In the deep realm of the Disney era that most people forgot, rests a groundbreaking, diverse, wonderful masterpiece of a film called Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The film is significant for a number of reasons: it’s the first ever sci-fi film in the canon of Disney animations, it features the voice talents of household names such as Michael J. Fox and Leonard Nimoy, it is one of the first Disney films to prefer CGI over hand-dawn animation, and it contains most of what Disney fans, and movie fans in general, are rallying for these days.
The film follows Milo Thatch, voiced by Fox, as he seeks to discover the lost city of Atlantis. Despite many historians and his colleagues at the Smithsonian scoffing at his every attempt, he is eventually given a team to go on an expedition. Once they reach Atlantis however, it is not the city of ruins they expect, in fact, it is full to the brim with culture and in need of help to get it back on its feet.
The thing that makes this film so beautifully diverse, is its characters. Despite the fact that the story is set in 1914, the cast are in no way old-fashioned; they embody the multicultural multifaceted community we see around us today. You have a big black man, who is known for being sweet and gentle, you have a 17 year old Latin American girl who is a mechanic, a demolitions expert who dreams of being a florist. Even the protagonist, despite being a white male, isn’t a typical Disney hero. He’s awkward and nerdy and academic, and also is considerate towards other cultures – when they arrive in Atlantis, he immediately starts trying to communicate in Atlantean, whereas the others are all quick to continue using English. In all of these characters you see many different sides of their personality, each are fully fleshed out and are complex human beings with dreams, desires, and the capability for growth in understanding and morality.
As well as this, its themes of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism are daring for a kid’s film, and so important. Milo is disgusted at the thought of them ripping apart the beautiful culture of Atlantis for profit back home. As he highlights the humanity of the people there, and reminds the others of what they would be taking away from people, he manages to convince them to do the right thing. These elements, as well as the adventure fantasy themes foreground the film, which is unusual for a Disney film. Although it does features hint of a romance brewing between Milo and Kida (yay to interracial relationships too!!), this is in no way the focus of the movie. This is itself is something that Disney fans often ask for more of – the majority of the characters are single, and that’s never portrayed as a bad thing, this also allows for open theorising about characters’ sexualities, as there isn’t a canonical answer.
All in all, this film is a diamond in the rough, a well-thought out adventure sci-fi with lovable characters of various races and walks of life, that highlights the fight between culture and capitalism.