Today, I’m taking on another Disney classic, namely Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Somehow I missed this one growing up, but I discovered it a year or two ago and thought to myself, This feels like an Indiana Jones adventure for kids. As I’ve thought about it, however, I have come to the realization that this statement is not quite accurate. Atlantis is not an Indiana Jones film; it’s Stargate from an alternate universe.
Think about it…
When Atlantis begins, Milo Thatch is trying to convince a group of scholars that Atlantis actually exists, just as Daniel Jackson attempts to convince a group of scholars that the ancient Egyptians did not build the pyramids in Stargate. In each case, the audience leaves, but an eccentric millionaire approaches our hero (Preston B. Whitmore for Milo and Catherine Langford for Jackson) with an offer to prove his theory. When the hero accepts, he is taken on a quest to some faraway place, whether another planet or a lost continent. He is accompanied by a small crew led by a military commander with a hidden agenda (Commander Lyle Rourke and Colonel Jack O’Neil). Upon arrival, the team meets and befriends the local civilization, and the hero gets particularly friendly with one woman in particular (Princess Kida or Sha’uri). Since he’s a linguist, he is able to read the native language and teaches the woman to read, thus stumbling onto a key fact from the civilization’s past. From there, the story diverges a bit depending on who the villain is and how the conflict is resolved, but you have to admit the similarities are uncanny.
So why am I not suggesting that Atlantis is ripping off Stargate? Because these are sci-fi movies; one of them takes place on another planet with a portal through space, and the other takes place on a continent under the sea kept dry, alive, and eternally young by a crystal generator. So why aren’t alternate realities a possibility?
For those of you who don’t know about the multiverse theory (or have never played Bioshock Infinite), the basic concept is that there is an infinite number of universes in existence, each one different from the other, all comprising everything that is and all the possibilities that could be. Two universes might look much the same, while others look drastically different, all depending on the choices made or the accidents that happen or don’t happen. You might exist in a million different worlds, only in another job or dating someone else or living in another country. You might even of a different gender. If it’s a possible outcome, it exists in some parallel universe.
Now let’s go ahead and admit that Milo and Jackson are the same person. They’re both socially awkward linguists with crazy theories who encounter similar circumstances and date similar women. They even look exactly alike, especially with the glasses to the hairstyle.
So if Milo/Jackson is one man in two realities, the differences between the two stories become more important than the similarities. What choices or circumstances cause the two to diverge? One is interested in Egypt, while the other studies Atlantis. Milo’s interest in the lost continent stemmed from his grandfather’s obsession. But perhaps Jackson’s grandfather chose to study Egyptology instead, or maybe the old man died before Jackson ever knew him. But what about Rourke/O’Neil? One is a villain, while the other is a grieving hero. But we don’t know what O’Neil was like before his son died. Perhaps this one accident was the only thing keeping him from becoming the profit-hungry mercenary Rourke was. Losing his son made him realize he had nothing worth living for, and through the adventure through the Stargate, he finds what he’s missing and becomes a better person for it. And maybe a single chromosome (and a few loose wires) is all that separates Preston from Catherine.
So the same story is lived out in two very different worlds. Call one a rip-off of the other if you want, but I see no reason they can’t both exist.