It’s still hard to believe that Disney literally left one of its most distinguished properties dead in the water.
I am, of course referring to the equally ambitious and underrated Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Like almost every other animated film in the company’s catalog it may have received a sequel, but many involved with the film – including one of the directors – say that it wasn’t exactly the sequel the original deserved.
Co-director Kirk Wise was the first to get candid in an interview with Our friend Drew Taylor from Collider a few weeks ago. According to him, the supposed sequel, Atlantis: Milo’s Return, was just a compilation of produced episodes from a failed TV series that was supposed to serve as a followup to Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
In a more recent interview though with Gary Trousdale, Don Hahn, and John Sanford (who served as co-director, producer, and story supervisor on the original. respectively), it was further revealed just how excited the studio was for the potential franchise and how far into development they got on a sequel before the first film was ever released. For one, the next film had an actual working title: Let’s Get Milo. According to Sanford, this was because the film was going to involve some elaborate mission to save the protagonist after he got kidnapped by a villainous organization that planned on invading Atlantis.
The film would be set nearly 40 years after the original in the 1950s, and it was planned to have all of the main characters return too. Because of the Atlantean necklaces given to them at the end of the first film, they wouldn’t have aged a day either.
It was also revealed that Helga Sinclair, who played one of the antagonists in the original film, would return in a more cybernetically enhanced form (à la Darth Vader). Additionally, there was a plan to blow up the Leviathan, which acted as the lost empire’s guardian. The film would have actually opened with the its destruction, setting a much darker tone. “My vision was that we’d play a lot of the same beats, but we’d flip it on the head,” Sanford said, regarding the unproduced sequel.
The film’s crew, like the crew of the Ulysses, had such high hopes of turning the film into a memorable franchise. Disney was reportedly so excited about the first film that before its first release it even began development on tie-in theme park attractions too. But all of those plans sank after a lackluster opening weekend.
Nearly 20 years later though, and now those ideas seem within arm’s reach again partly due to the trending popularity of reboots and remakes. Just last month it was reported that a live-action remake is currently in development. Whether it makes its way on the big screen again, or even if it finds its way onto Disney+, there’s renewed hope that fans will finally get to explore the story and the subject matter’s mythology the way the original storytellers intended.