Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Less singing. More explosions."

—The team motto for this film, according to DVD Commentary.

Entry #41 in the Disney Animated Canon, Atlantis: The Lost Empire begins with a great cataclysm that occurred in the distant past.

Flash forward to the early 20th century. Milo Thatch, a young, poor, orphaned linguist, has uncovered evidence of the existence of a great civilization in the past, Atlantis, which was previously thought to be just a myth. Despite his breakthroughs in deciphering clues hidden in the writings and legends of many disparate cultures his ideas are rejected by peers and his proposed expedition, to find "the Shepherd's Journal" and follow its instructions to the lost city itself, is rejected out of hand. However, a mysterious woman steps in and offers him a chance to prove his theory, backed by the mysterious billionaire Mr. Whitmore, who knew Milo's grandfather and had agreed years earlier to help finance Milo's expedition.

Once Milo meets Whitmore and convinces him of his own personal determination and commitment he is invited to join an expedition that is setting out to make the unprecedented trip to Atlantis itself. The rag-tag team is led by Commander Rourke, a straight, no-nonsense military man, who also knew Milo's grandfather and worked with him on the previous expedition where they found the Shepherd's Journal. Once they arrive at the destination from which they might never return, they discover an underdeveloped, dying society that has abandoned and forgotten their written language -- and Milo becomes a translator between the two cultures. However, it is revealed that there is an ulterior purpose to the expedition that Milo is unaware of, and his compatriots are not all that they seem.

While Atlantis is technically in the Disney canon, it does not appear much in modern promotionals, probably because the movie did not do too well in the theater, adding to the growing fear that 2D animated movies were dead (though Disney's other 2D animated movie did better for the year). It was otherwise notable for being accused of ripping off set pieces similar to those in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (an unrelated anime series also about Atlantean mythology) and Stargate. (Stargate Atlantis, however, is unrelated.) See also Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, a cinematic game which was mooted as the basis for an Indy 4 that never was. The movie itself was based on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, as was Nadia, which goes some way in explaining similar themes. For what it is worth, one of the credited writers is Joss Whedon, and Mike Mignola was the production designer.

While it was both a critical and financial failure, the film is fairly popular for being vastly different than standard Disney fare - it's similar to The Black Cauldron in this regard, although it gains some credit for not nearly being a Franchise Killer for the Disney Animated Canon.

Atlantis is also the second Disney Animated Canon film to be rated PG, with the first being The Black Cauldron, which was released all the way back in 1985!

Tropes used in Atlantis: The Lost Empire include:
  • Action Girl:
    • Audrey's pretty active for a kid.
    • Kida was originally going to have more action scenes, but the meddlers in question apparently did not want that.
  • Adorkable: Milo, who personifies this to such a degree that he provides the page image for that trope. Intelligent, sweet, clumsy, scrawny, still brave... Top it off with the voice of Michael J. Fox, and you have got fangirl carnage on your hands.
  • Advanced Ancient Acropolis
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: At the end of the movie, Milo is saying goodbye to all his friends. When he comes to Mole, who offers a big hug, he hesitates before patting his head instead.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The film has a different theme song for the Japanese version, called "Crystal Vine", written by DREAMS COME TRUE.
  • Animesque: An intentional attempt to make an animated action movie in the spirit of Anime.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "We've done a lot of things we're not proud of: robbing graves, eh, plundering tombs, double-parking..." It is even funnier in the Latin American dub, where he ends the list with "kicked a dog".
  • Artistic License Linguistics: Averted (See Conveniently Precise Translation below) and also played straight. In most languages, the translation in the beginning would not work, but the Norse words for Ireland and Iceland really are one rune (letter) apart, so it makes perfect sense for the two words to be accidentally switched. However, later on the Atlanteans can magically speak not just English but every language descended from their own, even though that is not how languages evolve. Additionally, many of the languages spoken are from completely different language families (meaning that they are not descended from the same language, Atlantean or otherwise).
  • Atlantis: Just in case you did not guess.
  • Award Bait Song: Oh, it may not be a musical, but it is still a Disney animated film. Thus, "Where the Dream Takes You". Sadly, it is not in Atlantean.
  • Ax Crazy: Rourke, who attacks Milo with an ax as the hot air balloon transport is crashing. He himself admits that Milo has done what few people have, which is royally piss him off.
  • Badass: Pretty much everyone who embarked on the expedition. Gets an Establishing Character Moment during the Leviathan's attack, even for the extremely many that didn't make it. Milo appears to be the only one who isn't one, until...
  • Badass Adorable: Milo is the one who decides to go after Rourke, after all.
  • Badass Bookworm: You bet your ass Milo becomes this during the last action sequence.
  • Bare Your Midriff: Kida and a few other Atlantean women.
  • Birds of a Feather: Both Milo and Kida are intelligent individuals, though Kida is stronger than Milo is. Kida and Milo are both brave individuals as well. When Rourke takes the Heart of Atlantis, Milo decides to go after him and get it back.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Mole. When Cookie is serving up dinner, he slops baked beans onto everyone's trays, but refers to it as Caesar salad (for Sweet), escargot (for Audrey) and oriental spring rolls (for Mole). Mole looks at his tray, disappointed, and protests to Audrey that he wanted the escargot, and Audrey shoves her tray at him. Mole abandons the 'spring rolls' and digs into the 'escargot,' even though it's the same greasy food.
  • The Bet: Whitmore reveals that, years ago, he and Milo's grandfather had made a bet: If Thaddeus Thatch ever actually found the Shepherd's Journal then Whitmore would not only personally fund the mission to find the city, he would kiss Thatch right on the mouth. Whitmore honored both parts of the deal though Thaddeus actually didn't' want Whitmore to kiss him on the mouth.

