Entry #41 in the Disney Animated Canon, this movie begins with a great cataclysm that occurred in the distant past.Flash forward to the early 20th century. Milo Thatch, a young, poor, orphaned linguist, has uncovered evidence of the existence of a great civilization in the past, Atlantis, which was previously thought to be just a myth. Despite his breakthroughs in deciphering clues hidden in the writings and legends of many disparate cultures, his ideas are rejected by peers and his proposed expedition, to find "the Shepherd's Journal" and follow its instructions to the lost city itself, is rejected out of hand. However, a mysterious woman steps in and offers him a chance to prove his theory, backed by the mysterious billionaire Mr. Whitmore, who knew Milo's grandfather and had agreed years earlier to help finance Milo's expedition.Once Milo meets Whitmore and convinces him of his own personal determination and commitment, he is invited to join an expedition that is setting out to make the unprecedented trip to Atlantis itself. The rag-tag team is led by Commander Rourke, a straight, no-nonsense military man, who also knew Milo's grandfather and worked with him on the previous expedition where they found the Shepherd's Journal. Once they arrive at the destination from which they might never return, they discover an underdeveloped, dying society that has abandoned and forgotten their written language — and Milo becomes a translator between the two cultures. However, it is revealed that there is an ulterior purpose to the expedition that Milo is unaware of, and his compatriots are not all that they seem.While Atlantis is technically in the Disney canon, it does not appear much in modern promotionals, probably because the movie did not do too well in the theater, adding to the growing fear that 2D animated movies were dead (though Disney's other2D animated movie did better for the year). It was otherwise notable for being accused of ripping off set pieces similar to those in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (an unrelated anime series also about Atlantean mythology) and Stargate. (Stargate Atlantis, however, is unrelated.) See also Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, a cinematic game which was mooted as the basis for an Indy 4 that never was. The movie itself was based on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, as was Nadia, which goes some way in explaining similar themes. Though the obvious similarities between Milo and Jean (the protagonist of Nadia) are harder to explain away. For what it is worth, one of the credited writers is Joss Whedon, and Mike Mignola was the production designer.While it was both a critical and financial failure, the film is fairly popular for being vastly different than standard Disney fare - it's similar to The Black Cauldron in this regard, although it gains some credit for not nearly being a Franchise Killer for the Disney Animated Canon.Atlantis is also the second Disney Animated Canon film to be rated PG, with the first being The Black Cauldron, which was released all the way back in 1985!
This film provides examples of:
A Minor Kidroduction: The film opens during the destruction of Atlantis, which took place when Kida was still a child.
Action Girl: It would be easier to just say "all of them," but it's a lot more fun to name them specifically;
Audrey is a teenage mechanic who's surprisingly proactive, given her age.
Kida was originally going to have more action scenes, but the meddlers in question apparently did not want that.
Helga's not just a Femme Fatale - she can kick some serious ass too.
Even Ms. Packard gets in on this during the climax.
Adorkable: Milo, who personifies this to such a degree that he provides the page image for that trope. Intelligent, sweet, clumsy, scrawny, still brave... Top it off with the voice of Michael J. Fox, and you have got fangirl carnage on your hands.
Kida makes mention of this... in her own, unique way.
Kida: You are a scholar are you not? Judging by your diminished physique and large forehead, you are suited for nothing else.
Also an alternative song in the Latin American version, to the point where the North American DVD has an entire hidden SECTION you cannot access if you select to see the movie in anything but Spanish when you have the chance at the loading screen.
Anachronism Stew: The movie makes an effort to avoid this minus Atlantis and some of the Steampunk / Dieselpunk tech used by the expedition. Although a glaring one would have to be the gas mask-wearing Mooks who look straight out from the trenches of World War I than 1914 America.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "We've done a lot of things we're not proud of: robbing graves, eh, plundering tombs, double-parking..." It is even funnier in the Latin American dub, where he ends the list with "kicked a dog".
