Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an outlier among Disney movies. It has no princesses, no musical numbers, and no cute and funny animal sidekicks. Mole doesn’t count. It also has a different kind of animation, more angular and intentionally reminiscent of old pulp magazine tales. While there’s much humor throughout, Atlantis is more mature than most Disney films, with hundreds of people dying, albeit off-screen. This large number of redshirts makes it almost funny that only the good characters with names end up living.
The characters are actually what attracted the most criticism when Atlantis was released. The film is like Indiana Jones crossed with a caper film, and the latter’s habit of collecting a team of uniquely skilled individuals for the mission is well utilized. While I personally like all the characters, it’s true that most of their backstories, if any, are glossed over so quickly that any development is relegated to humorous character moments, like Cookie’s grease-based cooking or Dr. Sweet’s chiropractic assistance for Milo’s neck. The voice acting, though, is spot-on, with Michael J. Fox as Milo, James Garner as Rourke, Don Novello (“Fr. Guido Sarducci”) as Vinny, Phil Morris as Sweet (Disney’s first animated African American character), and Corey Burton as Mole being the stand-outs.
Watching it again, I was reminded of other films, particularly Prometheus. The scene in which Milo gives a presentation about their mission’s goal to the unimpressed crew, which was commissioned by an eccentric millionaire, is suspiciously similar to the same scene in the much later Ridley Scott film. As for the action scenes, they are extremely well-done, if implausible at times, and critic Roger Ebert wrote that the finale “stands by itself as one of the great animated action sequences.”
The main issue for me is the whole “explanation” for Atlantis itself. The advanced power source Milo seeks turns out to be a sentient New Age-y crystal thing that protected Atlantis against the flood, which its misuse supposedly caused. Using this New Age crystal as the film’s MacGuffin is just not as successful as, say, the Biblical ones of the first and third Indiana Jones movies.
There are many unanswered questions. Where did it come from? If it’s sentient, why would it allow itself to be misused so terribly? Why did it give Kida back but not her mother? On top of these questions, there are others. The crystal was under Atlantis, which was underground, so what provided daylight? Even if Atlantean was the root of every language, how could they speak perfect English, having not been exposed to its modern development? If Atlantis sank 10,000 years ago, how did Plato know about it?
Despite these problems, Atlantis: The Lost Empire was an entertaining new direction for Disney that sadly didn’t deliver as executives had hoped. It remains a cult classic and a worthy addition to my list.
Best line: (Packard, over the intercom, like something from MASH) “Attention: Tonight’s supper will be baked beans. Musical program to follow.”Artistry: 5 Characters/Actors: 7 Entertainment: 8 Visual Effects: 8 Originality: 6 Watchability: 8 Other (New Age themes) -8 TOTAL: 34 out of 60
Next: #269 – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
© 2014 S. G. Liput