Tag Archives: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

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.

The most notable members include:

  • 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 🙂

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See also:

James Newton Howard talks Dinosaur (2000)

James Newton Howard talks Signs (2002)

James Newton Howard talks The Village (2004)

James Newton Howard scoring King Kong (2005)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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Atlantis: The Lost Empire “The Crystal Chamber” (2001)

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!

Atlantis: The Crystal Chamber Soundtrack Version (2001)

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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See also:

James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)