Artistic License - Linguistics: Averted (See Conveniently Precise Translation below) and also played straight. In most languages, the translation in the beginning would not work, but the Norse words for Ireland and Iceland really are one rune (letter) apart, so it makes perfect sense for the two words to be accidentally switched. However, later on the Atlanteans can magically speak not just English but every language descended from their own, even though that is not how languages evolve. Additionally, many of the languages spoken are from completely different language families (meaning that they are not descended from the same language, Atlantean or otherwise).
Related, the film implies that every linguist before Milo was a complete idiot, as the rune for C looks exactly like a C, and the rune for R looks exactly like an R. Mixing them up would be like mixing up...an R and a C, really.
Milo can speak Atlantean through slowly translating their written language. Unless a Romanization or Anglicization of the alphabet exists (which is doubtful), this is impossible, as you can't tell what a letter is supposed to sound like solely through what it looks like. On the other hand, his pronunciation is nowhere near perfect; Kida comments that his accent is "boorish, provincial, and you speak it through your nose."
Ax-Crazy: Rourke, who attacks Milo with an ax as the hot air balloon transport is crashing. He himself admits that Milo has done what few people have, which is royally piss him off.
Badass: Pretty much everyone who embarked on the expedition. Gets an Establishing Character Moment during the Leviathan's attack, even for the extremely many that didn't make it.
Badass Adorable: Kida in a brief yet oh-so-satisfying action scene in which she knees a guy in the crotch, bashes another with the butt of a rifle while trying to wretch it free from its owner and knocks another soldier to the ground while drawing her knife. Even better considering she showcases skills as a hunter/gatherer.
Badass Bookworm: You bet your ass Milo becomes this during the last action sequence.
Blatant Lies: Used for humor and as the official story in the end. Pretty much the crew that made it back home are talking about how it was all a dead end and how everyone died... While they're wearing their crystals and while Whitmore is looking at the photographs of Alantis.
Bizarre Taste in Food: Mole. When Cookie is serving up dinner, he slops baked beans onto everyone's trays, but refers to it as Caesar salad (for Sweet), escargot (for Audrey) and oriental spring rolls (for Mole). Mole looks at his tray, disappointed, and protests to Audrey that he wanted the escargot, and Audrey shoves her tray at him. Mole abandons the 'spring rolls' and digs into the 'escargot,' even though it's the same greasy food.
The Bet: Whitmore reveals that, years ago, he and Milo's grandfather had made a bet: If Thaddeus Thatch ever actually found the Shepherd's Journal then Whitmore would not only personally fund the mission to find the city, he would kiss Thatch right on the mouth.
Whitmore: Imagine my embarrassment when he found the darn thing!
Book Ends: The queens. The film begins with the end of one queen's reign, and ends with the beginning of another's.
Less noticeable example. The last word Kida speaks before she is consumed by the crystal is Mahter, or mother. The first word she says when she leaves the crystal is Milo, so starting and ending the crystal scene is m.
Bowties Are Cool: Milo wears one in the beginning of the film. Of course, they are fairly appropriate for the time period.
Milo: Will you look at the size of this? It's gotta be half a mile high, at least. It must have taken hundred — no, thousands of years to carve this thing. [Vinny blows it up so it falls down over a chasm] Vinny: Hey, look, I made a bridge. It only took me, like, what? 10 seconds? 11, tops.
This is made even more hilarious when taking into account that that particular scene is 10-11 seconds, depending on how you cut it.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Most of Rourke's team are highly competent in their respective fields but are very odd individuals otherwise.
Dr. Sweet's saw. Later used to cut down the trapped Kida. Or at least tries:
Audrey:(trying and failing to cut the chain) "I thought you said this thing could cut through a femur in 28 seconds!" Sweet: Less talk, more saw!
Helga carries Chekhov's Flare Gun tucked into her trousers.
Milo plays with a small part of the submarine model, which turns out to be the large inflatable balloon that Rourke and Helga try to take to the top of the volcanic chimney to escape.
Sweet: Hold on. Back Up. Are you saying this volcano can blow at anytime? Mole: No, no, no, no. That would take an explosive force of great magnitude.note Like the burning wreckage of a giant balloon crashing down on it, say.
