Disney’s action animated flick, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, is a underrated movie with a vastly under-appreciated cast of characters, although the film has been accused of plagiarizing elements from the 1990 Japanese anime, Nadia, the Secret of Blue Water. The 2001 film and the 41st animated feature in Disney’s canon, Atlantis: The Lost Empire introduced audiences to characters including the sweet and nerdy Milo, voiced by the great Micheal J. Fox, the hunky Dr. Joshua Strongbear Sweets, the adventurous and brave Princess Kidagakash “Kida” Nedakh of Atlantis, the tough as nails engineer Audrey Ramirez, and the jaded, chain-smoking communications officer Wilhelmina Packard, who embark on the journey of a lifetime to discover the lost continent of Atlantis. I tend to favor the villains of a story, so it should be no surprise that I grant the mantle of the coolest and most memorable character to the film’s secondary antagonist, Lieutenant Helga Sinclair.
Inspired from the likes of the blonde bombshells from early neo-noir films, Sinclair is the epitome of sensuality, a cunning and intellectual master of manipulation who poses a striking figure from her first appearance in Milo’s apartment. Hidden in shadows and impeccably garbed in a black off-the-shoulder open leg dress, she confidently commands respect as only a professional would.
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Role in the 2001 Film
The right-hand woman to Commander Lyle Rourke, Lt. Sinclair participates in the expedition to locate the fabled city of Atlantis. Possessing a deeply analytical mind and unafraid to jump into action, she is one of the few members of the crew to escape the lair of the monstrous Leviathan that destroys their vessel, the Ulysses.
Despite her hesitation to proceed with the mission and her grief over the loss of so many under her command, Sinclair steadfastly follows Commander Rourke, Milo, and the surviving crew into Atlantis. Surprised to discover people living in the city, they initially extend an offer of peace to the Atlanteans. However, she and Commander Rourke reveal their villainous intentions to steal and sell the Heart of Atlantis, a crystal-based fragment of a comet that powers the city and grants its people long life from the crystals they wear around their necks.
Brushing aside her momentary concerns over participating in stealing from a living civilization and knowing that the act would destroy the city and kill the Atlanteans, Sinclair takes Kida hostage and demands that her father, King Kashekim Nedakh, give them the Heart. Rourke mortally wounds the King and discovers the Heart located beneath the throne room, where he and Sinclair witnesses the crystal merge with Kida after it detects the threat of intruders and destruction.
She and a dozen mercenaries remain loyally by Rourke’s side even after Milo convinces the rest of the crew not to betray their consciences and participate in genocide. The cruel duo attempt to escape in a giant balloon carrying the Heart after a battle against Milo and his allies over the now active volcano outside the city. However, Miloh crashes his Ketak, a flying stone fish, into the balloon, causing it to descend. Rourke, determined to escape at all costs, almost hurls Sinclair from the balloon to lighten the load. She fights back with fury and athletic grace, but he overpowers her and throws her to the edge of the volcano below, tauntingly telling her “it’s nothing personal.”
Fatally wounded from the fall, Sinclair uses the last of her strength to fire her flare gun at the balloon, and with her dying breath, tells Rourke, “it’s nothing personal.” Her final act allows Milo to defeat Rourke by crystalizing and shattering him to pieces with the balloon’s propellers, ultimately giving Sinclair the last laugh.
Conception and Design
The filmmakers wanted Sinclair’s art style to mirror the graphic art of a comic book, and she was designed and drawn in Paris by animator Yoshimichi Tamura. Writer Tab Murphy likened her appearance to those of the platinum blonde women Humphrey Bogart interacted with. In “Supplemental Features: the Voices of Atlantis,” Sinclair’s voice actress, Claudia Christian, joked that she was relieved when she saw what her character looked like, saying, “I’d hate to, you know, go through all this and find out my character is a toad.”
Possible Role in the Abandoned Theatrical Sequel to Atlantis
Atlantis: The Lost Empire released to mixed reviews, and some critics felt the film was mediocre and failed to deliver as a non-Disney musical. In response to the lackluster reception, Disney scrapped plans to launch an Atlantis franchise comprising of an animated series, a theme park, and a theatrical sequel to the film. In an interview with Collider, director Kirk Wise revealed that a familiar villain would return for the sequel.
“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 said. “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!”
According to Wise, Sinclair survives her fall and becomes an early-20th-century cyborg who leads a team of mercenaries. It would’ve been a treat to see Helga as the Big Bad for the sequel, but alas, this never came to pass. It’s unfortunate because Sinclair stole the show with her icy and mysterious persona, and as one of the youngest and most alluring of the Disney villains, she makes for a memorable and formidable foe.
Are you a fan of Atlantis: The Lost Empire? What do you think about Lt. Helga Sinclair? Let me know in the comments and check out my website for all things pop culture. Stay nerdy!