Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Disneyland Subs Don't Find Atlantis

Today while surfing some of my favorite Disney blogs, I saw some photos of the newly reopened Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Part of me was happy that that large lagoon in the middle of Disneyland was now filled with working subs once again, after laying dormant since 1998. But, another part of me was angry at what we didn't get. The Voyage to the Lost Continent of Atlantis was something that Disney was planning around the time they were finishing up work on the film Atlantis The Lost Empire (2001). The plan was to reinvigorate the stale Subs by retheming them to the Atlantis movie. But, as the movie hit theaters and movie goers didn't flock to the box office to see the film, Disney scraped the idea, and the subs stayed in drydock for another 7 years.
Being a big fan of the Atlantis film, I was very excited when I heard the news that Disney was planning to retheme the Subs with an Atlantis storyline. I was extremely disappointed when I found out they were scrapping the idea and the Subs would remain silent.

Check out this article from Jim Hill Media regarding the movie and proposed attractions:

"Jim Hill looks back at Disney Feature Animation's Summer 2001 release -- a project that started out with plenty of promise ... only to have WDFA executives second-guess this film's chance at greatness away.

During the summer of 2001, most Tinsel Town insiders felt that Walt Disney Pictures had a pretty decent shot at success with its animated action-adventure film, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." But "A:TLE" turned out to be a real disappointment, grossing only $84 million (which hardly came close to cover its production costs, never mind the tens of millions more that Disney poured into the marketing of the movie).

So what went wrong with "Atlantis: The Lost Empire?" Well, to hear Disney Studio insiders tell it, "A:TLE" really was a project with plenty of promise. At least when the production initially started out. But then "Atlantis" lost its one real chance at box office success as the project's film-makers -- under the guidance of WDFA's allegedly Creative VPs -- kept second-guessed themselves. Fixing and futzing with their film until "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" had become a pale shadow of what it once was.

Back when work first began on "A:TLE," this movie truly had some balls. "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" started out with a prologue that showed a crew of blood-thirsty Vikings meeting a grisly fate in the North Atlantic. Their longboat obliterated by some immense mysterious creature with tentacles. (This sequence was to have been the audience's initial introduction to the Leviathan, the massive mechanical creature that guarded the one remaining gateway to Atlantis.)

Well, Wise and Trousdale seemed pretty passionate about their idea. And given that Walt Disney Studios actually used to make live action films like this (EX: "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Swiss Family Robinson," "In Search of the Castaways," "The Island at the Top of The World"), Don thought that he might be able to sell the Mouse House brass on making a movie like this.

Just as Ray Harryhausen used to load up his stop motion epics with lots of bizarre creatures, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" was originally supposed to have had a lot of monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

I mean, if Kirk and Gary had just stuck to their guns, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" would have had the crew of the Ulysses -- once they survived their deadly encounter with the Leviathan -- battling squid bats, lava whales as well as bugs the size of school buses as they made their way deep down into the bowels of the Earth. (Those of JHM readers who'd like to get some sense of what these sequences would have been like would be wise to go pick up a copy of the 2-disc collector's edition of the "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" DVD. Here, hidden among the disc's extras, you'll find deleted storyboard versions of these various scenes. Which should give you some idea how truly exciting "A:TLE" COULD HAVE been -- had these sequences been left in the movie.) In short, this film would have been just the sort of production that Ray Harryhausen could have been proud of.

But then ... well ... Wise, Trousdale and Hahn began getting all of these inane notes from WDFA's cadre of allegedly-Creative Executives. Plus the movie's monsters -- what with all of their numerous legs, wings and antennae -- were proving to be pretty darned difficult to animate. Expensive too. And -- given that Kirk, Gary and Don were coming under continuing pressure from above to streamline "A:TLE"'s production as well as keep costs down -- the easiest thing to cut back back then was the squid bat attack, the crew's deadly encounter with the lava whale sequence as well as the bug hunt (Kida's original introductory sequence, which was to have shown the Atlantaen princess -- to the audience, anyway -- as this truly awesome warrior).

