Wednesday, July 11, 2012
#41: Passion Over Glory
Atlantis: the Lost Empire, 2001
watched July 1, 2012
Atlantis, like Emperor's New Groove, stands apart from Disney's typical fare, delving into new genres: action and science fiction. It's probably also the darkest film we've seen since The Black Cauldron. Within the first half hour, the majority of a 200-person crew aboard the ship are killed en route, leaving only a handful of them to brave the rest of the journey.
Also, there are a lot of caves. Dark ones.
While the numerous action sequences are quite a contrast from the colorful musical numbers of past films, the story still retains some familiar "Disney-esque" elements, such as the quirky main character who doesn't fit in. Add the orphan factor and aspirations to discover "a whole new world" (aka lost civilization), and Milo Thatch comfortably takes his seat at the Disney hero table. (There were times during the movie that I wanted to burst out singing "Go the Distance" or "Reflection". But I guess that's kind of all the time.)
And it's the nerdy linguist's path to self discovery that carries an otherwise convoluted story along. There's a reason why Disney keeps coming back to these characters who search for meaning in life. It's undoubtedly the main question at large among all of humankind.
In Milo's case, he isn't so much seeking his calling; he already knows what he's passionate about. Perhaps this comes from already being an adult (an anomaly among a mostly teenaged hero list.) But he still has yet to reach the ultimate goal of finding the mysterious island of Atlantis.
Milo experiences both ridicule and loneliness as he pursues his passion. Spending his days in a hot, dusty boiler room, he lives a fairly unglamorous life in order to research, study and (unsuccessfully) persuade others to support his mission. Even when a crew is assembled and they begin the journey under the sea, the others on the team mostly laugh at his enthusiasm. Some even have impure motives and are only in it for financial gain.
When all of his work pays off and they reach Atlantis, it is the moment we think Milo will at last be recompensed. The naysayers will finally be proven wrong. He will become famous for discovering the ancient thought-to-be-myth civilization. Glory and prestige will be guaranteed.
Here we expect the moral of the story: Don't give up on your dreams, one day you will be a star! And that's certainly the resounding message we hear elsewhere in culture.
But Milo demonstrates another alternative. He realizes that his dream to find Atlantis also includes a deep commitment to the Atlanteans themselves. So he chooses to give up the glory, fame and success that would certainly be his upon return to the world above water. Instead, he stays in Atlantis, in order to help preserve their dying civilization. (I suppose the beautiful Kida may have also motivated that decision. But still.)
Passion requires sacrifice. It leads to loneliness, ridicule, and leaving behind your desire for comfort, respect, or glory. It means giving up everything in order to save a dying people. When we choose passion over glory, we follow the One made the ultimate sacrifice, and whose passion saved us all.