There are quite a few overlooked Disney movies—The Black Cauldron, Oliver and Company, etc. I can understand why some of these movies are less popular than Beauty and the Beast or Tangled, but sometimes I have no clue why these movies aren’t more appreciated. Maybe they stray too much from the traditional Disney story formula, or maybe the timing of the release was off, the main character was not a princess, or there were no catchy songs like “Let It Go”. Still, these Disney movies deserve as much love and accolades as Frozen, maybe even more. I’m thinking of one movie in particular right now, Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
There are so many things I love about this movie. I love the main character, even though he is not a princess. (I have noticed that Disney movies with male primary protagonists are not as successful as movies with female leads, even when there are main characters in every gender.) Milo is not a traditional hero. He’s a bit of a geek, ok, a total nerd. He’s scrawny and awkward, but passionate and intelligent. And his dreams are as big as Ariel’s or Belle’s. He wants to find the lost kingdom of Atlantis, and sets out to do so with the greatest rag tag team ever.
In young adult fiction there are two hot topics right now—the representation of female characters and PoC (people of color, or minorities, or just general diversity) characters. This issue isn’t limited to young adult fiction—it’s relevant to every kind of art and media forum—but it’s trending in YA fiction. Atlantis, however, is a perfect example of female and PoC characters done right.
There’s plenty of diversity. Obviously Kida, the princess of Atlantis, is her own ethnicity. But Milo’s crew contains a Hispanic female mechanic, a French geologist, an Italian demolitions expert, an African American doctor, a redneck cook, and one hardcore old lady. When it’s listed out, this may look like an affirmative action crew, but it is far from it. Each of these characters has a unique personality not confined to the stereotypes of their race. Except maybe Cookie, the redneck cook, but that’s kind of the point with his character. These are characters whose races are a part of them, but do not define who they are. They are defined by their hard work and dedication, their intelligence and skills, and above all their integrity. These are the kind of diverse characters books and movies need right now.
The female characters also refuse to conform to stereotypes. They are not damsels in distress, but they are also not masculinized versions of themselves. They aren’t perfect—they have faults just like the male characters—but they are all strong. Helga Sinclair can kick every man on that crew’s butt, but she isn’t just a tomboy or a girl out to prove that she can fight as well as the boys. She has real character motivations, and a complicated conscience. Audrey Ramirez, the mechanic, is just as strong as Helga. She stands up for herself, does a “man’s” job, but never loses sight of the fact that she is a girl. I think that’s why I love these female characters. They don’t deny the fact that they are girls, they don’t try to cover it up and be like the boys. They know they don’t have to be boys to be strong. They’re women, and they’re strong as hell.
And then there’s Kida. She’s a warrior and a princess. She looks after her people and defends them, but her greatest act is not one of battle. Rather, she loves her people so much that she is willing to sacrifice herself to save them, and that is the real strength of the story. The good guys come from all kinds of backgrounds, but they are united by their determination to do what is right. They all have different strengths and weaknesses—which makes them a great team—but they are all strong in that they are willing to sacrifice themselves to save each other. And that’s a message worth watching.