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Atlantis: The Lost Empire

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Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis The Lost Empire poster
Theatrical-release poster
Film information
Directed by: Gary Trousdale
Kirk Wise
Produced by: Don Hahn
Music by: James Newton Howard
Studio: Walt Disney Feature Animation
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Buena Vista International
Running time: 95 Minutes
Language: English
Budget: $90–120 million
Preceded by: The Emperor's New Groove
Followed by: Lilo & Stitch

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a 2001 American animated film created by Walt Disney Feature Animation—the first science fiction film in Disney's animated features canon and the 41st overall. Written by Tab Murphy, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, and produced by Don Hahn, the film features an ensemble cast with the voices of Michael J. Fox, Cree Summer, James Garner, Leonard Nimoy, Don Novello, and Jim Varney in his final role before his death. Set in 1914, the film tells the story of a young man who gains possession of a sacred book, which he believes will guide him and a crew of adventurers to the lost city of Atlantis.

Development of the film began after production had finished on The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Instead of another musical, the production team decided to do an action-adventure film inspired by the works of Jules Verne. Atlantis was notable for adopting the distinctive visual style of comic book creator Mike Mignola. At the time of its release, the film had made greater use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) than any of Disney's previous animated features; it remains one of the few to have been shot in anamorphic format. Linguist Marc Okrand created a language specifically for use in Atlantis, while James Newton Howard provided the score. The film was released at a time when audience interest in animated films was shifting away from hand-drawn animation toward films with full CGI.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire premiered at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on June 3, 2001, and went into general release on June 15. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, Atlantis performed modestly at the box office. Budgeted at $100 million, the film grossed over $186 million worldwide, $84 million of which was earned in North America. Due to the film's poorer-than-expected box-office performance, Disney quietly canceled both a spin-off television series and an underwater attraction at its Disneyland theme park. Some critics praised it as a unique departure from typical Disney animated features, while others disliked it due to the unclear target audience and absence of songs. Atlantis was nominated for a number of awards, including seven Annie Awards, and won Best Sound Editing at the 2002 Golden Reel Awards. The film was released on VHS and DVD on January 29, 2002, with the Blu-ray released on June 11, 2013. Atlantis is considered to be a cult favorite, due in part to Mignola's unique artistic influence. A direct-to-video sequel, Atlantis: Milo's Return, was released in 2003.

When Milo Thatch gains possession of a sacred book, he believes it will guide him to the mythical city of Atlantis. Enlisting a band of ragtag archaeologists, excavators and mercenaries, they find the city, but little does the team realize that there are people among them willing to throw the kingdom into chaos for their own profit.

Plot

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“...in a single day and night of misfortune, the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea.” ―Plato, 360 B.C.

Many centuries ago, an accidental weapons discharge would cause a titanic tsunami that threatens to 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.

PlotAtlantis01

Whitmore convinces Milo to follow in his late grandfather's footsteps.

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.

PlotAtlantis02

Milo realizes that the Leviathan is actually a machine.

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.

PlotAtlantis03

The Atlanteans can speak other languages as theirs was the root source.

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.

PlotAtlantis04

Milo flusters repeatedly when Kida suggests they swim.

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.

PlotAtlantis05

Milo's plea convinces some of the others to side against Rourke.

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.

PlotAtlantis06

The heroes look out and survey the restored city of Atlantis.

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.

Production

Development

Carlsbad Caverns rail pic

The production team visited New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns to get a sense of the underground spaces depicted in the film.

The idea for Atlantis: The Lost Empire was conceived in October 1996 when Don Hahn, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, and Tab Murphy lunched at a Mexican restaurant in Burbank, California. Having recently completed The Hunchback of Notre Dame the producer and directors wanted to keep the Hunchback crew together for another film with an Adventureland setting. Drawing inspiration from Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), they set out to make a film which would fully explore Atlantis (compared to the brief visit depicted in Verne's novel). While primarily utilizing the Internet to research the mythology of Atlantis, the filmmakers became interested in the clairvoyant readings of Edgar Cayce and decided to incorporate some of his ideas—notably that of a mother-crystal which provides power, healing, and longevity to the Atlanteans—into the story. They also visited museums and old army installations to study the technology of the early 20th century (the film's time period), and traveled 800 feet underground in New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns to view the subterranean trails which would serve as a model for the approach to Atlantis in the film.