Whitmore: Imagine my embarrassment when he found the darn thing!

  • Blue Eyes: Kida.
  • Book Ends: The movie starts with the King of Atlantis being in charge, and it ends with his daughter succeeding him.
  • Bow Ties Are Cool: Milo wears one in the beginning of the film. Of course, they are fairly appropriate for the time period.
  • Brainless Beauty: Averted, Kida is every bit as intelligent as Milo himself is.
  • Bridge Logic: Vinny, providing the page's quote:

Milo: Will you look at the size of this? It's gotta be half a mile high, at least. It must have taken hundred -- no, thousands of years to carve this thing.
[Vinny blows it up so it falls down over a chasm]
Vinny: Hey, look, I made a bridge. It only took me, like, what? 10 seconds? 11, tops.

  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Most of Rourke's team are highly competent in their respective fields but are very odd individuals otherwise.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Dr. Sweet's saw. Later used to cut down the trapped Kida. Or at least tries:

Audrey: (trying and failing to cut the chain) "I thought you said this thing could cut through a femur in 28 seconds!"
Sweet: Less talk, more saw!

    • Helga carries Chekhov's Flare Gun tucked into her trousers.
    • Milo plays with a small part of the submarine model, which turns out to be the large inflatable balloon that Rourke and Helga try to take to the top of the volcanic chimney to escape.

Sweet: Hold on. Back Up. Are you saying this volcano can blow at anytime?
Mole: No, no, no, no. That would take an explosive force of great magnitude.

(while heavily smoking) "We're all gonna die."

