I’m going to do a short series on Disney movies that I feel are underrated. On my list is Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Brother Bear, and Treasure Planet. Know another movie I should take a look at? Comment at the end of this post or email me or something. Anyway, let’s see what the verdict is about Atlantis. Onward!
TLDR; As much as I like it, Atlantis isn’t underrated. It’s actually an atrocious movie.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a relatively unknown and untalked about movie made by Disney in 2001. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about this awkward yet smart guy who has an obsession with the lost city of Atlantis. All of his coworkers think he’s a nut job. But his grandfather’s friend sets him up on an expedition to go fulfill his dreams and find Atlantis.
I loved this movie growing up. Totally loved it. And yet when I tell people about it, I get responses like, “What? Which movie?” or “You know, I just didn’t care for that movie. I dunno why.”
I believed it to be underrated. Until I watched it again last night.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love it. But it’s not underrated. It’s actually a pretty bad movie, especially compared to most Disney movies. So let’s take a look at all the problems with Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
The storytelling was really, really bad. It feels like they wrote the script for this movie as they went along.
They introduce a quirky researcher named Mile who tries to get fails to get funding for his trip to find the lost city of Atlantis. Then out of nowhere, Milo’s deceased grandfather’s best friend (who Milo has never heard of or met) offers to pay for the expedition to Atlantis. All the preparations were already made. Off they go! They almost die several times on their way to Atlantis. Then they finally get there, meet the princess of the city, and her father wants them to leave asap. Insert dramatic irony where it turns out that the military man and his hot militaristic lieutenant are money-grubbing jerks and they plan to screw over the Atlanteans and steal their giant life crystal. Turns out everyone but Milo is a money-grubbing jerk, but Milo somehow talks most of them out of being jerks. The still money-grubbing jerk of a military man (and his hot side kick) kidnaps the princess (who has somehow bonded with the giant life crystal – ???). Everyone chases after him to save her. They save her. The Atlanteans give everyone a shit ton of gold and jewels. Milo chooses to stay in Atlantis with the princess. The end.
What a hot mess!
You should be able to sum up a movie in like 3-5 sentences. Like this:
Back To the Future
Regular teen gets caught up in a whacky scientist’s time travel experiments. He gets sent back in time. He’s trapped in the past and has to find whack scientist’s past self to help him get back to the future. Regular teen almost ruins the future by making changes in the past, but it’s all good in the end. He avoids catastrophe and actually makes the future better.
Girl pretends to be a boy and takes her father’s place in the army to save his life. She makes friends and becomes a great warrior after a lot of struggling. Saves her brothers’ in arms lives, but they find out she’s a girl. Gets kicked out of army. Discovers bad guys are still alive. Teams up with old friends. Saves China.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
I can’t do that for this movie. I have no idea what the plot of Atlantis is. It’s about wanting to find the city, journeying to the city, exploring the city, and saving the city all at once. There are too many tropes and too many points thrown in. It’s awful.
And I’m not going to get too into this, but there was no growth in any of the characters. They all had a ton of promise, but they never learned anything or changed in any way. So disappointing.
Annoying Plot Holes
Why did Milo never even hear about his grandfather’s rich best friend? How did this book, this “map to Atlantis”, survive for thousands of years and yet no one decided to follow it? How come no one checked out the big bad military man and realized he was going to steal the life crystal? Why would he even steal the life crystal (“because money” is an insufficient answer, Disney!)? WHAT IS THE LIFE CRYSTAL? Why did those fireflies set things on fire in the cave but not in Atlantis? How come Atlanteans can speak contemporary English and French and who knows what else, but forgot how to READ their OWN language? HOW did the Atlanteans, who were all around when Atlantis disappeared, forget how to use THEIR OWN MACHINES? Gahhh!
And this is more along the lines of “annoying tropes”, but why oh why did they do the whole “he told me to give this to you when you were ready” thing with the book at the beginning of the movie??? I would have been pissed if I were Milo. He spent so much time and energy looking for that book. Goddammit.
No Strong Theme or Moral
I don’t know what the moral of this movie was. Seriously, no idea. The fact that the characters didn’t grow or change at all doesn’t help. There’s just no take-away from this movie. Just some loose sentiment about “greedy capitalist pigs”. I dunno.
What They Did Right
So now you must be wondering, how in the world was I enchanted by this movie? What did they do right?
The world building, despite not being thorough at all, is fairly exciting. The Atlanteans are all extremely old and yet look young, they have cool tattoos, their own language. They have these enormous animal-like robot machines (that they’ve somehow forgotten how to use – see plot holes above) that lets them fly. And they live in a really neat-looking rocky jungle. I wish there was more work done on the world building because there were some awesome ideas there that didn’t get fleshed out enough.
The characters are pretty fun in this movie too, even if no one actually changed or grew. Milo is the stereotypical nerd with a big heart. There’s a Latina girl who’s embodying the whole “strong and independent woman” thing. And yeah, the big bad guy is a money-grubbing military man (like that’s never been done before). But they were all still hilarious and fun. I still love the guy who handled all the explosives.
Additionally, I think this movie had a special impact on me because I have always had a fascination with languages and linguistics. (My favorite book in high school was Pygmalion – the play that My Fair Lady was based on.) And so I can’t help it. The main character in this movie is an animated, quirky linguist. I just love him!
Atlantis: The Lost Empire isn’t underrated. It’s properly rated. The plot was a hot mess. The characters (though amusing and likable) were flat. There were a ton of annoying plot holes. And there was no lesson to learn from this movie. It was basically a half-baked pie. Half-baked pies are just… disappointing.
Nobody remembers Atlantis: The Lost Empire or cares about it, and that’s kinda how it should be. It was a pretty bad movie. I mean, I still like it. But I like it knowing that it’s only nostalgia that keeps me entranced.
Next up on my Underrated Disney Movies list: Brother Bear. Stay tuned.