The filmmakers wanted to avoid the common depiction of Atlantis as "crumbled Greek columns underwater", said Wise. "From the get-go, we were committed to designing it top to bottom. Let's get the architectural style, clothing, heritage, customs, how they would sleep, and how they would speak. So we brought people on board who would help us develop those ideas." Art director David Goetz stated, "We looked at Mayan architecture, styles of ancient, unusual architecture from around the world, and the directors really liked the look of Southeast Asian architecture." The team later took ideas from other architectural forms, including Cambodian, Indian, and Tibetan works. Hahn added, "If you take and deconstruct architecture from around the world into one architectural vocabulary, that's what our Atlantis looks like."< The overall design and circular layout of Atlantis were also based on the writings of Plato, and his quote "in a single day and night of misfortune, the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea" was influential from the beginning of production. The crew wore T-shirts which read "ATLANTIS—Fewer songs, more explosions" due the film's plan as an action-adventure (unlike previous Disney animated features, which were musicals).

Language

A drawing of the Atlantean letter A which is a swirl with a dot in the center.

The Atlantean letter A, created by artist John Emerson. Kirk Wise noted that its design was a treasure map showing the path to the crystal, "The Heart of Atlantis".

Main article: Atlantean language

Marc Okrand, who developed the Klingon language for the Star Trek films, was hired to devise the Atlantean language for Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Guided by the directors' initial concept for it to be a "mother-language", Okrand employed an Indo-European word stock with its own grammatical structure. He would change the words if they began to sound too much like an actual, spoken language. The written language was boustrophedon: designed to be read left-to-right on the first line, then right-to-left on the second, continuing in a zigzag pattern to simulate the flow of water.

Box office

Atlantis: The Lost Empire did moderately well at the US box office, making approximately $85 million dollars in its theatrical run, although this is well below its production cost of $120 million and nowhere near the animation high-water mark of $312 million set by 1994's The Lion King. Although it grossed about $186 million worldwide that covered up the budget for good (thus preventing it from being a box-office bomb), it is still considered to be less successful than other recent Disney movies.  

Writing

Joss Whedon was the first writer to be involved with the film, but soon left to work on other Disney projects. Tab Murphy completed the screenplay, stating that the time from initially discussing the story to producing a script that satisfied the film crew was "about three to four months". The initial draft was 155 pages, much longer than a typical Disney film script (which usually runs 90 pages). When the first two acts were timed at 120 minutes, the directors cut characters and sequences and focused more on Milo. Murphy said that he created the centuries-old Shepherd's Journal because he needed a map for the characters to follow throughout their journey. A revised version of the script eliminated the trials encountered by the explorers as they navigated the underground caves to Atlantis. This gave the film a faster pace, because Atlantis is discovered earlier in the story.

The directors often described the Atlanteans using Egypt as an example. When Napoleon wandered into Egypt, the people had lost track of their once-great civilization. They were surrounded by artifacts of their former greatness but somehow unaware of what they meant.
—{{{source}}}
The character of Milo Thatch was originally supposed to be a descendant of Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard the pirate. The directors later related him to an explorer so he would discover his inner talent for exploration. The character of Molière was originally intended to be "professorial" but Chris Ure, a story artist, changed the concept to that of a "horrible little burrowing creature with a wacky coat and strange headgear with extending eyeballs", said Wise. Don Hahn pointed out that the absence of songs presented a challenge for a team accustomed to animating musicals, as solely action scenes would have to carry the film. Kirk Wise said it gave the team an opportunity for more on-screen character development: "We had more screen time available to do a scene like where Milo and the explorers are camping out and learning about one another's histories. An entire sequence is devoted to having dinner and going to bed. That is not typically something we would have the luxury of doing."</span>

