Once upon a time, Walt Disney Pictures was very excited about the future of Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The animated film about the search and subsequent battle for the fabled lost continent was meant to become the next major Disney animation franchise, spawning an animated series, theme park attractions, and more. Then the film hit theaters, and amid lackluster box-office performance and critical reception, Disney decided to scale back its expectations for the future of Atlantis.
The handful of completed episodes for the planned animated series were stitched together into a direct-to-video sequel — Atlantis: Milo's Return — in 2003, and Disney's other ideas about the future of the franchise were lost. But back in the days when Atlantis had promise, the original film's directors were cooking up a sequel idea of their own.
In a new interview with Collider, Atlantis co-director Kirk Wise revealed that he, co-director Gary Trousdale, and story supervisor John Sanford had actually worked on a "feature-length, full-on, full-blown sequel" to the first film that unfortunately never got to see the light of day. While Wise couldn't recall the proposed title for the film, he did remember some of the story details.
"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 its face; a little Darth Vader-esque," Wise explained. "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 Sinclair (voiced by Claudia Christian) was the mysterious woman in the first film who set Milo (Michael J. Fox) up with the Atlantis expedition in the first place, only to reveal later that she and her boss, Rourke (James Garner), were using him as a pawn in their own game to steal and sell off the priceless Heart of Atlantis. By the end of the film, both Helga and Rourke have fallen to their death, but Wise and Trousdale's plan was to resurrect their secondary villain to become the primary antagonist for the sequel, with a very intriguing design.
"So Helga survived her fall, became an early 20th-century cyborg and started her own team of mercenaries," Wise explained.
Sadly, we'll probably never get to see this sequel as Wise, Trousdale, and company originally envisioned it, but perhaps there's hope to tell a version of this story someday. In the years since its release, Atlantis has gained new fans via home video, and has retained passionate defenders who were fans of the original film from the beginning. Maybe one day, when the live-action Atlantis reboot inevitably happens, some of these ideas can be brought to light again.