Atlantis The Lost Empire, a lot more than meets the eye.
This was a movie I really enjoyed as a child. It wasn’t up there with the greats like Tangled or Mulan, but it was a different story that I remembered fondly.
That was until I recently rewatched it as an adult.
With both my common sense and critical thinking (hopefully) much more developed, it was a different experience.
Forget the beautifully drawn animation and the diverse range of characters. The overarching and glaringly painful theme of this movie is that of the white saviour.
It is simply the story of Milo Thatcher, a white man getting lost in other people’s business.
A white saviour plot is a common trope in media. Where the white main character is the only possible saviour for non-white characters. Said characters are almost always less developed.
The adventure begins
Milo Thatcher is a young, optimistic, and enthusiastic wannabe adventurer. The grandson of legendary explorer Thaddeus Thatch, Milo was raised on stories of wonder and discovery.
Milo knows that the lost city of Atlantis is real, and is one missing piece away from finding it.
Obsessed with the lost city, he’s shunned by museum colleagues and can’t afford an expedition. A mysterious woman takes him to an old friend of his grandfather’s who surprises him with the Shepherd’s journal (the key to finding Atlantis), a crew, and a submarine to find Atlantis.
On his way, Milo begins this life changing journey.
The problems also begin
See, the reason why Milo (who is pretty much a nobody lets be honest) is included in this trip, is because he is the only person who can read and understand the Ancient Atlantean language. He must translate the Shepherd’s journal for the map.
After a lengthy and very tense trek, the crew and Milo finally find Atlantis, the city lost underwater.
The city and its civilians had actually survived! Peacefully living in this hidden oasis for hundreds of years.
Yes, that’s right, the people themselves have lived hundreds of years underwater.
The magic that sunk the city and provided a safe haven also kept the Atlanteans alive.
Milo meets the Chief’s daughter Kidagakash Nedakh and quickly becomes enraptured. She is beautiful, intelligent, curious and fierce.
Milo the great literate one
While Milo is the only person who can speak to this civilisation, he learns they have lost the ability to read and write in their own language.
I guess I could understand if generations had born and then passed in this time, that maybe their written language could have slipped away?
But these people were a thriving and incredibly technologically advanced society. Everyone who had been a part of this world were still living in Atlantis now. Yet somehow every single one of them is now illiterate?
Now this is just incredibly lazy writing on Disney’s part, really pushing their ‘white man hero’ plot.
I mean, I guess he has to be established as a crucial member of the plot somehow, otherwise he’s just useless.
Now despite this fact, he can’t pronounce Kidagakash’s name. His best attempt is “Kira-ma-shnaga”. She is then nicknamed ‘Kida’ for the rest of the movie.
Really embarrassing that this is meant to be humorous when it is just straight up disrespectful. He can speak this language just as well as its people, yet still can’t pronounce Kida’s name.
Milo the great courageous one
Spoiler alert, the crew that Milo has teamed up with turn out to be bad guys. They want to steal the ancient magic crystal that sustains the entire civilisation.
Kida owns the crystal and it bonds to her, transforming her into a crystal statue. The baddies decide that this is good enough for them and they take her captive.
The Atlanteans gather together and watch their princess be taken away.
Milo, for some reason completely unknown to me, (oh wait it’s because he’s the white saviour), is the only person who stands up to the crew and tries to stop them from taking Kida.
Not the Chief, not one of the hundreds of Kida’s people, try to do anything.
They were set to sit back and watch her drive away. Along with the only source of magic that was keeping their city alive.
I don’t blame them for this, I blame Disney for writing it this way. As if they wouldn’t stand up for themselves or Kida.
Milo the great hero saves the day
During the climax of the film, Milo has inspired the Atlanteans and even some of the crew to turn against the baddies and fight back.
Kida had spent the earlier chapters being established as a well-developed, interesting and strong female character.
However, this was reduced to nothing more than a prize during these scenes. She loses all her independence and fire and becomes nothing more than a damsel in distress for Milo to save.
Milo does of course save her.
The baddies flee, their crew friends return to America and Milo stays to help restore Atlantis with his princess.
All in all, this movie is disappointing.
It had so much potential to be empowering, inspiring and pay respect to a native culture that it was borrowing from.
Instead, Disney wrote a story that only serves the white hero’s agenda and diminishes the strong character that is Kida, and the rest of her people.
Original photo by Hannah Flynn