But surely such a film could not truly exist?
All right, straight up, I'm biased as hell. I love this movie even for all its flaws and psychotic amounts of inaccurate, plot-holed "wait that doesn't make any sense!" going on. It was pretty much the first Steampunk movie I ever saw, it has Marty McFly as our nerdy hero and it was BAD-ASS. It was a Disney movie with guns and explosions and no one singing about believing in dreams. And also a giant electric death lobster. 12 year old me was in love.
And to make it that much better, Mike Mignola, the man behind the Hellboy graphic novel series, did many of the original sketches and designs for the movie, which I think really shows through in the final version. The story goes that he was contacted over the phone by a Disney representative who wanted to know if he was interested in the project. His reply: "How did you get my phone number?"
So anyway, Atlantis tells the story of the hopelessly dorky Milo Thatch, linguist extraordinaire and guy-in-charge-of-boiler-maintenance at the Smithsonian Museum in 1914. He was raised by his grandfather, an explorer who believed he could find Atlantis but just ended up dying discredited and sad. Milo is trying to follow in his footsteps, but his geekiness makes it difficult for him to secure funding.
But then a sexy blonde chick named Helga breaks into his apartment and takes him to Preston Whitmore, an eccentric old gent who knew Milo's grandad and funds the expedition to Atlantis with the coolest toys EVER.
Here Milo meets up with our wacky team: Dr. Sweet: a big friendly black guy who wears a doctor's coat but not necessarily a shirt underneath, Packard: a chain-smoking old lady who remains unflappable in the face of everything, Audrey: a Spanish teenage mechanic, Commander Rourke: the military dude in charge who totally doesn't scream "EVIL DUDE, SUP?", Moliere: a pervy Frenchman obsessed with dirt and tunnels and my personal favorite character, Vinny: explosives expert and best-lines-in-the-movie:
Thank you Disney, for creating a psychotic pyromaniac who apparently was recruited from a prison and making him a good guy. Awesome.
So the team starts heading to where Milo had figured Atlantis lies, only to suddenly be attacked and generally eviscerated by a creature known as The Leviathan aka Giant Electric Death Lobster.
"Of course little Timmy will be ok, honey. After all, what's the worst that could happen in a Disney movie?! ...Oh. Timmy, no, don't cry! That Death Lobster didn't blow up those sailors with lightning, it was just playing!"
The survivors still have to struggle through homicidal lightning bugs, bitter cold (wait, aren't they underground, what the hell?!) and Packard sleepwalking in the nude before finally making it to Atlantis and discovering that it still has Atlanteans!
But then Rourke and the gang reveal their true mercenary colors when they steal the life source powering Atlantis and it's up to Milo and the ones who've taken his side to save the day via kick-ass air battle on flying fish machine-bike-things. It's cooler than it sounds.
Now, there are issues with the movie, it has plot holes you could drive Steampunk submarine through and there just a lot of things throughout that will make you stop and go "...wait!"
From the minor:
to the much more pressing:
Um, movie, what the hell? How are there clouds? How is there a light source? Aren't they hundreds of miles underground? Where is that light coming from? How are there waterfalls? How are these plants growing here and WHY IS THERE A SKY?! Movie? Movie, wait!
But hey, question not the Disney film aimed at children. The fact is that this is an exciting, adventurous and decidedly awesome item in the Disney catalog of films. It lacks stupidly cheesy sidekicks, there's a real sense of danger and the good guys are allowed to fire guns and smoke and be slightly unhinged. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a fun, very different Disney film and is at least partly the cause of my love for Steampunk, giving it a solid three and a half catapults out of five. And while unfortunately they never really made another one like it, at least they didn't do something to screw it up.
This is Sugary Cynic, quitting school to hunt for Atlantis. Any eccentric billionaires wanna help me out? 'Night!
(The expedition realizes they are trapped in a volcanic shaft, and the top is sealed shut)
Moliere: "The magma has solidified in the bowels of the volcano, effectively blocking the exit"
Packard: "I got the same problem with sauerkraut"