ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE
Rated PG - Running Time: 1:33 - Released 6/15/01
I suppose every successful filmmaker has his or her occasional flop, and it's the same for production companies. Let's hope that Atlantis: The Lost Empire, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the team behind 1991's Best Picture-nominated Beauty And The Beast and 1996's less-than-great Hunchback of Notre Dame, is not an indication of a return to the low standards of the'70s and '80s suffered by the Walt Disney Pictures animation department. It's got a plot that's frankly boring, a lackluster script, and production values not much better than a Pokémon movie. With voice talent like Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and Leonard Nimoy, one would think the result would have more sparkle to it, but Atlantis is sorely lacking in the magic and majesty we have come to expect in the wake of other recent Disney cartoon products, showing instead a disconcerting movement toward the effects-over-content mentality so prevalent in live-action films today.
Written by Tab Murphy and Joss Whedon, based on the story by
Bryce and Jackie Zabel, Atlantis deals with a young linguist
and boiler room technician named Milo Thatch (voice of Fox), the
grandson of a famous Atlantis enthusiast. Milo is obsessed with
finding the remains of the mythical sunken city, and he finds
a friend in the elderly and wealthy Preston B. Whitmore (Frazier's
John Mahoney), who knew his granddad. Whitmore, who possesses
a legendary lost journal explaining how to reach Atlantis, agrees
to fund a submarine expedition, and has even assembled a crew.
Under the command of Lyle Tiberius Rourke (Garner), the group
includes no-nonsense first mate Helga (Claudia Christian), elderly
radio woman Ms. Packard (Florence Stanley), physician Dr. Sweet
(Phil Morris), explosives specialist Vinny (Don Novello, sounding
exactly like his SNL alter ego, Fr. Guido Sarducci), teenage
mechanic Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors), dirt-crazed tunneler "Mole"
(Corey Burton), and "Cookie" (the late Jim Varney),
who feeds the crew.
After weighing anchor with Milo as the navigator (since only
he can speak and read Atlantian), the group suffers a few setbacks,
but finally reaches the famed land of Atlantis, which is still
a bustling metropolis living in an undersea cave. Or something.
The king, Nedakh (Nimoy) is wary of the intruders, but his daughter,
Princess Kida (Cree Summer), welcomes Milo and his group. It soon
becomes clear, however, that Cdr. Rourke has different plans than
Milo had intended namely, to steal the powerful crystal
which allows the Atlantians to survive and return to the surface
with it. Milo must engage in all-out war with his former superior
in order to save the ancient society from certain death.
Although this film is adequately entertaining (and adequately short), I was disappointed in it from several standpoints, including the radically different styles of animation between the characters and the background/effects. The character animation looks surprisingly simplistic and rough, without the depth that has been a trademark of Disney characters for years. The backgrounds, while attractive, never achieve the kind of awesome splendor we have seen in every Disney cartoon since that famous ballroom scene in Beast. While the subject matter is certainly an interesting topic, the Zabel story is pat and unremarkable; moreover, the Murphy/Whedon script lacks the kind of wit we have grown to expect from mouse house productions. There are definitely some clever lines here and there, but virtually no sign of the memorable subtlety so prevalent in the dialogue of other Disney movies. ***