In honor of the 21st anniversary of the cult-favorite animated Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Disney has re-shared an interview with Don Hahn, the man who directed the film known for “introducing fans to a strange and intricate world where crystals power everything, stone can fly, and adventure is around every corner“!
According to the interview, Atlantis: The Lost Empire actually has something in common with the Lord of the Rings series and the James Cameron Avatar films (including the new movie Avatar: The Way of Water): a new language was created for the 21-year-old Disney movie!
The movie’s protagonist Milo Thatch has in-depth familiarity with the language of the lost city of Atlantis, and the movie’s creators apparently “wanted to do a language that looks not just made-up, but something that really felt rooted in real language”.
“What made some sense for Atlantis was that the language is based somewhat on Icelandic, which is kind of an ancient Viking language. If you want to know what old Nordic sounds like, it’s very much like Icelandic,” Don Hahn said. “We figured that a lot of the Shepherd’s Journal and a lot of the genesis of this story happened in that old Nordic world when Vikings were reaching out and exploring around the world.”
Linguist Marc Okrand, who is known for the languages he designed for Star Trek, teamed up with visual development artist John Emerson to create the language and its alphabet.
Happy 21st Anniversary to Walt Disney Animation Studio's Atlantis: The Lost Empire! Did you know the filmmakers created an entirely new language for this movie? Read more about the making of this undersea adventure with producer, @DonHahn: https://t.co/K5askS9sWs pic.twitter.com/gMvUZMykjc
— Disney D23 (@DisneyD23) June 15, 2022
Previous live-action adventure Disney movies like Treasure Island and Jules Verne stories like Journey to the Center of the Earth were part of the inspiration for the fan-favorite film, but the biggest direct inspiration for this Disney movie was the Jules Verne story 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was maybe the single most influential movie because it’s a similar story: You set off in a submarine to find this lost island of Captain Nemo’s and this huge adventure ensues,” Hahn told D23.
“It’s not a princess movie,” Hahn added. Many Disney fans are particularly fond of the female Atlantean Princess Kida from the movie, who is indeed usually left out of the Disney princess lineup!
In order to prepare for making the unique Disney movie, the team behind Atlantis: The Lost Empire explored natural wonders like Carlsbad Caverns (shown below). They also studied old equipment and vehicles from the 1920s in the Smithsonian and looked to Notre Dame for architectural inspiration.
“What a great, fun challenge to say Atlantis can be anything,” Hahn concluded. “You take all the research you can find, and then you mush it together into something that makes it plausible. Walt Disney used to call it the ‘plausible impossible.’”
The Hellboy comics created by Mike Mignola were also a direct inspiration. “Boy is he gifted — and his ideas are so rich,” Hahn said, praising Mike Mignola. “He was a real leg up for us, bringing in some special points of view…Mansions, the fish Atlanteans rode on, the lightning bolts they shot out of their eyes, the staffs they carried—a lot of that came from Mike.”
Hahn is very aware of the movie’s expansive fanbase, even 21 years later, and he enthusiastically told D23 that he and the movie’s other creators “love” the fans. “They’re so articulate—they understand the movie so much and they loved the movie so much. We’re grateful, I think is the word for it. Humbled and grateful,” he finished.