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The Atlantis: The Lost Empire Rides We Never Got To Experience At Disneyland

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a movie with a bizarre pedigree: It's a Disney cartoon with a story credited in part by the guy who made Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and artwork based on the designs of the man who invented Hellboy. It reunited the directors of Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame around a screenplay from the writer of the latter. It also didn't feature a single musical number. Marc Okrand, the person responsible for inventing the Klingon language used in the Star Trek movies, was brought onboard to create an Atlantean dialect. In Disney's wide back catalog of animation, Atlantis definitely stands apart.

Audiences and critics tended to agree, and many found the movie difficult to categorize. Atlantis: The Lost Empire received middling reviews, racking up a 49% Rotten Tomatoes critical approval rating and not faring much better with audiences. The box office reception was just as tepid. The film earned $186 million against an estimated $120 million budget, relegating it to an unenviable region of Disney history best described as "not Treasure Planet, but still not great." This was Disney's big summer release, and it was met with a collective shrug.

As a result, a planned franchise was scrapped. A television series based on the movie, described by Polygon as an "X-Files-esque" episodic mystery show, was summarily cancelled, despite long-term plans that included a Gargoyles crossover. The studio took what had already been produced and Frankensteined it into the 2003 direct-to-video sequel Atlantis: Milo's Return. The biggest hit to the property's future, however, may have been when a proposed high-concept amusement park experience found itself unceremoniously scrapped.

The Atlantis ride is now lost to time

It all started with Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage" ride, a holdover from the studio's mid-century adventure films that closed down in 1994. Disney was looking for a replacement attraction, and the people in charge thought they'd found the right inspiration in Atlantis. A new ride based on the movie, tentatively named "Fire Mountain," became Adventureland's prospective new focus.

Another entry in the Disney park run of "mountain" rides (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Big Thunder Mountain, etc.) Fire Mountain was, by all accounts, a theme park experience all its own. "They had a whole ride system that they had acquired that was basically a rollercoaster that you would hang from like you were on a hang glider. You'd hang from your back with your stomach facing the earth and the track above your head," Atlantic co-director Kirk Wise told Collider in 2020. "In a sense it would duplicate the sensation and the design of the gliders that are used in the final battle of the movie. That was going to take you through the exploding volcano and various other scenarios but it was going to be a flat-out rollercoaster thrill ride incorporating this new ride system."

When its inspiration underperformed, Fire Mountain was cancelled, becoming one more Disney ride you'll never get to experience. The 20,000 Leagues ride was replaced with an attraction based on the evergreen Winnie the Pooh franchise. 

Atlantis' lukewarm reception remains a point of curiosity for movie buffs to this day. Some theorize that the movie suffered from bad timing, being mostly classically animated in Shrek's wake, and looking too old-fashioned as a result. Others will say that a family-friendly adventure cartoon didn't have the same drawing power as other contemporary offerings. Walt Disney Feature Animation president told USA Today, "It seemed like a good idea at the time to not do a sweet fairy tale, but we missed."