Ranking Disney: #36 – Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Atlantis is a movie I knew I’d be predisposed to enjoying, simply because I am fascinated by everything about the Atlantis mythology. I knew the movie wouldn’t delve too deeply into it, but I felt the general idea of Atlantis being the partial setting for the film would maintain some interest for me. I didn’t expect much, since my general feeling for all these 2000s films (for the most part) was that they weren’t good (I really hadn’t seen any of them before these articles). I was proven somewhat wrong by this (which is great), but even so, I wasn’t expecting too much out of this.

But instead, what I got was a really engaging film. It’s slow. That’s what I liked most about it. The pacing isn’t lightning fast, rumbling from one sequence to another. It had the feel of an older Disney movie, like The Rescuers. Sure, it had the requisite action and stuff near the end, but overall, I liked that it delayed their arrival at Atlantis for a while, and showed them on their journey for more than just fifteen minutes. They spend time developing things, and, while it’s not perfect, it’s perfectly adequate, and does not disgrace the Disney name at all. Which is the best compliment I can give this movie.

The film begins with an explosion, which triggers a giant tidal wave. A bunch of ships try to outrun the wave to get back to Atlantis to warn them of the wave’s impending destruction.

Everyone in Atlantis rushes to evacuate the city, including the Queen, who is mysteriously picked up by a strange blue light and taken into what we’ll later find out is the “Heart of Atlantis.” A crystal around her neck creates a magical dome that protects the city from the water, as it sinks down into the ocean.

We then cut to 1914, as Milo Thatch, a cartographer and linguist, practices an imaginary proposal for an expedition to find Atlantis and find the mysterious power source it has, according to legend. He says that he has information regarding the whereabouts (Iceland) of a text that is said to contain first-hand accounts of Atlantis, as well as its location.

He then finds out his actual proposal meeting was rescheduled and that he missed it. It seems he’s been pitching these expeditions for quite some time and the board of directors is sick and tired of it. He then chases down the head of the museum and threatens to quit if they don’t back his expedition.

When Milo returns home, a mysterious woman named Helga Sinclair is waiting in his apartment on behalf of her employer, Preston Whitmore, an eccentric old millionaire who knew Milo’s grandfather. He gives Milo a gift his grandfather left him, which was to be given “when he was ready.” The gift happens to be the book that was a part of Milo’s proposal. Whitmore agrees to back the expedition to repay a promise to Milo’s grandfather (saying he’d back the expedition if the book was found).

The crew for the expedition is: Mole, a geologist, Vinny, a demolitions expert, Audrey, a mechanic, Dr. Sweet, a medic, Mrs. Packard, a radio operator, Cookie, the cook (naturally), and Commander Rourke, who led the expedition to procure the journal. They travel on Ulysses, a giant ass submarine.

As they reach the location of Atlantis, they are attacked by the Leviathan, the creature that guards the entrance to Atlantis (which is actually a machine, much more advanced than anything in 1914). They are essentially bounced, and the Ulysses is destroyed.

The surviving crew reaches an underground cavern, which the journal says is the entrance to Atlantis. Somehow they have a convoy of trucks with them, and forge ahead.

They travel through a bunch of caves, using the journal as directions. They eventually come to a dormant volcano, where they are met by Kida, the daughter of the Queen from the opening scene. She welcomes them to Atlantis and takes them to see her father, the King of Atlantis.

The King of Atlantis tells the crew they must leave, and Rourke bargains for one night’s stay so they can re-supply for their return journey. Kida, meanwhile, wants to rebuild the Atlantean empire (since it has fallen into ruin while trapped under the sea) through the secrets of their past (the language of the Atlantean ancients has been forgotten long ago).

Kida realizes Milo can read the Atlantean language and enlists him to help discover the secrets so they can bring Atlantis back to the surface and restore it to its former glory. She takes him to a pillar so he can translate the writing.

They discover that the Heart of Atlantis is what they’re both searching for. That’s the blue light Kida saw and that’s the power source Milo has heard about. The Heart of Atlantis is what’s keeping the entire place alive for so long (it having sunk about 9,000 years before the story takes place). Milo didn’t know this, because that page was torn out of his book.

Soon they discover that Rourke and the crew intend to take the crystal and sell it. Milo warns that all of the people will die if they remove the crystal. They go to the King to find out where the crystal is (the book saying it lies “in the eyes of our king”). Naturally the King refuses to tell them. Rourke finds out where the crystal is anyway (under the King’s throne room).

