Okay, so, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a pretty fun movie. There’s steampunk, and magic, and a diverse cast, and this one guy who loves eating dirt, the villains are genuinely pretty bad dudes, and the people of Atlantis have these awesome fish shaped flying vehicles that shoot lasers! Only: why don’t they know about them for most of the movie?
Let’s back up here, because we need to cover some plot to explain how absolutely ludicrous it is that they don’t know about the cars. In the opening of the movie, a massive tidal waves caused by some unseen and unexplained explosion rushes towards Atlantis. Some Atlanteans, riding what I will simply refer to now as their vehicles or, as I will refer to them as from now on, their cars (which, yes, normal cars don’t have weapons but this is the primary mode of transport we see in Atlantis and some assumedly fills essentially the same cultural role). These Atlanteans seem totally comfortable flying their cars, like it’s no-biggie, something they do all the time. No one is shocked they know how to do it. We also meet Princess Kida, as well as her father, Kashekim Nedakh (hi, Leonard Nimoy!). They watch as the tidal wave comes and Atlantis, protected by its powerful magic, sinks below the waves.
Fast forward a few millenniums. In 1914 Milo Thatch goes down and finds Atlantis, and it’s this sort of decaying city where the people have lost touch with their culture. Which in theory makes sense, because it’s been like 3000 years. But then this major wrench is thrown into the works: Kida is still alive. She grew up to be a young woman, sure, but she’s still alive. Which means unless she really lucked out on the life-span gene pool, Atlanteans live for thousands of years, and these are the same Atlanteans we saw at the beginning of the film.
So why can’t they start their damn cars anymore?
Okay, maybe Kida was young when the cars were around. Sure. Fine. But not everyone was. There were adults! We see them driving them at the beginning of the movie. Did Kida’s dad forget to like take her to a parking lot and teach her how to drive? No, because no one knows how to drive. Kida is 100% perplexed by the cars when she meets Milo, which means in her whole adult life she has never seen anyone start one or drive one. She says she’s not even sure what the hell their function is. None of the Atlanteans drive anymore. Remember, again, these are the same adults from the beginning of the movie.
What the hell happened to everyone else? These cars are moss covered, strewn about the city. No one knows how to operate them or what they are. They are literally forgotten. Think about what it would take for a whole society to forget how to drive. Seriously, think about it.
Imagine: one day you park your beautiful Red Honda Fit and walk away from it. The next day you return. But: oops! Somehow you forgot how to start it! What a silly move on your part. Luckily god damn everyone else in the world knows how to start a car. You can look around and see hundreds of other people successfully starting their cars. So just go ask one of them! What happened to the Atlanteans? Did they forget en masse, all at once overnight? It’s not even a complicated system: you put your hand in the spot you clearly have to put your hand and you turn a friggin key that every Atlantean wears around their necks. What do they think their keys are for?
But, fine. New scenario: imagine one day you walk outside and you forget not only how to start your car, but also what a car even is. And imagine everyone else, all your neighbors, somehow miraculously lose this information as well. You look around, and see that in front of every house there is a car or two. What do you do? Shrug your shoulders? Be like: hm, guess this random item that everyone owns is just nothing, better let moss grow over it and never ever think about it again. That’s insane. Yet Kida is the only friggin’ Atlantean who is even remotely curious as to what all these relicts (which, again, everyone who is alive used to use on a regular basis) do and why they exist.
OH! But there’s a failsafe for that. If you can read Atlantean (again, something these people must have known when their city sank because they were writing with it at that time) there are specific, SPECIFIC instructions as to how to start the car. They are so easy to read that Milo, who has learned Atlantean on his own through sheer guesswork, is able to start a car. Which means that after a) forgetting how to start their cars and b) forgetting what cars are all these people c) also forgot how to read their own language.
Do you forget things over 3000 years? I don’t know, but Kida was only like three when her mom was abducted by a bright light in the sky and she remembers that just fine. So, again, either she’s a zillion times smarter than everyone else or… well, I don’t even know what the “or” is.
So let’s just chart this: hundreds of adults (the smartest on the planet at the time, we’re also told) after using magic to survive a tidal wave all park their cars and then forget both how to use them and what they are, all around the same time I guess (or else they are just too embarrassed to ask each other once they forget, but this would still require each and every one of them forgetting over a span of time). They then walk blissfully away from their cars and never ever wonder about what they do again. Then, this dude who is not the wisest guy on the planet, who is new to both their language and their city starts a car easy as pie by reading the instructions the people forgot to read. And all the Atlanteans remember how to start their cars immediately. They can fly them so well. They don’t have to re-learn how to pilot them, and they are shown as being markedly better at it than the new-comers. And not a single one of them while picking back up the cars that they themselves (again, got to stress the continuity of these being the same god damn people) drove 3000 years ago is like: “oh… right, this is what these things were for”.
Don’t even get me started on how friggin’ stupid it is that even once they get back into the cars they only rediscover the lasers by accident.