Hahn stated that the first animated sequence completed during production was the film's prologue. The original version featured a Viking war party using The Shepherd's Journal to find Atlantis and being swiftly dispatched by the Leviathan. Near the end of production, story supervisor Jon Sanford told the directors that he felt this prologue did not give viewers enough emotional involvement with the Atlanteans. Despite knowing that the Viking prologue was finished and it would cost additional time and money to alter the scene, the directors agreed with Sanford. Trousdale went home and completed the storyboards later that evening. The opening was replaced by a sequence depicting the destruction of Atlantis, which introduced the film from the perspective of the Atlanteans and Princess Kida. The Viking prologue is included as an extra feature on the DVD release.

Animation

Atlantiswidescreencap

For comparison, the top image (panoramic view of Atlantis) is cropped to Disney's standard aspect ratio (1.66:1); bottom image was seen in the film (2.35:1).

At the peak of its production, 350 animators, artists and technicians were working on Atlantis at all three Disney animation studios: Burbank, California, Orlando, Florida and Paris, France. The film was one of the few Disney animated features produced and shot in 70mm anamorphic format. The directors felt that a wide-screen image was crucial, as a nostalgic reference to old action-adventure films presented in the Cinemascope format (2.35:1), noting Raiders of the Lost Ark as an inspiration. Because switching to the format would require animation desks and equipment designed for wide-screen to be purchased, Disney executives were at first reluctant of the idea. The production team found a simple solution by drawing within a smaller frame on the same paper and equipment used for standard aspect ratio (1.66:1) Disney-animated films. Layout supervisor Ed Chertner wrote a guide to the wide-screen format for use by the layout artists and mentioned that one advantage of wide-screen was that he could keep characters in scenes longer because of additional space to walk within the frame. Wise drew further inspiration for the format from filmmakers David Lean and Akira Kurosawa.

The film's visual style was strongly based upon that of Mike Mignola, the comic book artist behind Hellboy. Mignola was one of four production designers (along with Matt Codd, Jim Martin, and Ricardo Delgado) hired by the Disney studio for the film. Accordingly, he provided style guides, preliminary character and background designs, and story ideas. "Mignola's graphic, angular style was a key influence on the 'look' of the characters," stated Wise. Mignola was surprised when first contacted by the studio to work on Atlantis. His artistic influence on the film would later contribute to a cult following.

The final pull-out scene of the movie, immediately before the end-title card, was described by the directors as the most difficult scene in the history of Disney animation. They said that the pullout attempt on their prior film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, "struggled" and "lacked depth"; however, after making advances in the process of multiplaning, they tried the technique again in Atlantis. The scene begins with one 16-inch piece of paper showing a close-up of Milo and Kida. As the camera pulls away from them to reveal the newly restored Atlantis, it reaches the equivalent of an 18,000-inch piece of paper composed of many individual pieces of paper (24 inches or smaller). Each piece was carefully drawn and combined with animated vehicles simultaneously flying across the scene to make the viewer see a complete, integrated image.

Atlantispropsubmarine

Scale model of Ulysses submarine by Greg Aronowitz, used by digital animators as reference during production.

At the time of its release, Atlantis: The Lost Empire was notable for using more computer-generated imagery (CGI) than any other Disney-animated feature. To increase productivity, the directors had the digital artists work with the traditional animators throughout the production. Several important scenes required heavy use of digital animation: the Leviathan, the Ulysses submarine and sub-pods, the Heart of Atlantis, and the Stone Giants. During production, after Matt Codd and Jim Martin designed the Ulysses on paper, Greg Aronowitz was hired to build a scale model of the submarine, to be used as a reference for drawing the 3D Ulysses. The final film included 362 digital-effects shots, and computer programs were used to seamlessly join the 2D and 3D artwork. One scene that took advantage of this was the "sub-drop" scene, where the 3D Ulysses was dropped from its docking bay into the water. As the camera floated toward it, a 2D Milo was drawn to appear inside, tracking the camera. The crew noted that it was challenging to keep the audience from noticing the difference between the 2D and 3D drawings when they were merged. The digital production also gave the directors a unique "virtual camera" for complicated shots within the film. With the ability to operate in the z-plane, this camera moved through a digital wire-frame set; the background and details were later hand-drawn over the wire frames. This was used in the opening flight scene through Atlantis and the submarine chase through the undersea cavern with the Leviathan in pursuit.