    • Vinny has been known to snark as well; see the entry for Bridge Logic, above.
  • Death Glare: The explorers give this to Milo after Milo almost led them down the jaws of a creature by accident due to holding the Shepherd's Journal upside down.
  • Development Gag
  • Disney Death: Averted with Kida's father.
  • Disney Villain Death: Rourke's crew made the best decision when they decided not to leave Atlantis with him. When things get rough, Rourke decides to drop Helga to her death to make his getaway easier. The villain in question, Helga, The Dragon actually lives long enough after the fall to give a final "parting gift". Rourke, on the other hand, is more or less shattered by Milo, even if a piece of machinery does deliver the final "parting blow".
  • Distant Prologue: The film opens with the destruction of Atlantis several thousand years ago as it is submerged beneath the ocean. Originally there was a different Distant Prologue intended for the opening, focusing on a viking ship that was trying to find the city, but it was decided to use a more action-packed scene instead explaining how the city sank in the first place.
  • The Dog Bites Back: It is Helga's Last Breath Bullet after Rourke betrays her that really foils the Evil Plan.
  • Dying Race: The Atlanteans.
  • Embarrassing Slide: Milo intends to start his lecture by showing a slide of the Leviathan, "a creature so terrifying that sailors were said to be driven mad by the mere sight of it." Cut to a slide of him popping up.
  • Everything Makes a Mushroom: Cooky's cooking is so bad it creates a mushroom cloud when the crew all drop their food in a cauldron at the same time.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Kida. What's so unique about her is the fact that of all the princesses created by Disney, she's actually the only one of them to ever become Queen at the end of her film.
  • Evil All Along: Rourke. According to Sweet, "He's been after that crystal since Iceland."
  • Evil Plan: Rourke makes the journey to steal the crystal and kill anyone in his way. The final stage of this plan is what Milo fights against.
  • Executive Meddling: The film was originally intended to be a creature feature adventure film. Then the Disney execs decided that they needed to get to Atlantis quicker, and so much potential was wasted.
  • The Extremist Was Right: For the most part, the King of Atlantis was wrong not to allow outsiders in his city. But he wasn't entirely wrong. Rourke planned to kill everyone in the city.
  • Faceless Mooks: The gas-mask wearing soldiers in the end.
  • Family Business
  • Family-Friendly Firearms: Completely, utterly averted.
  • Femme Fatale: Helga.
  • Fly At the Camera Ending: Ends with an Atlantean flying machine obscuring the camera.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The movie opens up with vikings searching for the crystal. Rourke wishes to do the same thing, but in the Viking's case they probably weren't going to wipe out the Atlanteans so that they could have it.
    • When Whitmore shows off the scale models of the vehicles to be used in the expedition, Milo is seen fiddling with the Hot Air Balloon Model. Rourke uses that hot air balloon model to make a quick getaway, and Milo later has his climactic battle with Rourke on the real thing.
    • When Whitmore shows the files of the crew, Rourke's photo is partially covered-up. All the good guys' (well, by the end of the movie anyway) photos are fully uncovered.
  • Freudian Slip: "I know how to swim pretty girl -- good! Pretty good, I swim pretty good."
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Milo asks Wilhelmina Bertha Packard about having pajamas, only to be told that she sleeps in the nude. Doctor Joshua Strongbear Sweet gives Milo a pair of blindfolds, explaining that she also sleepwalks.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The soldiers that come along on the expedition.
  • Going Native: Milo at the end of the film.
  • Golem: Those shield-generator dudes from the beginning and ending.
  • The Greatest History Never Told: Sweet was a medic during the Spanish-American War.
  • Deadly Change-of-Heart: Helga shows some remorse when she discovers that they will be stealing from living people and not a long-dead civilization, but she is betrayed and mortally wounded by Rourke before she (possibly) switches sides.
  • Heel Face Turn: Audrey, Sweet, Mole, Vinny, Cookie and Ms. Packard join Milo after it is revealed that they were Evil All Along.
  • The High Queen: Kida, who not only becomes Queen at the end of this film, but is also one of the few Princesses created by Disney to ever become Queen.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Rourke really should have known better then to stiff her.
  • Honor Before Reason: They even use the line "I didn't say it was the smart thing, but it is the right thing."
  • Humans Are Their Own Precursors: As the title says, there was an Atlantis in the past that was advanced beyond anything at that point. They had, among other things, lasers, floating vehicles and monuments, and massive machines. A Heroic Sacrifice prevented cataclysm from destroying the entire civilization, but sealed it off from the outside world; by the time visitors find it again around World War I's time, it has regressed terribly, and almost all that tech has been lost.
  • I Drank What?: Done with a bottle of what Vinny claims to be nitroglycerin as a joke.
  • "I Know What We Can Do!" Cut
  • Ironic Echo: When the crew sets up camp for the night and talking about their lives, all of them except Milo say that they're here pretty much because they're getting paid. Later, when they're loading the Crystal-possessed Kida up for the trip back to the volcano, Milo reminds them of their plans and how easy they'll be now, but they have wiped out the Atlanteans in the process, ending with-

Milo: But that's what it's all about, right? Money.

Milo: What else have you got in there?
Vinny: Oh, you know: gunpowder, nitroglycerin, notepads, fuses, wicks, glue, paper clips (big ones). You know, just office supplies.

Milo: I don't know how to explain it! It's their deity, their power source!
Rourke: Speak English, professor!

