A little over 15 years ago, Disney Animation Studios found inspiration for a new film from their most forgotten work. The new movie was Atlantis: The Lost Empire, a steampunk adventure led by Milo Thatch, a man anxious to find the fabled city his grandfather swore existed. The forgotten film that inspired it was The Black Cauldron, a dark fantasy known for its often un-Disney tone. Unlike many Disney films, Atlantis and The Black Cauldron are not afraid to expose the bleaker side of adventure.
Taking cues from various romantic adventure epics such as Castle in the Sky, Indiana Jones and others, Atlantis feels both unique and familiar. Like all those films listed, there is a darkness to various aspects of the movie. The opening of Atlantis allows us a peek at the bustling civilization right before it became lost to time, along with hundreds of causalities. In another scene, the audience witnesses a mecha-sea monster kill the majority of Milo Thatcher’s comrades.
Similarly, The Black Cauldron presented the idea of a quest as an un-whimsical matter. The Horned King is a much darker portrayal of evil than most children’s films venture. When the film’s protagonists venture to his domain, it isn’t just treacherous, it’s downright terrifying, complete with skulls and on-screen deaths.
Neither Atlantis nor the Black Cauldron present adventures as fun-loving fares with minor detours along the way. Although other Disney films with this style exist, these two films are the best examples of the danger of exploration.