Music and sound

Since the film would not feature any musical interludes, the directors hired James Newton Howard to compose the score. Approaching it as a live-action film, Howard decided to have different musical themes for the cultures of the surface world and Atlantis. In the case of Atlantis, Howard chose an Indonesian orchestral sound incorporating chimes, bells, and gongs. The directors told Howard that the film would have a number of key scenes without dialogue; the score would need to convey emotionally what the viewer was seeing on screen.

Gary Rydstrom and his team at Skywalker Sound were hired for the film's sound production. Like Howard, Rydstrom employed different sounds for the two cultures. Focusing on the machine and mechanical sounds of the early industrial era for the explorers, he felt that the Atlanteans should have a "more organic" sound utilizing ceramics and pottery. The sound made by the Atlantean flying-fish vehicles posed a particular challenge. Rydstrom revealed that he was sitting at the side of a highway recording one day when a semi-truck drove by at high speed. When the recording was sped up on his computer he felt it sounded very organic, and that is what is heard within the film. Rydstrom created the harmonic chiming of the Heart of Atlantis by rubbing his finger along the edge of a champagne flute, and the sound of sub-pods moving through water with a water pick.

Release

Promotion

AtlantisDisneyland

Atlantis was promoted at Disneyland with models of the characters Kida and Milo displayed on Main Street.

Atlantis was among Disney's first major attempts to utilize internet marketing. The film was promoted through Kellogg's, which created a website with mini-games and a movie-based video game give-away for UPC labels from specially marked packages of Atlantis breakfast cereal. The film was one of Disney's first marketing attempts through mobile network operators, and allowed users to download games based on the film. McDonald's (which had an exclusive licensing agreement on all Disney releases) promoted the film with Happy Meal toys, food packaging and in-store decor. The McDonald's advertising campaign involved television, radio, and print advertisements beginning on the film's release date. Frito-Lay offered free admission tickets for the film on specially marked snack packages.

Praise

The film has a dramatic opening sequence depicting the fall of Atlantis, a first act that establishes the story, bold dialogue, and an interesting visual look in part from Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. It also won some praise for daring to break away from the comfort of Disney's animated musicals that dominated the 1990s by trying a serious, action-adventure story.

Film critic Roger Ebert gives Atlantis a three-and-half stars, indicating a moderately positive view of the film.

Criticism

That said, critics generally disliked the film. Critics noted the one-dimensional characterizations in the too-large cast of supporting characters, the remoteness of Milo, a lack of audience involvement, and a general lifelessness that accompanies the by-the-book trudging from one set piece to the next following the destruction of the Ulysses.

Some of the movie's internal logic has been found lacking as well. The Atlanteans, with multi-millennia life-spans, forget how to read their own written language, yet they are able to speak Latin and other modern languages like French and English when meeting Milo and his team, due to connections to the linguistic roots (though nowhere does it say that they can write them).

Controversies

It has also been criticized by some viewers of the film bearing a resemblance to a famous 1990s Japanese anime television show, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. The similarities include character designs, story flow, the background settings, and more. The director Kirk Wise has stated he never even heard of such a show when Atlantis was in production. The similarities might be simply due to both being inspired by the Jules Verne novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Critics also saw parallels with the 1994 film Stargate. Milo's characteristics were said to resemble those of Daniel Jackson, the protagonist of Stargate and its spinoff television series Stargate SG-1 which coincidentally launched its own spinoff, titled Stargate Atlantis.

Overview, production notes and sequel

Atlantis is notable as one of the few animated films shot in the anamorphic widescreen process. To prevent having to purchase and implement larger animation desks, longer animation paper, and so forth, the production team resorted to working within a smaller frame on the same paper and equipment used for the standard aspect ratio Disney films.

