Netflix Daily Pick: Finding Treasure in ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’ (2001)

This underrated Disney adventure needs to be in your queue.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a 2001 science fiction animated film about a young adventurer who joins an intrepid group of explorers to find the mysterious lost continent of Atlantis.

Disney mostly works in a very controlled comfort zone, tweaking a formula that has been tried and tested for decades and earned them a reputation that can sometimes be a bit of burden. We as audiences expect a certain kind of story, and to pull the rug out from under us and give us something different, well, that just won’t do. We want sweet fairy tales not some wild adventure tale at the bottom of the sea (unless there is a mermaid).

Okay, so now let’s chuck all that out the window and say, hey, you know what Disney, sometimes we like surprises … and that’s exactly what Atlantis: The Lost Empire is, a genuinely fun and decidedly different offering from the notoriously princess-happy studio. So why watch this one? What so great about it? This:

THE STORY: Admittedly, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is often a little hard to follow, but that actually lends it a lot of depth. Set in 1914, it follows a cartographer (how’s that for a hero) named  Milo James Thatch, voiced with tons of spunk by Michael J. Fox. Working at the Smithsonian Institute, he comes upon an old document that he thinks is the Shepherd’s Journal, an ancient manuscript that contains directions to the lost island. But when he is declined the chance to seek it out, a mysterious woman named Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian) introduces him to eccentric millionaire Milo to Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney) who hires Milo to take him to the legendary location. Naturally, all kinds of adventures follow and a spectacularly-animated story unfolds.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: The Lost Empire, 2001 © Disney

WHY TO WATCH: This is a great looking movie, the style and colors just jaw-dropping, holding up even today. The characters are the best though, both very well drawn and voice acted, with some great talent in the cast, including the aforementioned and others such as James Garner, Leonard Nimoy, and David Ogden Stiers, though a special nod goes to Cree Summer who voices Princess (*sight*) Kida. Great stuff. 

Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: The Lost Empire, 2001 © Disney

There is a great sense of adventure and beautiful art style that really capture the lore and fantasy. Using a lot more CGI than in previous Disney films, it’s not overly-done and cheep, but rather lush and vibrant. A special language was developed (by acclaimed linguist Marc Okrand, who developed the Klingon language for Star Trek) for the people of Atlantis and it really lends a sense of authenticity, not sounding like gibberish. Put that all together with a gorgeous score from none other than James Newton Howard and this an adventure worth taking, as clicheé as that sounds. With children or not, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a must to see and it’s streaming on Netflix right now.