Epic Movie (Re)Watch #109 - Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Have I seen it before: Yes
Did I like it then: Yes.
Do I remember it: Yes.
Did I see it in theaters: Yes.
Was it a movie I saw since August 22nd, 2009: Yes. No.
1) The early 2000s have a lot of truly underrated gems, especially from Disney. Along with The Emperor’s New Groove and Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is probably one of the most underrated and overlooked films in their catalogue. Which is a true shame because it is such a great film.
2) This film opens with the city of Atlantis being washed away by a great flood, but if there was originally an alternate opening featuring vikings with the Shepard’s Journal in search of the fabled city. I prefer the opening we have, but you can watch the viking prologue if you want.
3) Michael J. Fox as Milo Thatch.
I saw this movie when it first came out in June of 2001. I fell in love with Back to the Future in February of 2009. So when I realized Marty McFly and Milo Thatch were one in the same my love for this film only grew. Fox brings a sincere enthusiasm to Milo, and like with the best voice acting you forget that you’re listening to Michael J. Fox. He BECOMES Milo, the guy who has to deal with everyone doubting him while still clinging true to his beliefs. It is a great character supported by an incredible actor.
4) There is a nice juxtaposition between how Helga sets up Mr. Whitmore (“Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite. Much.”) and the quirky little nut Mr. Whitmore actually is.
An enigmatic man who I would’ve liked to know more of, Whitmore is a little eccentric but comes off as a good hearted man. His relationship with Milo’s grandfather seems to be the defining thing in his life, so much so that he’s funding a multi-million (1914 million) dollar expedition to find a myth. John Mahoney (best known for the role of Frasier’s father on Frasier) gives a strong performance in his little bit of time, but this film is filled with strong voice over performances so it is no wonder his stacks up.
5) This line was improvised by Michael J. Fox:
Milo [after he throws up from being seasick]: “Carrots. Why is it always carrots? I didn’t even have carrots!”
6) Animated films tend to be short and with the added benefit of exaggeration need to establish personalities of supporting characters IMMEDIATELY. This is very true of the expedition’s crew. This starts with Jim Varney as Cookie, a hillbilly type who fits Varney’s comedic styling very nicely. Varney passed away before filming was complete, leaving some lines to have a stand in, but his life is in Cookie all the way.
Helga: “The men need their four basic food groups.”
Cookie [holding up three fingers]: “I’ve got your four basic food groups! Beans, bacon, whiskey, & lard!”
7) Oh my god Vinny.
Every line out of Vinny’s mouth is glorious! Voiced by Don Novello, Novello makes Vinny his own in the same way that James Woods made Hades his own in Hercules. I saw a behind the scenes featurette for this film way back when that said Novello improv-d a lot of lines and most of them are included in the film. Vinny is hysterical, with his penchant for blowing things up and dead pan delivery. The crew is made up of a bunch of great individuals & Vinny is no exception.
Rourke is the captain of the expedition and - after the film’s twist - turns out to be the main villain. Voiced by James Garner, Rourke is honestly at his most interesting towards the end when he can be a ruthless bad guy. Up until that point he’s a pretty good commander and seems like an honest man. But looks can be deceiving.
9) There are so many jokes you don’t get in these movies when you were a kid (just wait until I do Shrek). For example:
Mole [about his dirt from different countries]: “England must never merge with France!”
10) Although Vinny is awesome, there’s a good chance that Sweets is my favorite crew member in the film.
He’s fast talking, genuinely kind, a good doctor, and when the crew needs to start acting like bad guys he’s the first to abandon Rourke and his selfish quest (although much more quietly than the other characters). Phil Morris - like the other actors - breathes such life and personality into Sweets that you don’t even question that he’s real.
11) I love the wit in this film.
Sweets [presenting Milo with the vials presented above]: “Here, I’m going to need you to fill these up.”
Milo: “WITH WHAT!?”
12) And to round out the crew, Audrey.
Like most of the crew, we learn more about Audrey in a pivotal scene later. But when we first meet her she’s already impressive. Just a teenager, Audrey is the head engineer on the expedition and tough as nails. She knows her shit and is tough as hell, but that’s not why she’s awesome. Well, that’s not the ONLY reason she’s awesome. But more on that later.
13) The Leviathan.
Mike Mignola, the creator and artist behind the character Hellboy, is credited as a production designer on this film. Nowhere is his influence more clearly scene than the leviathan, the mechanical sea beast meant to defend the entrance to Atlantis. It is an impressive feat of imagination and animation, a creature which is truly menacing in both size and design. The leviathan and its attack on the submarine crew could quite well be the best part of this film.