Some viewers have noted similarities between the Milo character and motion picture language consultant Dr. Marc Okrand, who developed the Atlantean language for this movie (Okrand has said that animator John Pomeroy sketched him, claiming not to know what a linguist looked or behaved like). Additionally, an interesting aspect of the film is that very few of the characters are under the age of 30, a rare component for a Disney animated feature. Also, Atlantis is the first animated Disney feature since 1995 to have a black character, Dr. Joshua Sweet, in the roster of main characters. On a side note Atlantis was one of the last Disney films to include a smoking character, Packard, who consistently puffed a cigarette, only had minor role.

The film was originally supposed to provide a springboard for an animated television series titled Team Atlantis, which would have detailed the further adventures of the characters from the film. However, because of its disappointing box office intake, the series was scrapped. On May 20, 2003, Disney released a direct-to-video sequel called Atlantis: Milo's Return, which consisted mostly of stories originally produced for the aborted series.

Milo Thatch, Princess Kida, Wilhemina Packard and Commander Roark were featured as guests in House of Mouse.

In addition, several video games were released for various consoles of the time, most notably the PC game Atlantis; Trial By Fire. There were two main "campaigns" the game; Search For The Journal, which events surrounded the expedition to Iceland in order to find the journal. This segment of the game places the player as one of Rourke's mercenaries (or as the game simply states "Storm Troopers") and must fight their way through various obstacles and enemies, which are called "The Keepers". The player remains in constant radio contact throughout the game, along with the voices of most of the actors in the movie. The "reward" for finding the Journal is a trailer of the movie, also, the player can pilot the Whitmore Wing, as seen in the movie, the aircraft Rourke's mercenaries would use in their attempts to fight off Milo's attack. The second "campaign" of the game; Trial By Fire, takes place during the events of the movie, and the player takes on the role of Milo Thatch. The game follows the movie very closely, and the player goes from finding Atlantis to defending it. Atlantis: Trial By Fire also had a multiplayer component, which featured modes like deathmatch, CTF, and air battles. It also included a 10 minute documentary on how the movie was made.

Jim Varney (who played Cookie) died during production, and several lines had to be filled in by a soundalike.

Cast

Atlantis Milo kida production

Production sketch of Milo and Kida. Milo's character design was based in part on sketches of the film's language consultant, Marc Okrand.

