Atlantis and the Role of Women in Disney Films
Animated Disney films have accompanied millions of children over several generations. It’s clear that some are much more popular than others. Perhaps one of the most forgotten Disney films is Atlantis: The Lost Empire. And yet Atlantis is an exceptional example of artistic skill and the plurality of its characters.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a 2001 film produced by Disney. It was created by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, who also made the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The film shows us an incredibly varied group of characters, of different nationalities and with different cultural backgrounds. The film was inspired by the stories of Jules Verne, particularly in Journey to the Center of the Earth. Atlantis, however, has a futuristic aesthetic and a steam punk style.
One of the main characters is Milo Thatch, who’s a linguist and historian. At the beginning of the expedition to look for the lost city of Atlantis, Milo meets his fellow adventurers. The leader is a strong and determined man, Commander Rourke, accompanied by the enigmatic Helga Sinclair. He also meets Vinny Santorini, an Italian demolition expert. There’s Mole Moliere, a French geologist, and Dr. Joshua Sweet, an African-American doctor. In addition to that, we have the young Audrey Ramírez, an adventurous mechanic, and the ship operator Wilhelmina Packard.
Atlantis, a movie full of adventure
The film begins with the collapse of the city of Atlantis, the cradle of other civilizations. In the opening scenes, we see how the people have chosen the queen of Atlantis as protector of the city.
Many centuries later, in 1914, we meet Milo Thatch, a young historian who’s passionate about his career and languages. We find out that an eccentric millionaire is funding an investigation to find the lost kingdom of Atlantis. This millionaire hires Milo to be his expert in history, myths, and hieroglyphic translation.
Soon after setting out to sea, the team encounters immense sea monsters that destroy their boats. However, the group of survivors manages to find an underwater cave and follow it underground through the ocean floor. After traveling for some time, the expedition finally finds the lost kingdom of Atlantis. Here we meet the warrior princess Kidagakash (Kida), who will later try to get Milo’s help to revive the magical heart of the city.
While Milo and Kida translate ancient inscriptions, Commander Rourke plots against the king of Atlantis. He assassinates him in order to steal the powerful crystal that keeps the city alive. Once he manages to steal it, he tries to escape from the city by returning through the caves.
However, the citizens of the city of Atlantis, led by Princess Kida, and accompanied by Milo’s group, fight against Commander Rourke and manage to defeat him. Rourke is shot dead by Helga Sinclair, whom he had betrayed.
Once they manage to return the crystal to the city, Atlantis regains its splendor. The people crown Kida Queen of Atlantis and Milo stays with her. The rest of the expedition decides to return to England with the immense fortunes granted to them by the people of Atlantis.
The role of women in Disney films
Atlantis is undoubtedly a movie that breaks barriers regarding Disney’s portrayal of women. Up to this moment, it was very rare to see strong independent women as main characters in Disney films.
The usual image of a Disney Princess is a slim pretty woman with fair skin, who always wears dresses. Just think of characters such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. These stereotypical Disney women are also always in a good mood. In general, they are characters who basically support the real main characters in the films: men.
An example of this situation is Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, whose life revolves around the men in her life. Her love interest Gaston, saving her father’s life, and accompanying, caring for, and loving the Beast. In the few cases where there is a female main character (a warrior, as in the case of Mulan and Pocahontas) they are the only important women in the story.
For this reason, Atlantis is a pioneer film among all the animated Disney films. It defends the role of women in animated films for children and young people. In the film, we see multiple female characters who fulfill different roles throughout the film.
Women in Atlantis
In the forefront of everything, we find Kida, the warrior princess who desperately wants to save her people, but doesn’t know how to do it. Kida is destined to guide and protect her people and decides to go against her father’s wishes. She establishes an alliance with Milo to translate the ancient prophetic texts because this is the only way she’ll be able to recover Atlantis’ splendor.
One of the most charismatic characters in the film is Audrey. This brave young girl has a job that is traditionally associated with men: she’s a mechanic. Audrey admits that she became interested in mechanics because her father wanted sons, but ended up with two girls. She’s a girl who didn’t let herself be hampered by social expectations. She’s an entrepreneur who dreams of having her own workshop one day.
On the other end of the scale we have Helga Sinclair, an imposing and mysterious woman, totally focused on achieving her goals. She’s a woman who plays a seductive role, but only to achieve her goals. Although Helga is allied with Commander Rourke, she’s still a strong character and has her own motivations. Finally, fatally wounded by Rourke himself, she shoots and kills him to avenge his betrayal.
Examples to follow for girls and youngsters
Some say that movies aren’t responsible for the stereotypes that society projects onto children. However, several studies have shown something different. They have found a link between adult’s behavior and the models and examples they followed while they were growing up.
For this reason, it’s important for girls to be influenced by positive feminine roles in cinema. Girls who grow up surrounded by strong, intelligent and independent female characters are more likely to grow up to be capable and autonomous women.
“Our lives are remembered for the gifts we give to our children.”
– Preston B. Whitmore-
Atlantis paved the way for a more inclusive representation of women in animated Disney films. It was the first in a series of important films that portray women as capable, intelligent, and independent individuals. Frozen (2013) and later Moana (2016) joined this tradition.