The Guardians of Atlantis - the shield golems, activated by the Heart of Atlantis, which protect the center of the city from the tsunami at the beginning and from the exploding volcano at the end.
Communications Officer: Mrs. Packard, although she spends most of the time chatting up her friend over the phone (which, unless she's also in the submarine, would be quite a feat using 1914 technology).
Crazy-Prepared: Rourke. Audrey's main advice to Milo when they are going against him is that he is "never surprised." Case in point - he brings anti-aircraft guns and an army of biplanes with him on an underground/underwater mission, despite having no reason to think he was going to be attacked by flying machines.
What makes it even crazier is the fact they lost 90% of their equipment prior to that point.
At least some of the credit should go to Mr. Whitmore, who had the expedition supplied with said equipment in the first place.
Creator Thumbprint: Mike Mignola was the production designer for the film and boy, does it show. Especially one scene during a travel montage where a shot combines both what Milo sees in the Shepherd's Journal with the route the crew follows, complete with Mike's signature use of black.
Disney Villain Death: Subverted. Helga survives the fall, but it's not likely she survived having a flaming zepplin crashing down on her.
Distant Prologue: The film opens with the destruction of Atlantis several thousand years ago as it is submerged beneath the ocean. Originally there was a different Distant Prologue intended for the opening, focusing on a viking ship that was trying to find the city, but the producers decided for a more action-pacled opening
Dwindling Party: The encounter with the Leviathan kills most of the crew of the Ulysses; each step of their journey to Atlantis further thins their party until few more then the main characters are left.
Dying Race: The Atlanteans They started to redevelop their society at the end of the first movie.
Easter Egg: In the shot of the Ulysses descending into the ocean, a crewman can be seen grinning and waving at the camera almost immediately after Milo goes off frame (You'll need to use freeze-frame to see him).
Evil All Along: Rourke. According to Sweet, "He's been after that crystal since Iceland."
Evil Plan: Rourke makes the journey to steal the crystal and kill anyone in his way. The final stage of this plan is what Milo fights against.
Executive Meddling: The film was originally intended to be a creature feature adventure film. Then the Disney execs decided that they needed to get to Atlantis quicker, and so much potential was wasted.
Family-Unfriendly Death: Rourke is turned to crystal and shattered to pieces by propeller blades. Although some might overlook this compared to how graphic it would have been if he hadn't been turned to crystal.
Fauxshadowing: After Mole comments on how the dormant volcano will only erupt in reaction to an explosion of great magnitude, everyone stares at Vinny, who is tinkering with a time bomb. When the volcano does erupt, however, Vinny has nothing to do with it; in fact, he lampshades this.
When Whitmore shows off the scale models of the vehicles to be used in the expedition, Milo is seen fiddling with the Hot Air Balloon Model. Milo later has his climactic battle with Rourke on the real thing.
As mentioned in the DVD commentary, when Whitmore shows the files of the crew, Rourke's photo is partially covered-up. All the good guys' photos are fully uncovered.
Again with Rourke: at the beginning when they're getting on the boat, Rourke says the trip "will enrich us all". Later, he is shown to definitely care more about money than ethics.
Freudian Slip: "I know how to swim pretty girl — good! Pretty good, I swim pretty good."
Golem: The Guardians of Atlantis; unlike the Leviathan, they serve a defensive purpose, generating a deflector shield to protect the center of Atlantis, both from the cataclysm at the beginning and the exploding volcano at the end.
Heel Face Door Slam: Helga shows some remorse when she discovers that they will be stealing from living people and not a long-dead civilization, but she goes along with Rourke's plan...at least until he turns on her. It's not clear if this would have been enough to make her side with Milo, though, since she doesn't survive the final battle.
Ironic Echo: When the crew sets up camp for the night and talking about their lives, all of them except Milo say that they're here pretty much because they're getting paid. Later, when they're loading the Crystal-possessed Kida up for the trip back to the volcano, Milo reminds them of their plans and how easy they'll be now, but they have wiped out the Atlanteans in the process, ending with-
Milo:But that's what it's all about, right? Money.
