Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Action Violence
Directed by: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Written by: Tab Murphy & David Reynolds
Voices of: Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, Don Novello, Phil Morris, Claudia Christian, Jacqueline Obradors, Corey Burton & Leonard Nimoy
After the Disney Renaissance in the late-80’s and early-90’s, it seemed like the studio’s animated output was in an ever more noticeable slump. It’s not as if every single one of these movies were bad, but they definitely were on the a lower level from the amazing streak that included LION KING, BEAUTY & THE BEAST and ALADDIN. ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE was probably the definite tipping point where Disney’s animation was just failing to connect with most general audiences. You have to give Disney points for aiming to tell a Jules Verne-esque adventure as opposed to a safer fairy tale property. The studio expected that this film would be a massive hit too. So much so that they ordered two episodes for a TV series (later transformed into yet another unnecessary direct-to-video sequel) and had begun planning to construct a ride in their California theme park (which was soon scrapped right after this movie flopped at the box office). However, ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE is a decent out-of-the-ordinary adventure that I feel is a bit underrated.
It’s 1914 and the geeky Milo Thatch finds himself trying to finance a quest to the lost city of Atlantis. Milo’s dream journey comes true when he meets Preston Whitmore (a friend of his grandfather’s). With all the resources that he needs (multiple submarines, vehicles, and an eccentric crew), Milo sets off on an exciting expedition to the legendary lost city of Atlantis. Along the way, he and his fellow crew members will encounter giant underwater beasties, deadly environments, a power beyond anyone’s imagination and a thriving civilization thought to be dead.
Again, props to Disney for stepping out of their comfort zone. That’s the one sure thing that I can really praise about the weird time period (and downfall) after Disney’s animated Renaissance. Disney kept trying new things, even if their executions of those ideas made for a few missed opportunities. ATLANTIS feels like the studio was trying too hard in areas, especially with the quirky band of characters. There’s not much to any of these crew members except for little chuckles. The Frenchman acts like a dirty mole and that’s played for laughs. The demolitions expert has a soft side, but passionately loves explosives. Then there’s the chain-smoking communications expert who’s apathetic about everything. Those are only a handful of the many one-note jokes of characters in ATLANTIS. Milo is a bland protagonist too, but the worst character comes in an unremarkable villain whose only motivation is clichéd greed. It’s been seen before and in much better movies.
Now that those complaints have been addressed, I can say that this film is beautifully animated with a very distinct style that I haven’t seen pulled off in any other Disney releases. The combination of computer animation as well as traditional 2D drawings work really well into a unique look. The action scenes are pretty exciting and well-done. Though the characters might be as bland as can be, the plot of ATLANTIS is highly creative. You can tell there was a lot of imagination at work. One could argue that a giant piece of exposition at the end, which proceeds to explain every plot hole and answer every question in the space of a single conversation, seems to be drag on for too long and is almost making itself up as it goes along.
Even if it did lose its studio a lot of money (as well as a failed TV series and a scrapped theme park ride), ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE has earned a respectable cult following since its release. Problems are evident in bland characters, a slightly distracting focus on being hip, and one monologue that seems to be making itself up as it goes along. There’s still far more positive qualities here that outweigh the complaints. In the end, ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE is an entertaining science-fiction adventure that may have signaled a further downward spiral in Disney’s box office performance, but holds up as an underrated and unique animated flick.