  • Michael J. Fox as Milo James Thatch, a linguist and cartographer who was recruited to decipher The Shepherd's Journal while directing an expedition to Atlantis. Kirk Wise, one of the directors, said that they chose Fox for the role because they felt he gave his characters his own personality and made them more believable on screen. Fox said that voice acting was much easier than his past experience with live action because he did not have to worry about what he looked like in front of a camera while delivering his lines. The directors mentioned that Fox was also offered a role for Titan A.E.; he allowed his son to choose which film he would work on, and he chose Atlantis. Viewers have noted similarities between Milo and the film's language consultant, Marc Okrand, who developed the Atlantean language used in the film. Okrand stated that Milo's supervising animator, John Pomeroy, sketched him, claiming not to know how a linguist looked or acted.
  • Cree Summer as Kidagakash "Kida" Nedakh, the Princess of Atlantis. Kida's supervising animator, Randy Haycock, stated that Summer was very "intimidating" when he first met her; this influenced how he wanted Kida to look and act on screen when she meets Milo.
  • James Garner as Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke, the leader of the band of mercenaries who are hired for the Atlantean expedition. Wise chose Garner because of his previous experience with action films, especially war and Western films, and said the role "fits him like a glove". When asked if he would be interested in the role, Garner replied, "I'd do it in a heartbeat."
  • Corey Burton as ​Gaetan Moliére, a French geologist who acts like a mole. Burton mentioned that finding his performance as Mole was by allowing the character to "leap out" of him while making funny voices. To get into character during his recording sessions, he stated that he would "throw myself into the scene and feel like I'm in this make-believe world".
  • Claudia Christian as Lieutenant Helga Katrina Sinclair, Rourke's second-in-command. Christian described her character as "sensual" and "striking". She was relieved when she finally saw what her character looked like, joking, "I'd hate to, you know, go through all this and find out my character is a toad."
  • John Mahoney as Preston B. Whitmore, a wealthy eccentric who funds the expedition to Atlantis. Lloyd Bridges was originally cast and recorded as Whitmore, but he died before completing the film. Mahoney's zest and vigor led to Whitmore's personality being reworked for the film. Mahoney stated that doing voice work was "freeing" and allowed him to be "big" and "outrageous" with his character.
  • Phil Morris as Doctor Joshua Strongbear Sweet, a medic of African American and Native American descent. Sweet's supervising animator, Ron Husband, indicated that one of the challenges was animating Sweet in sync with Morris' rapid line delivery while keeping him believable. Morris stated that this character was extreme, with "no middle ground"; he mentioned, "When he was happy, he was really happy, and when he's solemn, he's real solemn."
  • Leonard Nimoy as Kashekim Nedakh, the King of Atlantis and Kida's father. Michael Cedeno, supervising animator for King Nedakh, was astounded at Nimoy's voice talent, stating that he had "so much rich character" in his performance. As he spoke his lines, Cadeno said the crew would sit there and watch Nimoy in astonishment.
  • Don Novello as Vincenzo "Vinny" Santorini, an Italian demolitions expert. Kirk Wise and Russ Edmonds, Vinny's supervising animator, noted Novello's unique ability to improvise dialogue. Edmonds recalled, "[Novello] would look at the sheet, and he would read the line that was written once, and he would never read it again! And we never used a written line, it was improvs, the whole movie."
  • Jacqueline Obradors as Audrey Rocio Ramirez, a teenage female Puerto Rican mechanic and the youngest member of the expedition. Obradors said her character made her "feel like a little kid again" and she always hoped her sessions would last longer.
  • Florence Stanley as Wilhelmina Bertha Packard: an elderly, sarcastic, chain-smoking radio operator. Stanley felt that Packard was very "cynical" and "secure": "She does her job and when she is not busy she does anything she wants."
  • David Ogden Stiers as Fenton Q. Harcourt, a board member of the Smithsonian Institution who dismisses Milo's belief in the existence of Atlantis. Stiers previously worked with Michael J. Fox in Doc Hollywood.
  • Jim Varney as Jebidiah Allardyce "Cookie" Farnsworth, a Western-style chuckwagon chef. Varney died of lung cancer in February 2000, before production ended, and the film was dedicated to his memory. Producer Don Hahn was saddened that Varney never saw the finished film, but mentioned that he was shown clips of his character's performance during h site is sessions and said, "He loved it." Shawn Keller, supervising animator for Cookie, stated, "It was kind of a sad fact that [Varney] knew that he was not going to be able to see this film before he passed away. He did a bang-up job doing the voice work, knowing the fact that he was never gonna see his last performance."
  • Frank Welker as Leviathan,): A creature that guards the entrance to Atlantis.

Crew

Crew Position
Directed by Gary Trousdale
Kirk Wise
Produced by Don Hahn
Original Story by Gary Trousdale
Kirk Wise
Joss Whedon
Bryce Zabel
Jackie Zabel
Tab Murphy
Screenplay by Tab Murphy
Original Score by James Newton Howard
Associate Producer Kendra Haaland
Art Director David Goetz
Production Design Mike Mignola, Matt Codd, Ricardo Delgado, Jim E. Martin
Film Editor Ellen Keneshea
Artistic Supervisors John Sanford (Story supervisor)
Ed Ghertner (Layout supervisor)
Lisa Keene (Background supervisor)
Marshall Toomey (Clean-up supervisor)
Marlon West (Effects supervisor)
Kihran Bhakta Joshi (Computer Graphics supervisor)
Artistic Coordinator Chris Jenkins
Supervising Animators John Pomeroy (Milo)
Michael Surrey (Rourke)
Randy Haycock (Princess Kida)
Russ Edmonds (Vinny)
Ron Husband (Dr Sweet)
Yoshimichi Tamura (Helga)
Anne Marie Bardwell (Audrey)
David Pruiksma (Mrs Packard/Mr Harcourt)
Shawn Keller (Preston Whitmore/Cookie)
Anthony DeRosa (Molière)
Michael Cedeno (Atlantian King)
Production Manager Igor Khait