The only problem was ... once these three sequences were cut, Wise and Trousdale's animated adventure film -- supposedly crafted in the style of Ray Harryhausen -- was now decidedly light on adventure and monsters.

Which is a real shame. Because -- its flaws aside -- there's a lot to like about "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." From the film's distinct design to its wonderfully loopy supporting characters. I mean, how can you dislike a picture that features Gaetan Moliere, perhaps the weirdest individual to ever appear in a Disney animated film?

Yes, I know. A lot of you animation fans were very disappointed with "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." That -- in spite of the promise of its premise -- the picture basically failed to deliver the goods.

I say ... if Wise and Trousdale had actually been allowed to produce the picture that they had originally pitched to Don Hahn -- a film in the Ray Harryhausen tradition -- this story might have ended very differently. "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" might have actually found the success at the box office that it deserved.

Which would have meant that WDI would have been able to go forward with construction of those "Atlantis"-themed attractions that the Imagineers had been planning for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Which would have meant that -- this summer -- WDW visitors would have been able to scream their way through "Fire Mountain," Disney World's first transforming coaster (which was to have been built -- inside of a giant volcano-shaped show building -- out behind Adventureland's "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride). And guests at Disneyland would have been able to reboard that theme park's Tomorrowland subs to go out on an undersea treasure hunt in Atlantis (and -- with luck -- avoid an encounter with the Leviathan)."

[I have used just a small part of the story. Read the full story at JimHillMedia.com]

So, here we are 7 years later and this story still makes me cringe every time I think about it. As I said above, I am happy that the Subs are back in service at Disneyland, and the Nemo theme will probably appeal to a new, young audience, but I happen to think the attraction could have been so much more. Sure, the lines are long now, as people line up to ride the Subs for the first time in 10 years. For many young kinds, this is the first time the Subs have been running during their lives. Although I have not experienced the attraction myself yet, it seems to me that the Nemo theme may become stale pretty quickly. To me the new Nemo Subs are a "D" attraction. The Atlantis Subs could have easily been an "E" ticket attraction, with a real life expedition to Atlantis and a Disney style encounter with the Leviathan.

It reall is a shame that the box office receipts of the movie were enough to kill the imagineers plans for an "E" ticket attraction to fill the lagoon in Tomorrowland with an exciting underwater adventure to discover the Lost Empire of Atlantis, while avoiding Disney style animatronic monsters.

* At the top of the article you will find the original Submarine attraction poster from 1969, along with my slightly altered poster. One can dream, right!?


Keith said...

Well, keep in mind that Disney Studios stole their story for Atlantis from a Japanese animated movie (or series, cant remember). I googled it for ya:


Ronn Roxx said...

Thanks for the info. I had never heard of Nadia before. After checkoug out the link you provided, I agree there are a lot of similarities between Atlantis and Nadia, but then again, you would expect many similaries, since both borrowed from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
I am not a big fan of Anime, but would love to check out Nadia for myself.

Keith said...

Yeah, I haven't seen Nadia either (I'm very selective on anime and not a giant fan though there's some stuff that I think is absolutely amazing). If you hadn't heard, a similar "rip off" occurred with Simba/The Lion King from a really old anime series called Kimba the White Lion, which though I haven't seen also supposedly has a very similar Lion King story.

Anyway, I found your blog through a random image search and I gotta say I like what you have to offer. I'm a big Disney nut for all the old stuff so its great to read up on your posts.

disneylandw said...

Atlantis in its finished film in is itself a very unfocused movie but am wondering if the original idea for the strange use of the masked solders were to help with the battles against the cut out monsters scenes.

In a way would make sense then the finished film sudden use to turn the crew into greedy villains for no good reason in the end or why they felt the need to destroy the submarine because its part of these action scenes.

In fact that maybe one of the bigger problems people have had with this film its focus on the action aspect of the story and that everything around it suffers for it.

Finally am wondering what the current set of writers at DISNEY would do with ATLANTIS if they decide to seriously toy around with the idea of a reboot of the story. Maybe they can find some interesting ways to put things like the Lava Whales back in for a interesting peril then demonizing the army like the finished film sadly ended up doing or something like that.