Milo Thatch is an undervalued linguist and cartographer at a museum in Washington D.C. His office is actually the boiler room for the museums heating system and whenever there is trouble with the heating he has to answer the calls and get the thing working again. It seems his aptness with the boiler is the reason he's kept as an employee. Because the moment the board of directors see him coming, they scatter in all directions and dive into hiding in hope to avoid Milo's pet subject and his Grandfather's obsession, the search for Atlantis, and the pleas for funding for an expedition that come with it. The day he finds himself rejected again, he is taken to see a mysterious old man.

It turns out the wealthy eccentric, Mr. Whitmore, he's introduced to was a very good friend of Milo's grandfather. Mr. Whitmore had a bet going with the grandfather that if he ever found the Shepherd's Journal, a detailed description of how to find your way to Atlantis, he would finance the expedition to find the lost city. Unfortunately, his obsession with Atlantis had cost the grandfather his good name in the scientific community and he had died a bitter old man. Still, he had managed to uncover the Shepherd's Journal and Whitmore had kept it for Milo until he thought him ready for the legacy his grandfather had bestowed upon him.

Next thing he knows, Milo is sent out to sea with a motley crew of experts in their field in a more than state of the art submarine for 1914 on the quest for Atlantis. On their way they have to brave a multitude of dangers and strange creatures until they reach their goal. Milo's exhilaration over finally realizing his dream gets cut short, though, by the King of Atlantis, Nedakh (Leonard Nimoy). He demands that the strangers leave at once. Rourke, the leader of the team, persuades him to let them stay one night to rest and replenish their resources.

Meanwhile, Milo and the king's daughter, Kida, do some exploring. It turns out the Atlanteans can no longer read their own language and Kida wants to learn as much of her own culture from the linguist as she can before he has to go. When both return to the group an ugly surprise awaits them. Rourke and his team had never been in for the discovery but for the money expected to be gained from it. He takes Kida hostage to force the king to reveal the location of the crystal chamber where he expects to find a major treasure.

The instruction in the Shepherd's Journal reads that the heart of Atlantis lies in her kings eyes - the irony being that the king is blind and has been for eons. Before things get even uglier, Rourke has an inspiration and he locates the chamber on his own. There, Kida is inexorably drawn to the crystal floating above their heads. Before she is transformed into the crystal's might personified, she assures Milo that all will be well. Rourke has her crated and loaded on a truck.

At this moment all but one of his team rebel against him. They have done things they're not proud of, they say, but never before has anybody got hurt by it - or at least never anybody they knew personally. Rourke leaves them behind, detonating the bridge that connects Atlantis to the elaborate cave system beyond the chasm surrounding it. Back in the palace the king lies dying. He tells Milo the story of the crystal and asks that he bring it back and save Atlantis and save his daughter.


Behind the Scenes

Atlantean is introduced as the basis of all other languages on Earth which is why they're almost instantly able to understand any language the explorers speak. It's described as their kind of superpower. Atlantean was designed by the linguist Marc Okrand, who was also responsible for making Leonard Nimoy wrap his tongue around spoken Vulcan in Star Trek. (1) Drawing King Nedakh almost drove the animators nuts right next to the character of Mole, who was difficult to draw because of the many little gadgets he's carrying around on his head. But, even that seemed trivial to the challenge of keeping the king's tattoos from moving around on his head. The supervising animator for King Nedakh has only one word for Leonard Nimoy: Wow. He was impressed with both his professionalism and his ability to delve into the character. Leonard Nimoy really became someone else in the process, he observes. It was like one could really smell the age and dust on his character, who, he thinks, was truly enriched by it. It also seems to pay to be in a position where you can hire the people you admire. At least it suspiciously looks like the producer and two directors of Atlantis having their picture taken with Mr. Nimoy in the last shot.




The people behind Atlantis wanted to do something different this time. Something that did not have the song and dance numbers that had become a staple of the Disney Films before them. This time they wanted to tell an adventure story in the tradition of the Indiana Jones films. If it were just for that, I would call this movie a success. I have two problems with it, though. Atlantis combines traditional animation with 3 D computer animation and the directors and producer come across as very proud of their achievement in the DVD commentary. But sometimes, I'm afraid, it shows that the film is a chimera of two different aesthetic approaches and it creates a wrinkle in the matrix, to borrow an image from a different film franchise, that impairs its unity of space. The fight with the Leviathan is where I find it to be most obvious and distracting from the action. The one big quarrel I have with the film is with its statement that the Atlanteans can no longer read their own language. To counter this criticism the Egyptians are cited in the commentary as an example, who, after a few thousand years gone by, were no longer able to read Hieroglyphs. Now, languages rise, evolve and disappear, but Atlantis in all seriousness is asking the viewer to believe that everybody living there has lost their ability to read. (Or ride their futuristic bikes, for that matter.) You can't have it both ways. You can't have a loss of culture and knowledge and at the same time postulate a mystical civilisation where people get to be thousands upon thousands of years old and where some have been around since the time of the cataclysm. (2) Please! Kida, who now is 8.800 years old, might have been too young to have learned how to read at the time of the catastrophe, and her father was blinded at that event, but are we really asked to believe that the other survivors wouldn't get some form of education organized for their children? Apparently we are, summed up by a cruel joke the commentators allow themselves to make: That one could say the king was a teacher, but that he had no pupils. I call a number of Disney films my own. I've seen Atlantis at the movies when it came out but never felt the urge to get it for myself. Watching it again, I now remember why.




(2) Here's an interesting observation: lots of babies and young children running around in the movie. Lots of young adults popping out all those babies. Some middle aged people, one old person. Limited space. One starts to wonder how exactly they deal with the threat of severe overpopulation posed by this setup. Maybe there is a reason for their loss of culture after all...Logan's Run, anybody?