They (Rourke, Sinclair, and Milo and Kida) go down into a hidden chamber and find the Heart of Atlantis. The Heart, a giant crystal, detects the intrusion and picks up Kida the way it picked up her mother. It merges with her and she turns glowing blue. Rourke, not having any of that shit, locks her in a big metal cage and prepares to leave with her.

Milo is pissed and chews out the crew for their betrayal, and one by one they all pretty much say, “Fuck you, Rourke,” and side with Milo. But Rourke don’t give a shit, so he prepares to leave anyway, with Sinclair.

The dying King tells Rourke that the crystal (which is sort of living, kind of like Eywa, for you Avatar people), in times of danger, chooses a host of royal blood to protect itself and the people of Atlantis, and in return, it provides power, protection and life. The King explains he tried to use it as a weapon, and that’s what lead to the great flood, which is why he hid it (and so Kida wouldn’t have to be killed like her mother). He gives Milo his crystal and tells him to save Atlantis and Kida.

Milo and the crew go after Rourke. They catch up to him inside the volcano. There’s a battle, and it leads to the volcano erupting. And Rourke and Sinclair are killed, along with the rest of Rourke’s mercenaries. The rest of the crew return Kida to the city, where she (or rather, the crystal that is merged with her) creates a protective shield around the city to protect it from the lava.

Kida is then returned to normal, and everything is happy. The crew prepare to go back up to the surface, but Milo decides to stay behind with Kida and help rebuild Atlantis. Bow chicka wow wow. (That should be the last line of every romantic comedy/movie that ends with the leads getting together.)

I really did enjoy this film. I didn’t think I would. Well, that’s not true. I thought I would, to an extent. But I really did enjoy this. It felt like a satisfying Disney film. My worry was, like some films in the 2000s (namely Brother Bear and Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons), it wouldn’t be worthy of being called a Disney film. But it is. And as I said in the introduction, is the best compliment I can give this movie. I liked it a lot. And let me say again — the pacing — top notch. Not too action-heavy, not too light on the character development. Could be better, hence why I put it here, but overall, it works. Solid film.

– – – – –

Official Disney Number: #41

Run Time: 96 minutes

Release Date: June 3, 2001 (premiere)

June 15, 2001 (general release)

Budget: $120 million

Box Office: $84.1 million domestically, $186.1 million worldwide

– – – – –


  1. “Where the Dream Takes You,” performed by Mya

– – – – –

Voice Cast:

Michael J. Fox, as Milo Thatch
Cree Summer, as Princess ‘Kida’ Kidagakash
Claudia Christian, as Helga Katrina Sinclair
James Garner, as Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke
John Mahoney, as Preston B. Whitmore
Phil Morris, as Dr. Joshua Strongbear Sweet
Corey Burton, as Gaetan ‘The Mole’ Moliere
Leonard Nimoy, as King Kashekim Nedakh
Don Novello, as Vincenzo ‘Vinny’ Santorini
Jacqueline Obradors, as Audrey Rocio Ramirez
Jim Varney, as Jebidiah Allardyce ‘Cookie’ Farnsworth
Florence Stanley, as Wilhelmina Bertha Packard
David Ogden Stiers, as Fenton Q. Harcourt

– – – – –


  • First Disney film since The Black Cauldron to be PG.
  • The guy who created the Atlantean language also created Vulcan and Klingon.
  • The Atlantean language is read in a water-like motion, which is pretty awesome. It’s left to right, drop down a line, right to left.
  • The “Atlantis” symbol is hidden all throughout the film.
  • Jim Varney died just before finishing the film. The “I ain’t so good at speechifying” line was spoken by a voice double.
  • Lloyd Bridges was originally cast as Whitmore, but died before he could record dialogue.
  • The final shot of the film was a combination of hundreds of drawings lined up into one 1500-foot long drawing.


– – – – –

Disney Motifs:

1. Lots of negative coloring here. I’m just gonna post screenshots. You should know what I mean by now.

That first Sinclair photo reminds me of a shot in, I think it’s Make Mine Music, with that shot of the window. I think I included it in my article on it. I really liked that shot.

2. Like the visual gag:


4. I really like how they introduce all the crew members. It’s so simply done. Big fan of it.

5. I don’t know. Just reminded me a bit of Beauty and the Beast, even though it’s not that similar. (Same directors, though. So that helps my statement.)

6. Love this shot:

7. Three planes of action at once. Trucks moving left at the very bottom of the frame, moving right in the middle of the frame, and then the ones moving toward the top of the frame. Reminds me of an almost identical shot (though from the opposite perspective) from All Quiet on the Western Front.

8. Moving over a downed tree/log. Disney always has it. Nice twist on that image here:

9. I just really like the superimposition here. Beautiful image:


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