Over the weekend, my geeky boyfriend persuaded me to watch his new obsession du jour, the 1994 science fiction movie Stargate that was not only a mild commercial success, but has also been made into a TV show (Stargate: SG-1) that is currently in its seventh season. While I didn’t find Stargate to be the Citizen Kane of the genre, I was still immediately struck by the similarities between Stargate and the supposedly original Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Released in 2001, Atlantis was heralded as an example of the “new Disney”- a cartoon with jokes aimed at both children and adults, a more intellectual experience without all the cloying singing and over-earnest Christian values. But what really happened? Did Disney really depart from their fare of the rehashed fairy tale, or did they simply copy a more modern cinema mythology? Take a look at the eerie coincidences:
- Atlantis’s protagonist is the bumbling yet cute Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), a linguist that spouts theories of the paranormal to an unwelcoming faculty. So is Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), the bumbling yet cute protagonist of Stargate. Both sport big geeky glasses and dorky haircuts. Jackson deciphers Egyptian hieroglyphs, Thatch deciphers ancient languages. Both have an interesting family history- Jackson is a foster child, and Thatch's parents are dead.
- Both movies open by garnering sympathy. The protagonists are being rejected in spite of their obvious passion for their respective fields. Yet an aging but wealthy benefactor aids them both in their quest by providing infinite wealth and resources for their projects- resources beyond their respective imaginations.
- Both Milo Thatch and Daniel Jackson are given a rag-tag team of scientists, mechanics, engineers, and soldiers to aid them on their quests. In both movies, the military-minded leader has a doubting attitude towards the mission in general. Both are warned that the territory they will enter is a dangerous one, and that no one knows what will happen next. Both are given sole responsibility for finding the way home.
- Once they get to their destination, both encounter a strange society of oppressed people with a dying culture. The leaders of each society are rather reluctant to help the earnest team, but they both do in spite of their initial misgivings.
- In Atlantis, various mishaps occur virtually destroying the team’s way back home. In Stargate, Daniel realizes that he cannot find the seventh symbol needed to return to Earth in Abydos, the planet they are transported to. Both Milo and Daniel are ostracized from the rest of the group as a result, outcasts in foreign and unusual surroundings.
- In Stargate, Jackson finds a love interest and a language translator in Sha’re, a beautiful and exotic planet native who has a mind of her own despite the bonds of slavery enforced upon her. In Atlantis, Milo Thatch finds a love interest and a language translator in Kida, a beautiful and exotic Atlantis native who has a mind of her own despite her traditionalist father, a leader of the city.
- Both societies have the secrets of an unknown and precious energy that, if harnessed, could result in an infinitely better world, but also have great potential for evil. In both movies, it is the energy source’s potential for evil that gets exploited by the villains.
- Even after the portal of the Stargate has been re-opened, Daniel Jackson opts instead to continue his research with the natives of Abydos, and to remain with his new wife. Milo does the same, choosing to live in the under-water world of Atlantis to study the curious peoples.
While I recognize that both films are not Oscar contenders nor the paragons of their genre, Disney still plagiarized a rather good movie and is not getting the reprobation it deserves. Has anyone else noticed this?