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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Disneyear: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire was Disney's attempt to try and bring in a more adult crowd. Instead of your typical fairy-tale musical, they went with an action-adventure film inspired by the works of Jules Verne with a touch of Indiana Jones.With artwork designed by Mike Mignola and featuring more CGI effects than any other animated film at the time, the film was released when audience interest in animated films was shifting away from hand-drawn animation toward films with full CGI. And boy, did it backfire... Not only did the film not make as much money as Disney was hoping for but critics and audiences panned the film to no end. It just seemed like on one liked this film! Despite it's failure, the film has a devoted fan base over the years like in The Black Cauldron. So are the criticisms right? Well... kind of. Unlike The Black Cauldron, I actually think the good stuff outweighs the bad. It's nowhere near as annoying and I think the characters and settings are far more interesting. However, it still has some pretty big flaws that I'll later explain. So with out further delay, let's literally dive into Atlantis.


Thousands of years after the legendary sinking of Atlantis, we come to 1914 to find Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), a janitor for a museum with many theories and discoveries of the lost civilization. Since he has no physical proof other than a diary called the Shepard's Journal, no one believes him. That is except for a rich former explorer and friend of his family named Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney) who happens to have the Shepard's Journal. He's spent many years and millions of dollars for a possible exploration complete with a crew led by Commander Rourke (James Garner), who also led the Journal recovery expedition. The crew includes Vinny (Don Novello), a demolitions expert; Mole (Corey Burton), a geologist; Dr. Sweet (Phil Morris), a medical officer; Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors), a mechanic; Mrs. Packard (Florence Stanley), a radio operator; and Cookie (Jim Varney), a mess cook. Since Milo's the only one who can read and understand it, he's the only way to the lost city. After some grueling obstacles like a leviathan killing most of the crew, they come to sort of resent Milo. After a while, they come to sort of like him since they wouldn't have gone so far without him. After excavating through many caves and a dormant volcano, they at last find the city and are welcomed by the local Atlanteans. One of which is Princess Kida (Cree Summer), who Milo forms a fast friendship with and discovers that the Atlantean language is the basis of many existing languages (which allows the Atlanteans to understand English). Kida enlists Milo's aid in deciphering the Atlantean written language and culture, long forgotten by the natives. Later, the crew betrays Milo and Rourke even mortally wounds the king (Leonard Nimoy) while trying to extract information about the crystal's location, but finds its location for himself hidden beneath the King's throne room. The crystal detects a threat and merges with Kida. Rourke and the mercenaries lock Kida in a crate and prepare to leave the city, knowing that when the crystal is gone the Atlanteans will die. Milo berates his friends for betraying their consciences and ultimately convinces them to leave Rourke and remain in Atlantis. After the the king dies, Milo rallies up his friends to stop Rourke from possibly destroying what they found. They of course stop the bad guys, save the city, and Milo decides to stay behind in Atlantis.

So sounds like a great adventure, right? And in many ways, it is. There are adult moments in the film like things blow up and people actually die as well as a dash of suspense. But at the same time you have to mix those elements with Disney, doncha? I have the feeling it was trying it's best to be more serious but it's constantly held back by that fact and if you're trying to get more of an adult crowd that's not the best thing in the world to do. For example, listen to this line and tell me if this is something you would see in an Indiana Jones film or a Disney flick?


And guess who the villain is? Yeppers, another greedy bunghole who wants money! Oh for God's sake! Dude, you found a lost civilization! You're rich either way, but no! We gotta destroy the people so that the artifacts we take are even more valuable! *sigh* Give me a break, I'm sick of these kinds of villains... But he does have a cool death though! Take a gander!

...that's kind of cool.

So what does work in the movie's favor? The big thing for me is actually the Atlantean culture itself. I think it's a fascinating one. I like the idea that the people actually have to relearn parts their language and culture because they themselves have forgotten it. I like all the mythology, the magical elements, some of the technologies they have, it's just awesome! I think the designs by Mike Mignola are really cool. Unlike Gerald Scarfe from Hercules, the unique designs are used to the films advantage. And of course, the animation is gorgeous. Like look at this scene for instance.







Milo himself is a nice character, most of his likability comes from Michael J. Fox. It's Michael J. Fox, how can you not like this guy? I also really like these side characters too. They all have unique personalities, very funny, have funny lines, and stand out. I also like the relationship between Milo and Kida. It's a rare instance where a Disney couple doesn't marry at the end. They don't even kiss, they just give a hug! That's rare!



So is Atlantis a good movie on the whole? ...Probably not, since the problems I listed before are pretty major ones. But I still think that all the good stuff in this film is really good and it definitely holds up, at least for me. All the problems didn't really ruin it for me... okay, it almost did. But I guess they ruined the film for a lot of people. I know this film has it's haters and it's fans. I suppose you can put me in with the fans. I like it despite it's flaws. If it really is bad, then I guess you can call this a guilty pleasure for me. All I know is that I did enjoy watching it.

3 comments:

Matthew Koh said...

This film is the main reason why I want to become an animator.

Justin Smith said...

I'm happy to hear that, Matt. If you ever need inspiration for designs, this film's chock full of them.

Brittney said...

I loved this movie! The steampunk feel of it stole my heart. Plus its nice seeing another primitive princess who isn't in heels and poofy dresses singing about love.