I can’t say it often enough: Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of the most underrated films that Disney has ever made. Seriously, the animation is beautiful, the story is great, and the MUSIC is one of the best parts! (See Atlantis: The Lost Empire “The Crystal Chamber” for more of my thoughts on this score)
If you haven’t seen the film, the story follows a young cartographer and linguist named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), who is determined to prove the lost city of Atlantis (whose destruction we witness in the beginning of the film) exists and thereby clear his grandfather’s name (his late grandfather was a famous explorer who lost his reputation when he insisted that Atlantis was real). According to Thatch’s research, the key to discovering the location of the sunken city can be found in a mysterious artifact known as The Shepherd’s Journal. But as it turns out, his grandfather had already found the Journal in a previous expedition and left it to his friend, eccentric millionaire Preston B. Whitmore, to be held in his possession until Milo was “ready” to find Atlantis himself. Whitmore wants to help Milo because of a bet he made with his grandfather over whether or not Atlantis existed. Since Milo’s grandfather found the Journal, Whitmore agreed to finance any future expedition with the best materials and the best crew. To that end, Milo is introduced to mostly the same crew that helped Milo’s grandfather find the Journal in Iceland.
- Tiberius Roarke: Commander and secretly a snake in the grass who wants to rob Atlantis of its treasures for huge profits
- Helga Sinclair: Roarke’s lieutenant (and possibly some-time lover?) who is also in this for the profits (though she does express brief reservations when they discover Atlantis is still inhabited)
- Vinny Santorini: a demolitions expert obsessed with making things go BOOM! Previously worked in a flower shop (though he’d prefer you didn’t know that)
- Gaeton Moliere (better known as “Mole”), a geologist with an unhealthy dirt obsession. A line in the direct-to-video sequel implies he was raised by naked mole rats.
- Dr. Joshua Strongbear: a doctor of African-American/Native American descent. He talks a lot but has a really good heart when push comes to shove.
- Audrey Ramirez: A teenage mechanic from Puerto Rico and the youngest member on the expedition. If it has an engine, she can make it run. Her sister is a famous boxer.
- “Cookie”: The expedition cook (though that term is used very loosely) who believes in HIS basic food groups: “beans, bacon, whiskey and lard.”
After numerous hurdles (including having their main ship blown to pieces by a mechanical Leviathan), the surviving crew arrive at Atlantis and are stunned to discover a living city inhabited by hundreds (if not more) of people. The surviving Atlanteans are still ruled by King Kashekim Nedakh (who was king when Atlantis sank under the sea) and his only daughter Kidagakash or “Kida” is heir to the throne. Roarke successfully bargains for the crew to stay the night in the city and Milo goes off to explore with Kida, who is fascinated to meet someone from the surface. Predictably, things go sour when it turns out that Roarke and the rest of the crew are actually mercenaries that have a taste for pillaging ancient treasures for profit. In this case, they’re after the semi-mystical “Heart of Atlantis,” the crystal that is currently keeping the city and its inhabitants alive. Kida is absorbed into the Crystal after Roarke deduces its location and Milo gives chase to bring her back before the entire city dies. After a lengthy battle (in which Roarke, Helga and the rest of the crew who didn’t side with Milo are killed), Milo decides to stay in Atlantis with Kida while Audrey, Cookie, and the rest of our heroes return to the surface (with an Atlantean ship filled to the brim with treasure as their reward for doing the right thing).
This film was my first exposure to James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games series, Maleficent), and I will defend this score forever. That being said, I was beyond happy when I stumbled across this interview on YouTube where Howard talks about his work on this film. And as Howard puts it, there are really two films going on in this story: there’s the action/adventure of finding Atlantis, and once our hero Milo arrives, a totally new story begins (with a new score to match). To help distinguish Atlantis musically, Howard used a variety of Balinese instruments (which favor bells and gongs) to create a very unique sound.
I hope you enjoy listening to this interview with James Newton Howard! If you also enjoy this film, let me know what you like about it 🙂
If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of James Newton Howard, see here
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