    • Also:

Mole: The fissure! It is about to eject its pyroclastic fury!
Sweet: Milo! Mole says the volcano's about to blow!

  • Lethal Chef: Cookie, who puts sickening amounts of lard in his food.
  • Lost World: Duh.
  • MacGuffin Girl: In a variation, the girl merges with a preexisting MacGuffin, rather than turning out to have been it all along.
  • Mayfly-December Romance: Milo and Really Seven Hundred Years Old Kida. Although, if the Atlantean's crystal power source is what makes them live so long, you never know...
  • Mechanical Monster: The Leviathan.
  • Mighty Whitey: White outsider guy needed to save tribal people, who do not know how to read their own language, and is interested in the Chieftain's Beautiful Daughter?
  • Mineral MacGuffin
  • Missing Mom: Follow the Disney rule of having the princess raised by only one parent: the film begins with Kida's mom being taken from her and her father.
  • Mole Men: Mole.
  • Motor Mouth: Sweet talks faster than the other characters. In fact, his actor's rapid-fire delivery of lines made animating him somewhat difficult.
  • Multiethnic Team: In 1914, no less.
  • Nice Hat:
    • Packard wears a Brodie Helmet as part of her uniform.
    • Of course, there is Moliere's leather cap.
    • Audrey also wears one as well.
    • Kida's tiara at the end of the film.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Milo realizes towards the end of the film that a lot of the problems, maybe even all the problems, are at least tangentially his fault.

Milo: Oh, my decision? Well, I think we've seen how effective my decisions have been. Let's recap: I led a band of plundering vandals to the greatest archeological find in recorded history, thus enabling the kidnap and/or murder of the royal family! Not to mention personally delivering the most powerful force known to man to the hands of a mercenary nutcase, who's probably going to sell it to the Kaiser! *pause* Have I left anything out?
Sweet: Well, you did set the camp on fire and drop us down that big hole.

  • Nobody Poops: Averted. Milo accidentally awakens some fireflies while heading out to relieve himself.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Averted.
  • Non-Lethal Warfare: So averted. The Leviathan kills well over a hundred people during its attack (visibly crushing their mini-subs in its claws) and the final battle features plenty of Mooks being blown up.
  • Nonsense Classification: Cookie has his own take on the four basic food groups: beans, bacon, whiskey and lard. A deleted scene has him name the only three spices he uses: salt, salt, and sodium chloride.
  • Noodle Incident: Mole's background. Sweet is sorry he ever heard it from Audrey, and forbids her to tell Milo.
  • Nothing Personal: Said before Rourke tries to kill Helga and then repeated when Helga tries to kill Rourke.
  • Nubile Savage: Kida.
  • Nuclear Candle: Averted. Rourke lights a match in a dark chasm and it's only bright enough to light his face. Nothing else can be seen until everyone turns their vehicles' headlights on.
  • Ominous Atlantean Chanting
  • Omniglot: The Atlanteans are implied to be fluent in every single language spoken in the world in addition to their own language. When the expedition first enters Atlantis Milo and Kida converse in several different languages (including the Atlantean language, Latin, Hebrew and French) before settling on English for the rest of the film.
  • Opposite Gender Protagonists: Milo Thatch and Kida. Kida isn't introduced until the party arrives at Atlantis. From there, Milo and Kida have some calm, Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene bonding sessions, before teaming up to save Atlantis from a greater threat.
  • Opposites Attract: While Milo and Kida are a lot alike, it’s not hard to assume that Kida would win in a fight…if they chose to fight.
  • The Other Darrin: Cookie's lines in the goodbye scene are the only Cookie dialogue delivered by Steve Barr instead of Jim Varney.
  • Pair the Smart Ones: Kida could give Milo a run for his money in intellect. Though she’s the stronger of the two.
  • Parental Bonus: Many of the voice actors (especially Don Novello) and references to people like Jefferson Davis and P.T. Barnum.
  • Phosphor Essence: Kida glows blue when she takes on an energy form.
  • Plot Based Photograph Obfuscation: When Whitmore is showing Milo the files of each of the crew members, Rourke has his face partially obscured while everyone else's is not, hinting that he turns out to be the Big Bad.
  • Politically-Correct History: An ethnically diverse crew of explorers... in 1914!
  • Power Crystal
  • Really Seven Hundred Years Old: The Atlanteans are positively ancient due to the restorative powers of the Heart of Atlantis. Kida herself is over 8,800 years old and still appears in her early 20's.
  • Recycled: the Series: A cartoon series called Team Atlantis was planned, but never came to fruition; the Direct to Video "sequel" is really just a few episodes of it strung together. Amongst the ideas proposed for this series was a crossover with Gargoyles, which is broadly considered a canonical part of Gargoyles according to Word of God.
  • Redshirt Army: The submarine crews just keeps dying and dying. Between drowning, blowing up, rampant wildfires, falling down a crevice, getting shot and getting buried in molten lava only the main cast of seven survives the voyage. In total, 193 of the original 200 crew members died on the mission, which is quite a whopping number for a Disney movie.

