An Interview Tab Murphy - Atlantis Screenwriter
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West: So everyone can get an idea, how long did the process take up to this point? Did everything you just described take a month? Two months? A year?
Murphy: I would say from the time of the infamous lunch until we had a story we were excited about, the period were talking about is about three to four months plus or minus a few weeks. It all came together relatively quickly and I attribute that to having worked together previously on Hunchback.
West: Would you say that writing Atlantis has been your favorite Disney project to date, or is there another that holds that spot in your heart? Or, do they all hold different places in your heart?
Murphy: I would say Atlantis was the most fun to write and I think it shows. All of us, Kirk, Gary, Don and I, had a great time conceptualizing the movie and populating it with scenes and characters that were homages to the kinds of movies that thrilled us as kids. I have to say, staying in touch with the young kid in me has served me well in my Disney tenure.
West: Without most of us knowing a great deal about Atlantis, can you give us the basic storyline without spoiling anything? I know that it varies greatly from the typical Disney animated feature formula.
Murphy: Atlantis is the story of Milo James
Thatch, a linguist specialist toiling away in the basement of the Smithsonian Institute
circa 1914. He dreams of following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, a famous
explorer, and finding the fabled lost continent of Atlantis. His dream becomes reality
when eccentric billionaire Preston Whitmore offers Milo the opportunity to accompany a
team of explorers on an expedition in search of Atlantis, using an old text known as the
Shepherds Journal as a guide book. What follows is a mixture of adventure, fantasy
and science fiction as Milo and the explorers
travel deep into the earth, battling strange monsters as they go while eventually arriving at Atlantis only to discover it populated by Atlanteans (including the very hot Princess Kida). And thats pretty much the first act of the movie!
West: Wow! That sounds like my kind of movie! I know that my family and I are very excited to see Atlantis. When you write, do you ever base any characters on people you know or do you ever "borrow" some of their characteristics such as ways in which they speak, mannerisms, etc? If so, were there any inspirations for the characters you created for Atlantis and who are they?
Murphy: Actually, the characters were derived as an homage to all the "team" movies from the past, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth, Dirty Dozen, Guns of Navarone, etc. Given the time period (1914), we tried to come up with an odd assortment of characters that might have been thrown together on the eve of the industrial revolution. Thats why you can have an Arapaho trained medic (Dr. Sweet) bunking with a French excavation expert (Moliere, a.k.a. "Mole") partnered with an Italian demolitions expert (Vinnie). We didnt really set out to create a "politically correct" group of explorers. We simply tried to come up with the most entertaining group of characters we could think of.
West: And that is really funny that you should say that, because some of the reviews I have read and some of the comments I have heard say that the characters seem assembled as a "politically correct" group by Disney. Knowing you and knowing your work, I can laugh at this because I know that you are one writer that does not follow the "PC movement" in this industry.
Tell us about the submarine. It looks a lot like the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues. Was it created with that in mind, or did the overall design of the sub come on the Animation end of the process?
Murphy: We used the Nautilus as inspiration for our sub, particularly because the guys wanted a very retro industrial look to all the vehicles and gadgets in the movie. I came up with the concept of a large submarine that in times of danger, jettisons a bunch of mini-subs, called "subpods" from its superstructure, which in turn swarm forward to meet and do battle with the enemy; in this case, the Leviathan. Also, we had pretty much agreed on a design element that called for the multi-tiered bridge to be housed in the front of the sub, inside a huge clear globe that allowed characters to see out into the ocean depths; pretty cool! The actual details of the design were created by one of the illustrators while we were working on the story. Thats one of the great advantages of having artists doing visual development concurrently while the script is being written; each feeds off the other.