Irony: Disney was expecting this film to be their big 2D hit for 2001, but the film performed under expectations, causing Disney's smaller 2D movie of the year, Recess: School's Out, to be a bigger successnote Atlantis made more money, but because Recess: School's Out was made on a lower budget, the box office returns were more successful. In Finland, the VHS and DVD of Atlantis contained the Recess premiere episode ("The Break In/The New Kid") as a bonus.
Jerkass Gods: Kida states that the Atlanteans were banished underwater because their gods grew jealous of Atlantis's wealth and power. The real reason the city sank, however, is because Kida's father attempted to use the Heart of Atlantis as a weapon against enemy nations. The Heart, being sentient, did NOT take it well.
Kaiju: The Leviathan, the Kraken, Ymir and Surt all count.
Karma Houdini: All of the specialists who took part in Rourke's get-rich plan that ends up with the king of Atlantis dead, all so they can steal Atlants's treasure, are Easily Forgiven (and very richly rewarded) for having a last minute twinge of conscience.
To be fair, though, they initially thought they were just going to be doing some elaborate grave-robbing from a long-dead civilization. Murder wasn't on their to-do list.
Kick the Dog: When Rourke has gotten the crystal, removed Atlantean opposition and is ready to leave the city he turns and knocks Milo down just for the hell of it. And THEN he crushes Milo's picture of Thaddeus under his heel.
Packard wears a Brodie Helmet as part of her uniform.
Of course, there is Moliere's leather cap.
Audrey also wears one as well.
Kida's tiara at the end of the film.
Cookie's bowler hat.
There's also the helmet Milo inherited from his grandfather. He never grew into it and it covers his eyes, but he apparently likes to put it on anyway. He even keeps it in a nice little case.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Milo realizes towards the end of the film that a lot of the problems, maybe even all the problems, are at least tangentially his fault.
Milo: Oh, my decision? Well, I think we've seen how effective my decisions have been. Let's recap: I led a band of plundering vandals to the greatest archeological find in recorded history, thus enabling the kidnap and/or murder of the royal family! Not to mention personally delivering the most powerful force known to man to the hands of a mercenary nutcase, who's probably going to sell it to the Kaiser! *pause* Have I left anything out? Sweet: Well, you did set the camp on fire and drop us down that big hole.
Non-Human Sidekick: Averted, but Mole is called an animal and a pet which Milo replies as, "Close enough."
Non-Lethal Warfare: So averted. The Leviathan kills well over a hundred people during its attack (visibly crushing their mini-subs in its claws) and the final battle features plenty of Mooks being blown up.
Nonsense Classification: Cookie has his own take on the four basic food groups: beans, bacon, whiskey and lard. A deleted scene has him name the only three spices he uses: salt, salt, and sodium chloride.
Noodle Incident: Mole's background. Sweet is sorry he ever heard it from Audrey, and forbids her to tell Milo.
Omniglot: The Atlanteans are implied to be fluent in every single language spoken in the world in addition to their own language. When the expedition first enters Atlantis Milo and Kida converse in several different languages (including the Atlantean language, Latin, Hebrew and French) before settling on English for the rest of the film.
Plot-Based Photograph Obfuscation: When Whitmore is showing Milo the files of each of the crew members, Rourke has his face partially obscured while everyone else's is not, hinting that he turns out to be the Big Bad.
Politically Correct History: An ethnically diverse crew of explorers... in 1914! Justified in that the core were mercenaries - which put petty little things like ethnicity aside in the Search for More Money - and the crew was assembled by Whitmore, who was a Crazy Awesome certifiable nutcase.
A Mol(e) is also a unit of measurement in Chemistry, and Mole is seen speaking in scientific terms for chemistry on several occasions (about dirt, obviously).
The communications officer is Ms. Packard. Packard Bell was a radio manufacturer back around the time the movie took place.
And of course, the cook is named Cookie.
Reading Is Cool Aesop: Kida struggles to explain to Milo why their culture is rotting from within. Then it becomes apparent. Their own writing has become lost knowledge.
Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Averted with Milo, who frequently stutters, repeats himself, or stumbles over words. Played straight with most other characters.
