Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Some people think that the recent reemergence of the Disney animated movie may be nearing an end. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King revitalized Disney's sagging genre, only to have films like Pocohontas, Hercules, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame follow in their wake. In order to remain at the forefront, Disney must continue to make good movies while pushing the limits of animation and storytelling. There are only so many people who are willing to sit through another animated musical with cute animal sidekicks. This is where Atlantis and The Emperor's New Groove come in. The latter was many times funnier, almost loony compared to other animated films. Atlantis is an old-fashioned adventure, with great animation but only a slightly above-average story. Both these films are not 'typical Disney,' but their increasing diversity will ensure a sense of creativity and challenge needed to survive. Atlantis in particular has no songs, no animal sidekicks (well, maybe one and he's French) and (gasp!) a PG rating. This is a movie that small kids may not quite understand, and will probably play best to men, adolescent on upward. There is a surprising amount of action, fighting, and death; reminiscent of a comic book.

Another element that looks like a comic is the artwork. Dubbed "Dis-nola," the look of Atlantis and its characters is largely due to comic book artist Mike Mignolia. He has a blocky, angular style that does not look quite realistic, but does look distinctive and stylistic. The resulting characters and setting convincingly meld the two into one. The only character that truly looks Mignolia-esque is Helga, who resembles an old-fashioned femme fatale. Everybody looks familiar enough to be 'Disney,' but different enough to look off-kilter. There are a large number of principal characters, and each one has his/her own unique look. Although some tread familiar and possibly near-offensive stereotypes (the feisty Latina, the grumpy old woman, the crazy old man, the lecherous Frenchman, the noble, wise, African-American...) they each look extremely different from each other. Atlantis also uses computer animation to a huge degree, and manages to integrate the characters and backgrounds well. It is all a matter of attention to detail. The makers even enlisted Marc Okrand, the man who created the Klingon and Vulcan languages for Star Trek, create an Atlantean one. The voyage to Atlantis and Atlantis itself is a visual treat, full of breathtaking panoramic shots, including huge, imposing caverns and lush tropical jungles. Co-directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) do tend to overdo some shots that circle around an object then expand outward, but they want to convey a sense of grandeur, and it works.

As great as these shots are, they highlight the main setback for Atlantis; a lack of a story. There is one, but it really begins nearly halfway into the movie. The search for Atlantis is short and is less a search and more of a trek. More than anything else, much of the first portion of the movie resembles a great vacation movie. There are five people total credited with the story; Tab Murphy (Tarzan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Joss Whedon (Titan A.E, Alien Resurrection), Bryce Zabel (Mortal Kombat 2), and Jackie Zabel. Alas, no vampire slayers, but there are plenty of amusing one-liners and comebacks. Storywise, there is nothing terribly out of the ordinary. Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox, Stuart Little, Mars Attacks!) is a scientist in 1914 who believes in the existence of Atlantis. He works at a museum, where the Board scoffs at his beliefs. Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney, Iron Giant, The Broken Hearts Club), a rich friend of Milo's grandfather, provides a book and funding for Milo to make a trip to find Atlantis. Lyle Rourke (James Garner, Space Cowboys, The Last Debate) leads the mission, which includes a number of characters voiced by people like Claudia Christian (Love and Sex, True Rights), Don Novello aka Father Guido Sarducci (Just One Night, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle), and the late Jim Varney (Toy Story 2, Treehouse Hostage).

They are expecting to find the ruins of a lost city, instead, they find a city alive with people. The Atlanteans are dying, and Milo is the only person who can help. They lost the ability to read their writing, thus rendering them helpless. Milo, a linguist, can read the language. What isn't clear is how he is able to immediately speak it. King Kashekim (Leonard Nimoy, Brave New World, Invasion America) does not trust the outsiders, but his daughter Kida (Cree Summer, Rugrats in Paris, An Extremely Goofy Movie) thinks that Milo can help. Unknown to Milo, there are certain members of his mission that are out for financial gain. Like most cartoons, the bad guys are easy to identify because they, well, look like bad guys. After the team arrives in Atlantis, the pace picks up considerably, and does not slow down until the movie is over. With so many characters involved, nobody except Milo and Kida get to develop personalities with depth. The writers give each person a couple minutes of backstory, and resolve it in the end. It's not terribly convincing, and seems to only take up time. So while Atlantis may not have the greatest story, it is a treat to watch.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 34 minutes, Rated PG for action violence.

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