Deep Focus: “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”

Story posted April 18, 2021 in CommRadio, Arts & Entertainment by David Myers

Words that people associate with the Disney brand include “family-friendly,” “fantasy” and “musical.” On the surface, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” appears to be the typical film that fits this mold. However, audiences were presented with a product that stood out in comparison to other Disney movies.

The main premise of “Atlantis” is that a band of explorers are searching for the lost city of Atlantis, and in order to do that, they must travel to the deepest depths of the ocean and eventually underground.  Sounds closer to Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” than a Disney film.

Furthermore, it takes place during the 1910s and features samples of advanced technology later on.

The story begins with the audience watching the destruction of the great civilization before moving millennia ahead. Over that time, the legends about Atlantis grow.

Enter the main character, Milo Thatch, a linguist and cartographer who dedicates his life to finding the ancient city.  Milo discovers the existence of a manuscript, known as “The Shepherd’s Journal,” that supposedly can lead anyone to Atlantis, and he proposes an expedition to recover it.

The only problem is that no one is willing to fund such a venture.

Fortunately, Milo goes to the home of Preston B. Whitmore, an odd millionaire who knew Milo’s deceased grandfather Thaddeus. There, he finds that Whitmore not only had the journal from a previous expedition with Thaddeus but arranged for an expedition to find the city of Atlantis itself as payment for losing a bet with his colleague.

Whitmore had already assembled a crew, gathered supplies and acquired a submarine. The last piece of the puzzle would be Milo, a linguist, who could decipher the manuscript leading the group to Atlantis.

This crew is made up of unique characters who contribute to the journey through their special skills and add flavor to the movie through their personalities. To highlight a few, there is Vinny, a blunt Italian demolitions expert, and Mole, a French geologist who slightly resembles a mole and has an obsession with dirt and digging.

The voice talent for the whole cast ranges from the well-known to the somewhat obscure. Milo is voiced by Michael J. Fox after his own 8-year-old son decided he should take the role. Mr. Whitmore’s role is covered by the late John Mahoney.

Other notable voices include Corey Burton, Don Novello, James Garner, Cree Summer, Leonard Nimoy, David Ogden Stiers and Jim Varney, who would pass away before production would finish.

“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” was released in 2001—right around the rise of 3D animation films. Thus, there are multiple sequences in the movie that featured this new technology. Unfortunately, DreamWorks distributed “Shrek” in the same year and the completely 3D-animated film received all the attention.

Furthermore, the reviews for “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” were varied. Some praised its action and animation while others disliked its choice of color and difference from the normal Disney fare.

To make matters more concerning, Disney had high expectations for this movie. There would have been an animated television show and a special ride at Disneyland had it been a success.

But at the box office, it only earned $186 million worldwide; its budget was $120 million. Everything that would have followed this film’s success was repurposed or scrapped.

These stumbles caused “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” to fall into initial obscurity, but today, people hold a different view of the movie. “Atlantis” has an engaging story featuring action, adventure, and great characters, as well as awe-inspiring visuals and the whimsical mishaps that come from exploration.  People have good reason to place it among Disney’s most underrated movies.


David Myers is a junior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email