As the DVD editor for Hollywood Jesus, I’ve watched my fair share of animated movies that I missed when they first released. Some were good, some were bad, and some were “why did they make this movie?” But occasionally, one comes along that makes me sorry I missed it the first time around. Such is the case with Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which is now released in high definition with its sequel (Milo’s Return) in two-movie combo pack from Walt Disney.
Atlantis tells the story of the mythic Atlantis, which may or may have existed, but which has been notoriously submerged for thousands of years per legend. Why it disappeared and where exactly it is are the stuff of mystery. But one lone linguist, Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), presses on toward the goal of discovery, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. This familial quest to discover something lost is laughed at and mocked by Thatch’s supervisors, but he’s offered a no-holds-barred quest by a friend of his grandfather’s, and he undertakes a serious, Jules Verne-like mission to the bottom of the sea.
Animated with the style of Hellboy’s Mike Mignola, this is a stunning story painted in visuals that captivate. The characterizations of Thatch and the crew commanded by Lyle Tiberius Rourke (James Garner) allows us to see a humanized cartoon ensemble; the underwater scenes make us feel like there are legitimate movements beneath the sea. But the most stunning work is left to the world of Kida (Cree Summer), the “face” of the remaining Atlantean race who Thatch will lead this expedition to reasonably quickly. This world is stunning, technologically and spiritually; we’re captivated by what is, the story of their society’s survival, and what could be, if the new world of Thatch and the old world of Kida would join forces.
The film is part adventure (Indiana Jones), part love story (The New World). Thatch’s belief in something that no one else would believe in or see is rewarded by the discovery of the Atlantean populations, but it’s stretched by his awareness of Kida. Her beauty, soul, and energy sucks him in and makes him bolder, even while others seek to capture that spirit of the Atlanteans for themselves. And that’s where the “adult” thinking comes into play.
Sure, we have a story of redemption that is about Thatch fulfilling his grandfather’s vision. But we’re also dealing with Rourke et al.’s desire to control the “advanced technology” of the Atlanteans, to make it something that could be used, manipulated for money or power. They want to control it, in much the same way that led to the destruction of Atlantis itself; they see beauty, knowledge, energy, and want it all for their own. That in itself is the story of greed, of power, of innate-to-actualized violence; wanting to control what others have or what seems to be for the good of all, dominating it just for oneself.
Ultimately, when we recognize that our lives, our resources, our grace is not just for us, but is for the community, for everyone in fact, we are released from a narrow way of looking at life into something that is much bolder, in higher definition. We recognize that we answer to a greater need, a greater hope, as both Thatch and Kida do, and our willingness to lay ourselves down for the good of the whole increases exponentially. Recognizing that life isn’t about us is one of the greatest steps toward becoming who God wants us to be, and it allows us to recognize that we are part of a much greater plan than we ever realized before.
Fans of the film will enjoy the special features that take us through some history (did Atlantis REALLY exist?) and see how the special Atlantean language was created, and ties to what we know today. The sequel, Milo’s Return, finds our two heroes exploring the surface world together, and continues one of the threads previously left alone (for the most part) about whether or not the technology that Atlantis had made proficient in was supposed to be used by the surface dwellers. Again, the question asks: who is this life for? And who is my neighbor?