Really 700 Years Old: The Atlanteans are positively ancient due to the restorative powers of the Heart of Atlantis. Kida herself is over 8,800 years old and still appears in her early 20's.
Recycled: The Series: A cartoon series called Team Atlantis was planned, but never came to fruition; the Direct-to-Video "sequel" is really just a few episodes of it strung together. Amongst the ideas proposed for this series was a crossover with Gargoyles, which is broadly considered a canonical part of Gargoyles according to Word of God.
Red Shirt Army: The submarine crews just keeps dying and dying. Between drowning, blowing up, rampant wildfires, falling down a crevice, getting shot and getting buried in molten lava only the main cast of seven survives the voyage. In total, 193 of the original 200 crew members died on the mission, which is quite a whopping number for a Disney movie.
Rourke: (talking to only a few dozen people) Seven hours ago we started this expedition with two hundred of the finest men and women I have ever known. We are all that's left.
The Reveal: Rourke is the villain. At first, everyone except Milo has no problem following his orders, which is kind of shocking for a Disney movie.
Secret Test of Character: When Mr. Whitmore first gives Milo the Shepherd's Journal, he makes several doubtful comments as to its authenticity and reliability, as well as to the futility of any mission to find Atlantis. When Milo explains that he would know if it was a fake and that he would rent a rowboat himself if that was what it took to get an expedition going, Whitmore explains that that was exactly what he wanted to hear, and then offers Milo a place on the multi-million dollar expedition he had already been planning.
See Water: Milo can read Atlantean glyphs underwater, while wearing glasses.
Serrated Blade of Pain: The team's medic is quite fond of a large medical saw of his. Later said saw is used in the climax.
Sexophone: When we first meet Helga in Milo's apartment.
Sherlock Scan: Moliere discerns pretty much everything about Milo simply by examining a piece of dirt under his fingernails.
Shoot the Dog: Blink and you'll miss it, when the Sub is filling up with water, Audrey prevents the leakage from getting out of hand and drowning more people by sealing off the damaged section, with at least one engineer still inside.
Stupid Evil: as pointed out by Doug Walker, Rourke didn't need to steal the Atlanteans' source to become rich; discovering a Lost Civilization alone would have made him rich anyway. In fact, the story ends with most of the cast coming back home and becoming rich thanks to the Atlantean "modest" reward; So Rourke was clearly an asshole just for the sake of it in the end.
Mole, sort of. Even lampshaded by Kida as she tries to make sense of the roles of the explorers:
...and the little digging animal called Mole; he's your pet?
Obby in the sequel.
Team Mom: Joshua Sweet takes up this role a lot of the time - he's the wisest and most compassionate member of the expedition by far( he is the first of the team to perform a Heel-Face Turn when Rourke harms the King), and can be often found taking care of the rest. His name is very well chosen.
Wave Motion Gun: The Leviathan is armed with one, as the crew of the Ulysses quickly (and tragically) find out. The Atlantean personal flyers have a miniature version of it, which prove quite useful in the final battle with Rourke.
Weather Dissonance: During the journey to Atlantis, there is a point where it is snowing and everything is covered in ice... underground.
Who's on First?: Kida gets a bit confused by some of the team having names that are also English words.
Kida: Tell me more about your companions. Your physician, he is called Cookie? Milo: No, that's Sweet. Kida: What is? Milo: The doctor. He's Sweet. Kida: Oh, he is kindly. Milo: No, no, no, that- that's his name. Kida: His name is Kindly? Milo: No, Sweet. Well, I mean, he's kindly, too. Kida: So all of your doctors are sweet and kindly? Milo: No. Well, I-I'm sure some are. Ours is, but that's not a requirement. You're missing the point. Kida: You are confusing me. (Later...) Kida: Cookies are sweet but yours is not, Sweet is kindly but that is not his name, Audrey is sweet but she is not your doctor... and the little burrowing animal called Mole...he is your pet? Milo:Close enough.
World War I: The film takes place in 1914, right on the cusp of the first World War, and Milo fears that Rourke will probably try to sell the Heart of Atlantis to the Kaiser.