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.