Earlier today we spoke to Kirk Wise, legendary director (along with his creative partner Gary Trousdale) of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame about the legacy of his sorely underrated Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Had Atlantis been the kind of sizable smash that Disney was hoping it would have been, it would have veered Disney into an alternate timeline of sorts. We’ll have more from that interview, and about how Atlantis’ success could have potentially changed the company forever, very soon. But for right now we just wanted to share something that Wise told us: the loose plot they had worked out for a proper, theatrical Atlantis: The Lost Empire sequel, including a very shocking twist.
Now, before you say, “Wait, wasn’t there already a sequel to Atlantis released by Disney?” Well, there was. Sort of.
Back when the studio was really hot on the property, they had a number of projects in various stages of development at other business units. One of them was Team Atlantis, an animated television series that would follow the members of the expedition as they investigated other strange phenomena all across the globe. It would have been like an animated, steampunk X-Files (it also would have crossed over with Disney’s animated Gargoyles series as well). Instead, after just three episodes were completed, the project was shut down in 2001, shortly after Atlantis: The Lost Empire debuted. Those three episodes were cobbled together and released as the 20th (!) direct-to-video Disney animated sequel, Atlantis: Milo’s Return. Much of the original voice cast (minus Michael J. Fox) returned, but it was very clearly a stitched-together collection of episodes and not a proper sequel.
But this was something different: a proper, theatrical sequel to be animated by what was then known as Walt Disney Feature Animation (now Walt Disney Animation Studios).
When we asked if Wise had mapped out any sequels, he said, “Believe it or not we did.” He continued: “[Story supervisor] John Sanford, Gary and I actually concocted an idea for a sequel to Atlantis. It had no relation to the Atlantis TV series that was being developed at Disney Television Animation. This was a feature-length, full-on, full-blown sequel to Atlantis.”
While Wise cannot remember the title of the sequel, he did boil down its plot and its big, third-act reveal: “We were going to have a new villain in the story. The villain was going to be wearing big, scary, wool, bulky, World War I-style clothing with a frightening gasmask to obscure it’s face; a little Darth Vader-esque. And this villain was going to try and retake Atlantis and finish the job that Rourke was unable to accomplish. And the big twist in the climax of the movie is that the villain is unmasked and it turns out to be Helga Sinclair. Plot twist!”
Helga, fans of the film will recall, was the seductive German second-in-command to the ruthless, bloodthirsty Rourke (James Garner). Voiced by Claudia Christian, Helga was a mysterious femme fatale, equal parts Jessica Rabbit and Elsa Schneider from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Wise went on to describe this incarnation of the character. “So Helga survived her fall, became an early-20th-century cyborg and started her own team of mercenaries,” Wise said, referencing her supposed demise in the fiery climax of Atlantis. While characters returning from the grave can sometimes be iffy, this sounds like the perfect way for the character return and we love the idea that she’d be the Big Bad this time around.
We’ll have more from our chat with Wise, including an appropriately deep dive (get it?) onto Atlantis and its potentially monumental place in Disney history, very soon.