Atlantis: The Lost Empire: the Disney Energy Narrative

In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Disney explores the personal gain energy narrative. The story is set in 1914 either on the eve of World War I or at it’s beginning. There is political unrest in Europe and the desire for an energy source that will help sustain a war, or a weapon that will help win one.

The main character, archaeologist, Milo proposes an expedition to search for the lost city-state of Atlantis after he concludes from researching ancient texts from a variety of cultures that claims that Atlantis has power source that allows them to have electricity and the power of flight:

“Numerous ancient cultures all over the globe agree that Atlantis possessed a power source of some kind, more powerful than steam—than…than coal, more powerful than our modern internal combustion engines. Gentlemen, I propose that we find Atlantis, find that power source and bring it back to the surface.” (3:20)

Milo’s intentions are seemingly pure; he wants to find an alternative energy source to bring sustainable energy to as many people as possible. He believes that recovering Atlantis’s power source, which has been lost to the world, might provide this opportunity. After finding Atlantis Milo realizes that the power source exists in the form of a giant crystal that provides a life force for the Atlanteans, which allows them to have significantly longer life-spans than normal humans.

Milo’s crew, however, is not interested in harnessing the Atlantean crystal for the good of the world or the protection of the Atlantean people. It is unclear whether Rourke wishes to obtain the crystal due to his belief that the beauty of the crystal will translate to a large monetary value or if he too sees the crystal as a power source and wishes to sell it as such. One thing is clear, the Atlantean need for the crystal does not convince him to abandon his plan to sell it.

As the crew enters Atlantis he speaks to his second in command, Helga, about how the existence of the Atlanteans will not interrupt their plans:

Helga: “Commander there weren’t supposed to be people down here, this changes everything.”

Rourke: “This changes nothing.” (43:30)

Once the crew figures out where they can find the crystal Milo warns that they do not understand the crystal’s power and pleads with the crew to change their minds to which Helga responds by saying the crystal’s power will make it all the more valuable:

Milo: “You don’t have the slightest idea what this power is capable of”

Helga: “True, but I can think of a few countries who’d pay anything to find out.” (1:01:15)

As the crew prepares to leave with the crystal (and Kida with it), Milo makes one final plea to change their minds uttering the words: “You’re wiping out an entire civilization but hey, you’ll be rich” (1:06:33). Milo is able to inspire the sympathy of the entire crew except for Rourke and Helga who then leave with the crystal.

As with all Disney movies, Atlantis has a happy ending. Milo is able to out-maneuver Rourke and return to Atlantis with Kida and the crystal and the entire civilization is saved. The rest of the crew return to the surface and agree to never speak of what they found on their expedition to prevent another Rourke from going after the crystal.

Atlantis shows a force (albeit not necessarily a stronger force but one more ruthless) attempting to the steal the energy resource and therefore life force of civilization. In addition, it is clear that the absence of the Atlantean crystal also negatively impacts their environment when the film shows the water stop flowing as the crystal is taken out of the city. All Rourke cares about is making a profit, similar to companies that harvest fossil fuels with little regard to the communities and environments they unsettle as a result. While, Atlantis has a positive ending it is not a positive energy narrative. This children’s film is an example of the ruthlessness that can be the result of the value of energy.

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Writer activism through the study of energy narratives

I was inspired to create this blog by reading Rob Nixon’s definition of a “writer activist” in his book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Writer activists are “combative writers who have deployed their imaginative agility and worldly ardor to help amplify the media-marginalized causes of the environmentally dispossessed” (Nixon 5). Nixon divides the writers he refers to as writer activists into three categories: “some have testified in relative isolation, some have helped instigate movements for environmental justice, and yet others, in aligning themselves with pre-existing movements, have given imaginative definition to the issues at stake while enhancing the public visibility of the cause” (5-6). It is the goal with the creation of this website to be able to place myself in that third category and put my knowledge and passion to good use.

While, Nixon focuses on writer activism in both fiction and non-fiction, characterizing the latter as being underrated, I believe fiction to be a powerful rhetorical tool especially when discussing topics that are highly politicized. The United States is split by party lines; as a result, there is quite a lot of political debate and every issue under the sun. I know that many of my conservative friends would often become defensive about topics such as climate change, sustainability and fossil fuels, even though I’m certain that you will never catch a conservative saying “burn, baby, burn” when discussing the environment. Fundamentally, we all have the same idea about the planet: a healthy planet leads to a healthier society, so why aren’t we working together to achieve this goal? BECAUSE the issue is too highly politicized. Conservatives and liberals alike often feel that journalistic and scientific reports have some sort of political or social bias. However, fictional accounts about the very same issues are not met with the same sort of scrutiny and often allow a person to experience a viewpoint different from their own in a non-threatening way.

While the goal of this blog is to reach out to the everyday person, I am not making the argument that sustainability and environmental responsibility are personal, private issues. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bother with reducing the amount of energy you use or stop recycling but ultimately we need to reform on a global scale to curb climate change and to stop energy industry abuses. However, as I mentioned before, our world leaders tend to only focus on these reforms when all other major political concerns have been satiated for the time being.

Therefore, we the people of the Internet, need to have the energy discussion so that politicians can take a page from our e-book and get cracking.