I think there is no Disney film so underrated as Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001). Released in the first few years after the Disney Renaissance (which most will say concluded with Tarzan in 1999), Atlantis featured an all-star voice cast and was also the first animated Disney film with no songs whatsoever. Despite gorgeous animation and a sublime musical score (more on that in a minute), the film under-performed at the box office, causing a planned animated series to be scrapped (it was reworked as Atlantis II: Milo’s Return), an Atlantis-themed ride at Disney World to be cancelled and furthermore, it led to Princess Kida NOT being recognized as an official “Disney Princess” (seriously, she has never appeared at the theme parks, any of them). (And on a further note, remember how everyone says Elsa from Frozen was the first Disney Princess to become a Queen onscreen? I hate to be the one to burst that bubble, but that honor actually belongs to Kida, who is QUEEN as the film ends!!) But I digress…
The music, as I said, is exceptional and was composed by James Newton Howard (he’s composed for many films, including the remake of King Kong in 2005).
“The Crystal Chamber” takes place about 2/3 of the way through the film and begins when bad guy Roarke (James Gardner) discovers that the powerful “Heart of Atlantis” crystal has literally been underneath their feet the entire time. But as hero Milo (Michael J. Fox) has been trying to tell everyone, the Crystal is not some giant diamond, it’s alive, it feels and it currently knows that it is in danger so it moves into “protection mode” by seeking out the closest person of royal blood, in this case: Princess Kida.
The music begins to move forward in earnest when the Crystal (speaking through Kida) reassures Milo that everything is going to be okay.
Howard has constructed a slowly building melody that begins with a single voice and builds to a huge orchestral moment as Kida (Cree Summer) begins walking on top of the bottomless lake to immediately below where the Crystal is hovering. A single beam of light converges on the princess and as it completely disappears the music vanishes for a moment. And then…Kida rises!!! And the music matches her ascent, this beautiful hovering melody that lifts you up in the air along with her!
The best part though, comes when Kida is joined with the Crystal. As the orbiting stones move around them, the music reflects this sense of motion. Listen to the same moment in the soundtrack version of this scene and you’ll hear what I’m talking about: the music “moves” closer and then farther away, giving the impression of movement.
As the scene ends, the music slowly winds down, allowing the audience to admire the Kida-Crystal that has now formed (I love the animation for that).
I remember seeing this in the theaters and being enraptured by this scene. This is the epitome of a good movie moment, the sound and visuals just work together to pull you in to the story. If you haven’t seen this movie, find a copy and don’t let it go, because it is worth it. (I secretly hope that Disney will include this in the list of live-action remakes so the story can FINALLY get the attention it deserves).
*poster image is the property of Walt Disney Studios
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