13.5) Why does a science expedition have battle stations? I mean, now we know because they’re mercenaries. But did this not raise any red flags?
14) God bless Packard. I’m not even sure what her role on the ship is besides announcer, but god bless her.
15) The pivotal scene for so many of these characters in this film is when Milo eats with them for the first time and we get their backstory.
Sweets’ of mixed descent, part black part Native American (I believe he said he’s Navajo). He studied to be a doctor when he got enlisted in the army.
Audrey’s father wanted sons, one to run his auto shop and another to become world boxing champion. Her sister has a shot at the title.
Vinny’s family owned a flower shop and when the business next door blew up, “It was like a sign from god! I found myself in that ‘boom.’”
And then of course we get this line.
Milo: “What’s Mole’s story?”
Sweets: “Trust me on this one. You don’t wanna know. Audrey, don’t tell him. You shouldn’t have told me, but you did. And now I’m tellin’ you, you don’t wanna know.”
You see THIS is what fleshes out these characters. Its this one scene which makes them more than jokes or stereotypes or archetypes, but real people. We get their conflict, their history. We learn of Audrey’s family, of Vinny’s boredom with flowers, or Sweets’ history in the army. THIS is what makes the film standout in the way it does.
It’s too bad Atlantis didn’t do too well at the box-office, otherwise Kida might take her place among the official Disney Princess line. Along the same lines as Mulan, Kida is a warrior princess. A woman who can kick ass but also loves her father and her people very dearly. Cree Summer is an accomplished actress in the voice over world, with Kida possibly being one of her finest roles. Kida is tough but never mean, curious but never overbearing, capable but able to form a meaningful relationship with Milo (while also not being too over the top lovey dovey), and just an all around great character.
17) Hey look, its Spock!
Leonard Nimoy has had a number of voice over roles, particularly in the 21st century. Its nice hearing him in this, even if we don’t get to spend too much time with the king.
18) So you know the trope of a 100+ year old vampire forming a slightly weird relationship with a much younger woman?
19) The betrayal of the crew wouldn’t have hurt nearly as much as it does if it weren’t for the scene where we get all their backstories.
Notably we don’t get the backstories of the two most evil characters in the film: Rourke & Helga. This is when Rourke becomes REALLY interesting and when James Garner has a lot of fun as the bad guy. He’s a brute! A bully! He’s ruthless, pretty much kills the king, beats on Milo when he’s down, all while cracking a jock and flexing his impressive muscles for a 60+ year old man. Rourke doesn’t get enough credit as a Disney bad guy in my opinion.
20) I love this.
Milo [after Rourke asks him to translate better]: “I know, why don’t you translate AND I’LL WAVE THE GUN AROUND!”
I live for heroes telling bad guys who are “in control” to f*** off.
21) The entire crystal chamber scene is just absolutely gorgeous. The early 2000s were noteworthy for frequent mingling of hand drawn and computer animation, with Atlantis being one of the finest examples of it.
Also this shot is gorgeous:
22) I never got this line.
Rourke (after his crew decide to stick with Milo & the Atlanteans): “PT Barnum was right.”
Only now do I know one of Barnum’s famous quotes is, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And I had to google it.
22.5) Fun fact: Joss Whedon worked on the story for this film! For you Whedonites out there, doesn’t “PT Barnum was right.” sound like a very Whedon-y line?
23) Okay, as a child and even now I was OBSESSED with crystalized Rourke.
Like that image is just very memorable to me, especially after Rourke was supposedly killed by being encased in crystal. It’s too bad we only got a minute or so of it before the airship crashed, but damn that’s just the coolest thing to me. If there are any Kingdom Hearts fans reading this, imagine this: A Rourke boss fight, where after you beat him the first time you have to fight his crystal form and its an even tougher fight.
24) And of course Milo stays in Atlantis at the end, because it is what he and his grandfather sent their entire lives searching for. What would be the point of returning to the surface where either A) no one will believe him, or B) people will believe him and try to take advantage of this culture they found? It’s a great ending which makes a lot of sense.
I love Atlantis. It’s one of my favorite Disney films, but it maybe wouldn’t be if it weren’t so underrated. If you’re a fan of action, adventure, Disney, animation, or heck, even Stargate, I think you’ll enjoy this film.