Atlantis: The Lost Empireis a 2001 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation . Written by Tab Murphy, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise , and produced by Don Hahn , it is the first science fiction film in the Disney animated features canon and the 41st overall. The film features an ensemble cast with the voices of Michael J. Fox , Cree Summer , James Garner , Corey Burton , Claudia Christian , John Mahoney , Phil Morris , Leonard Nimoy , Don Novello , Jacqueline Obradors , Florence Stanley , 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 the directors and producer finishedThe Hunchback of Notre Dame(1996). Instead of another musical , the team decided to do an action-adventure film inspired by the works of Jules Verne .Atlantiswas noted 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 inAtlantis, while James Newton Howard (composer for Disney's 2000 animated featureDinosaur) provided the score . The film was released at a time when audience interest in animated films was shifting away from traditional animation toward films produced with full CGI.
Atlantis: The Lost Empirepremiered at the El Capitan Theatre on June 3, 2001, and went into general release on June 15. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures , the film performed modestly at the box office and received mixed reviews from critics. With a budget of$100 million,Atlantisearned$186 millionin worldwide box-office revenue,$84 millionof which was earned in the United States and Canada. Some critics praised it as a unique departure from typical Disney animated features, while others felt the unclear target audience and the absence of songs hurt its premise. 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.Atlantiswas 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; a direct-to-video sequel,Atlantis: Milo's Return, was released in 2003.Atlantisis considered to be a cult favorite , due in part to Mignola's unique artistic influence.
The film begins with a massive tidal wave, triggered by a distant explosion, which threatens to drown the island of Atlantis. Caught in the midst of a chaotic evacuation from the capital city, the Queen of Atlantis is caught by a strange, hypnotic blue light and lifted up towards the "Heart of Atlantis", a powerful crystal protecting the city. The crystal consumes her, while creating a dome barrier, which protect the city's innermost district. She leaves behind a young daughter, Princess Kida (Cree Summer), as the island sinks beneath the ocean.
Several thousand years later, in 1914, Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox)—a cartographer and linguist at the Smithsonian Institution who is marginalized for his research on Atlantis—believes that he has foundThe Shepherd's Journal, an ancient manuscript allegedly containing directions to the lost island. Milo's passion for Atlantis is fueled by the memory of his late grandfather, an explorer whose career was ruined by his pursuit of the island (by then considered nothing more than a myth). After his proposal to search for theJournalis rejected by the museum board, a mysterious woman, Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian), introduces Milo to Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney), an eccentric millionaire. Whitmore has already funded a successful effort to retrieve theJournalas repayment of a debt to Milo's grandfather, and recruits Milo to lead an expedition to Atlantis as soon as he deciphers it.
The expedition departs with a team of specialists led by Commander Rourke (James Garner), who also led theJournalrecovery expedition. The crew includes Vinny (Don Novello), a demolitions expert; Mole (Corey Burton), a geologist; Dr. Sweet (Phil Morris), a medical officer; Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors), a mechanic; Mrs. Packard (Florence Stanley), a radio operator; and Cookie (Jim Varney), a mess cook. They set out in theUlysses, a massive submarine, but are soon attacked by the monstrous Leviathan, a robotic scorpion-like creature and guard of Atlantis' entrance. TheUlyssesis destroyed but Milo, Rourke, and part of crew escape and make their way to an underground cavern, described in theJournalas the opening to Atlantis. During the journey, Milo bonds with his fellow crew members and they share their life stories.
After traveling through a network of caves and a dormant volcano, the team reaches Atlantis. Much to their surprise, they find the ancient city still populated. They are greeted by Kida—who, despite her age, resembles a young woman—and discover the Atlantean language is the basis of many existing languages (which allows the Atlanteans to understand English). The team is brought before Kida's father, the King of Atlantis (Leonard Nimoy). He wants the explorers to leave immediately, certain their arrival bodes ill for his people, but after persuasion relents to let them stay for the night. Milo sees that Atlantis has fallen into ruin since its disappearance, and Kida enlists his aid in deciphering the Atlantean written language, long forgotten by the natives. Through translating underwater murals, Milo helps Kida uncover the nature of the Heart of Atlantis: it supplies the Atlanteans with power and longevity through the crystals worn around their necks. He is surprised this is not mentioned in theJournal, but upon examining it realizes a page is missing.
Returning with Kida, Milo discovers Rourke has the missing page. Rourke and the crew betray Milo, intending to bring the crystal to the surface and sell it. Rourke mortally wounds the King while trying to extract information about the crystal's location, but finds it for himself hidden beneath the throne room. The crystal detects a threat and merges with Kida (as it did with her mother). Rourke and the mercenaries lock Kida in a crate and prepare to leave the city, knowing that when the crystal is gone the Atlanteans will die. Milo berates his friends for betraying their consciences and ultimately convinces them to leave Rourke and Remain in Atlantis. The King explains to Milo that the crystal has developed a consciousness; it will find a royal host when Atlantis is in danger and create an energy shield around it. As he dies he gives his crystal to Milo, telling him to save Atlantis and Kida. Encouraged by Sweet, Milo rallies the crew and the Atlanteans to stop Rourke using the city's dormant armada of flying vehicles.
In a battle inside the dormant volcano, Helga and the other mercenaries are defeated, including Rourke, killed when Milo slashes his arm with a crystal shard. As Milo and the others fly the crystal back to the city, the volcano erupts. With lava flowing towards the city, Kida (in her crystal form) rises into the air and creates a protective shield. The lava breaks away harmlessly, showing a restored Atlantis, and the crystal returns Kida to Milo. The surviving crew goes back to the surface with treasures provided by the Atlanteans and promises Whitmore they will keep the discovery of Atlantis a secret. Milo, in love with Kida, stays behind to help her rebuild the lost empire.