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The Atlantis: The Lost Empire Sequel You Never Got To See

Way back in 2001, Disney released a criminally underrated animated feature entitled Atlantis: The Lost Empire. At the time, the film was unique within the Disney oeuvre for its lack of music or proven source material mined from classic fairy tales and fables. In many ways, Atlantis broke with the Disney animation mold. The film took a lot of chances, clearly aspiring to a level of high fantasy not commonly embraced by the House of Mouse at the time — and it was ultimately stronger for it.

Atlantis has since faded into the annals of Disney lore. In 20 years since the film's debut, fans have gone without any credible hope of a remake or live-action adaptation in the works. It still seems unlikely that this cinematic odd duck will ever see new life, but apparently that wasn't always the case. Collider is reporting that Atlantis director Kirk Wise had actually planned a proper theatrical sequel to his underappreciated masterpiece. Had the original film turned into the kind of hit that Disney was likely expecting, he might have actually had the chance to make his vision a reality. Now, he can hardly remember the working title.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire sort of did get a sequel

Before Atlantis flopped at the box office, Disney was already gearing up the machine to turn Wise's project into a full-fledged franchise. The studio actually ordered three episodes of an animated TV series featuring the same characters wherein hero Milo James Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox) and his steampunk crew follow antique treasure maps and search out mythical MacGuffins in true episodic fashion. The project was ultimately scrapped after the movie tanked, but the three episodes that Disney originally ordered were mashed together and repackaged as a direct-to-video sequel under the title Atlantis: Milo's Return.

Milo's Return isn't bad, per se — not if you understand it for what it is. The fix-up doesn't quite meet the bar for a complete story, but it does offer an entertaining 90 minutes for fans eager to jump back into the underexplored world of Atlantis. What Milo's Return doesn't do is address any of the open plot threads left dangling at the end of the feature film. That was a narrative job reserved for Kirk's planned sequel, which of course never came to be.

The Atlantis: The Lost Empire sequel would have revealed the masked villain's identity

In the original Atlantis, Milo confronts an evil masked entity whose identity is never truly revealed. According to Kirk, that revelation was coming in the sequel. He planned to pin responsibility for the big bad on one of Milo's own original crew members, the brash German Lieutenant Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian). Though Kirk's memory is foggy about the details, co-director Gary Trousdale, producer Don Hahn and story supervisor John Sanford provided additional intel on the lost sequel to Collider.

Sanford said the film would have moved forward in time to the 1950s to avoid rehashing the tired Nazi trope. "We figured we were done with Nazis," the story supervisor said. The new movie had the working title Let's Get Milo because, according to Sanford, "the crew was going to go and theoretically rescue Milo from this other team that was coming to invade Atlantis."

Although the ideas were all kicking around between the creatives, it doesn't sound like anything concrete ever came of it. "It's something you always think about on all the movies and sometimes it's like, 'Well there will never be a sequel to this,'" Hahn said. "But I think in the case of Atlantis it made some sense to say, 'Gee if this for some reason hits, it'd be nice to have something in our pocket to have a continuing story.' Because it's the kind of thing that lends itself to a continuing story. We never wrote it or anything or really pitched anything. But it was something in the back of our mind that we spent a couple of days working on."

Disney hasn't announced any plans to revive its Atlantis franchise, but given the new potential of Disney+ as a major distribution channel, hope springs eternal for fans of this woefully underwatched film.