Rourke: (talking to only a few dozen people) Seven hours ago we started this expedition with two hundred of the finest men and women I have ever known. We are all that's left.

  • The Reveal: Rourke is the villain. At first, everyone except Milo has no problem following his orders, which is kind of shocking for a Disney movie.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Kida arguably, who has Milo help her find a way to preserve Atlantean society.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The idea that Atlantis was a culturally-rich society and had advanced technology is a relatively recent addition to the myth. Plato simply described it as an unbeatable naval power.
  • Scenery Porn: Atlantis is gorgeous.
  • Secret Test of Character: When Mr. Whitmore first gives Milo the Shepherd's Journal, he makes several doubtful comments as to its authenticity and reliability, as well as to the futility of any mission to find Atlantis. When Milo explains that he would know if it was a fake and that he would rent a rowboat himself if that was what it took to get an expedition going, Whitmore explains that that was exactly what he wanted to hear, and then offers Milo a place on the multi-million dollar expedition he had already been planning.
  • See Water: Milo can read Atlantean glyphs underwater, while wearing glasses.
  • Serrated Blade of Pain: The team's medic is quite fond of a large medical saw of his. Later said saw is used in the climax.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Coelacanths.
  • Sexophone: When we first meet Helga in Milo's apartment.
  • Sherlock Scan: Moliere discerns pretty much everything about Milo simply by examining a piece of dirt under his fingernails.
  • Slasher Smile: The usually very-in-control Rourke while he is hunting Milo with the fire axe - it is pretty obvious he has lost it in light of his impending defeat.
  • Steampunk / Dieselpunk : Thanks to Mike Mignola's involvement.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Vinny loves explosives... but not to the point of being a Bomb Throwing Anarchist.
  • Team Pet:
    • Mole, sort of. Even lampshaded by Kida as she tries to make sense of the roles of the explorers:

...and the little digging animal called Mole; he's your pet?

"I consider myself an even-tempered man; it takes a heck of a lot to get under my skin. But congratulations - you just won the solid gold kewpie doll!"

Kida: Cookies are sweet but yours is not, Sweet is kindly but that is not his name, Audrey is sweet but she is not your doctor... and the little burrowing animal called Mole...he is your pet?
Milo: "Close enough".

  • Who Writes This Crap?:
    • "Tonight's dinner will be baked beans. Musical program to follow. ...Who wrote this?"
    • "To whoever took the 'L' from the motor pool sign, ha ha, we are all very amused."
  • World War I: The film takes place in 1914, right on the cusp of the first World War, and Milo fears that Rourke will probably try to sell the Heart of Atlantis to the Kaiser.
  • A Worldwide Punomenon: Mol-iere is the Tunnel King (see above).
    • A Mol(e) is also a unit of measurement in Chemistry, and Mole is seen speaking in scientific terms for chemistry on several occasions (about dirt, obviously).
  • Wrench Wench: Audrey.
  • You Can Say That Again: Kida sees something amazing and says the Atlantean equivalent of "wow!" Milo is also amazed, and savvy enough with the language to say "You can say that again!"
  • You Do NOT Want to Know: Sweet says this about Moliere's backstory, providing the quote for that page.

"Trust me on this: You don't want to know. Audrey, don't you tell him. You shouldn't have told me, but you did, so now I'm telling [Milo], you don't wanna know."

    • According to Audrey in the sequel, it turns out that he was raised by naked mole rats. The truth of this is at best unclear.