Mignola who is famous for his work on the series Hellboy.  Many of the angles here that you see, especially the large blocky hands, are directly from him.  Another Nerd icon you might recognize is the creator of the Atlantean language, Marc Okrand, who was also responsible for  creating the Star Trek language Klingon.  His letter ‘A’ became something of a treasure map in the film as well.  The language was designed to read left to right on the first line and then right to left on the second, flowing down the page in a bit of a zig-zag pattern.

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These fireflies also fly in a zig-zag pattern…of DEATH!

The final scene where the image pulls out on Milo and Kida as we discover the rebuilt city of Atlantis was described as the hardest scene in all of Disney animation at the time.  The scene involved the use of several pieces of paper, making up 18,000 inches worth of paper which were filmed all together and then layered with animated flying vehicles in order to make it all seamless.  As an 18,000 inch piece of paper doesn’t exactly exist, they lined up several smaller pieces of paper that were 24 inches to get the desired effect.  That is a lot of friggin’ paper.

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Several trees WERE harmed in the making of this scene.

Atlantis is a curious movie.  It has the look and feel of an action film but it’s meant to be for kids.  Yet there is plenty of death, destruction and scariness, making it seem almost as if it were made for adults.  The intended audience here is hard to pinpoint.  I personally don’t mind that, as I think the story speaks for itself, but it still leads you to wonder who they hoped would go see this film.  It has the makings of a good Indiana Jones film or a game from the Uncharted franchise and I liked the mystery of trying to uncover the secrets of this absolutely stunning film.

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We’re all gonna die.

I’ve talked a lot about racial and gender diversity on this blog when it comes to Disney.  We have to talk about it here because you start to wonder if, in these early 2000’s, Disney wanted to get away from the idea that they weren’t making diverse enough films, and somehow managed to overshoot the mark.  Yes, we have a Latino character, a French Character, a Black character, plenty of men and women but let’s stop to think about how these characters are portrayed.  Audrey, for example, comes off as a huge stereotype of Latinos.  Vinny seems extremely Italian.  The list goes on.  Don’t get me wrong, I love love love that the cast is so diverse, BUT in creating diversity we also need to make sure that these characters aren’t just cookie cutters of what we perceive as a race.  I can say that the Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp are Chinese.  This does not, however, make this film diverse as the characters are incredibly stereotyped.

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Oh, so YOU’RE the white member of the group.

All that being said, I like that this film takes a lot more time to develop characters.  There is a sequence where they all sit around a campfire and tell their backstories and this is really neat as so many Disney films are so busy with singing that they never really get to slow down in this way.  It actually saves the film a lot of face, because if not for this scene, the characters would feel even more generic.

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This will be my highest Tron score yet!

This is another forgettable villain, maybe even worse than in Mulan.  Commander Tiberius is hard to really get behind as he seems like such a good guy…until he’s not.  He’s also just after a nice paycheck and the fact that he’s willing to kill so many people for it just makes him seem like an enormous jerk.  More than that, he doesn’t seem super realistic.  Considering this is a guy who shows Milo compassion and really helps him to grow on this journey, the switch to him just having no feelings whatsoever is a hard plot line to go along with.  I like his death though.  It’s pretty cool to watch him turn into this metal like man and then get shattered into a bunch of pieces.  But that’s really the only thing he adds to the film.

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Sociopath time!

There’s no denying, the film is drop dead gorgeous.  All the action and the city itself just fly off the screen and you really do forget that you’re watching something animated.  Milo is also one of the best animated characters to date and his movements are all so intricate and interesting.  He’s a dynamic character, and Michael J. Fox brings him to life brilliantly.  I love that he’s a nerd and not a big buff hero and I love that he has the feeling of an underdog.  When EVERYONE turns on him towards the end, we root for him even more and that’s fantastic.

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EXTERMINATE! Also, can someone explain to me how her becoming this thing solves the current problem? OH! I know, I’ll become the power source so that it’s EASIER to capture. What?!

Atlantis had a fairly poor box office showing, partially due to not having a specific audience, and a spin off TV series was cancelled because of the flop.  The film, nowadays is considered something of a cult classic among Disney lovers.  I was personally surprised by this film.  Despite the racial issues and the lack of audience, the film is just really fun, from start to finish.  You never know what is waiting around the next corner and I was left wanting to know more about Atlantis.  My final complaint might be that more questions are raised than answered and if we really stop to think about the science part of this, none of it makes sense.  Yet, there’s something special about the mystery presented here.  When the credits rolled, I wasn’t angry that I didn’t get answers, I simply yearned for more and that’s a pretty good feeling.

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This cool ship lasted all of five minutes. Glad we put so much time into it.

Atlantis: The Lost City is a great step in the direction of Sci-Fi and there’s plenty more to come.  Speaking of which, next up we’ve got a little story about a little alien from little ol’ space.  It’s sort of interesting watching sci-fi enter the films, considering that Walt put elements of Sci-fi in Tomorrowland in his original park.  Looks like the films have finally caught up and I couldn’t be more excited.

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Group photo!

Next Up:  Lilo and Stitch 



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NOTE:  Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own.  That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.

ALSO:  My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney.  Head overHERE and check it out!

8 replies »

  1. I personally like ATLANTIS, but even I have to admit, there are some flaws with the film. For one thing, as you’ve mentioned, the villain is decidedly unoriginal, but more importantly, it’s the way that the story was handled; they can’t seem to decide on a central theme. In his book THE ART OF WALT DISNEY, Christopher Finch states that the film was doomed to failure due to the story team’s “inability to make sense of disparate and unrelated plot elements […] The film falls apart for lack of thematic structure.”

    Still, you can’t say that they didn’t try…

  2. I hadn’t ever seen this one until about a year ago, although it had always been on my “To Watch” list. I really enjoyed this movie, which surprised me. I remember the marketing for it kind of confused me, like you said, it seems they didn’t know who they were trying to bring in. Either way, it’s still an underappreciated Disney film!

  3. This is one of the few animated Disney movies I’ve never seen, but this post reminded me to add it to my list. It seems to have gotten a bad rap like Treasure Planet, which I absolutely loved. It’s a good lesson on making your own judgments.

  4. so the whole thing with Kida merging with the Crystal was so the Crystal could be moved up to the surface (out of its hiding place), but omg I love this movie and the music, oh the music! I saw this in the theater and it still annoys me that Kida isn’t considered an “official” Disney Princess, actually Queen since she’s Queen when the movie ends (take THAT Queen Elsa!!)

  5. I adore this movie! I’ a big Jules Verne and steampunk fan, and I was totally blown away when I first saw this one. It wasn’t until later that I learned that it did poorly at the box office. My only concern is that it’s sort of Stargate all over again, but I think the animation and James Newton Howard’s amazing score give it enough heft of its own. Its not perfect, but I love it.

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