Annie Awards

Result Award Winner/Nominee Recipient(s)
NOMINATED Individual Achievement in Directing Gary Trousdale (Director)
Kirk Wise (Director)
NOMINATED Individual Achievement in Storyboarding Chris Ure (Story Artist)
NOMINATED Individual Achievement in Production Design David Goetz (Art Director)
NOMINATED Individual Achievement in Effects Animation Marlon West (Effects Supervisor)
NOMINATED Individual Achievement in Voice Acting - Female Florence Stanley ("Mrs Packard")
NOMINATED Individual Achievement in Voice Acting - Male Leonard Nimoy ("King Nedakh")

Political Film Society awards

It is argued that Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of Disney's left-wing movies, hence three nominations from the Political Film Society as follows:

Result Award Notes
NOMINATED Democracy lost to Y Tu Mama Tambien
NOMINATED Human Rights lost to Focus
NOMINATED Peace lost to Lumumba

Real-life references

Vinnie's last name, "Santorini," is also the current name of an ancient chain of volcanic islands in the Mediterranean that erupted with many times the force of Mount Vesuvius (and predated it by many centuries), devastated the Minoan civilization, and may have been an origin of the Atlantean legend. This might also explain Vinnie's profound obsession with explosives, although in the film Vinny's obsession came when there was an explosion in his family's flower shop.

Also, the weaponry is of the correct time period (1914, as it says in the beginning of the film) such as: The Lee Enfield, the Lewis Gun, the Broomhandle Mauser, and a variant of the Luger. There are various models of Browning .30 Cal Machine Guns mounted to planes and other vehicles as well.

Gallery

Concept Art

Posters

Background

To prepare for the production, the filmmakers visited museums and toured old army installations. They also traveled 800 feet underground in New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns to observe the subterranean trails that would serve as the model for the approach to Atlantis in the film. When it came to creating the look of the city of Atlantis, the filmmakers wanted to avoid the common conception of "Greek columns under the sea somewhere," says art director Dave Goetz. Instead, they modeled their Atlantis on the architecture of ancient civilizations in China, South America, and the Middle East.

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Atlantis: the Lost Empire
Atlantisposter

Films: Atlantis: The Lost Empire | Atlantis: Milo's Return

Video Games: Atlantis: The Lost Empire: The Lost Games | Atlantis: The Lost Empire (video game) | Atlantis The Lost Empire: Trial by Fire | Atlantis The Lost Empire: Search for the Journal

Characters: Milo Thatch | Kida Nedakh | Helga Sinclair | Lyle Tiberius Rourke | Audrey Ramirez | Vincenzo Santorini | Gaetan Moliére | Joshua Sweet | Obby | Krakken | Wilhelmina Packard | Jebidiah Allardyce "Cookie" Farnsworth | Preston B. Whitmore | Kashekim Nedakh | Queen of Atlantis | Fenton Q. Harcourt | Leviathan | Chakashi | Edgar Vulgud | Ashtin Carnaby | Erik Hellstrom | Atlanteans | Keepers of the Journal

Music: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (soundtrack)

Objects: Shepherd's Journal | Heart of Atlantis | Gungnir

Locatons: Washington, D.C. | Atlantis (location)

Vehicles: Ketak | Ulysses | Aqua-Evac

Miscellaneous: Atlantean language



Start a Discussion Discussions about Atlantis: The Lost Empire

  • Atlantis VS. Stargate

    3 messages
    • Are both based on Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?
    • No, Atlantis was inspired by the works of Jules Verne, Stargate wasn't. It was noted by Critics that the film was a parallel to Stargate and...
  • Milo Thatch a Gary-Stu?

    2 messages
    • I've hard this word be described for Milo because he gets handed everything he needs to go to Atlantis, knows how to fix a car (even though...
    • I think a nerdy person can conceivably do all these things with the right resources. He got everything he needed because of a friend of ...

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