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Atlantis: The Lost Empire

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Starring: Michael J. Fox, James Garner
Director: Gary Trousdale
Rated: PG
RunTime: 88 Minutes
Release Date: June 2001
Genres: Animation, Kids, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Cree Summer, Leonard Nimoy, Don Novello, Claudia Christian, Jacqueline Obradors, John Mahoney, Jim Varney, David Ogden Stiers

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

"Atlantis: The Lost Empire," the latest feature-length cartoon from Disney, is an adventure story offering a smooth blend of traditional drawing and computer animation, top-notch voice work from an impressive cast and lots of action. In addition, there are no cheesy musical numbers or adorable animal sidekicks. On the surface (if you'll pardon the expression), it sounds likes a can't-miss enterprise, but the finished product is merely serviceable. "Atlantis" suffers from an over-familiar storyline, underdeveloped characters and a surprising lack of imagination, especially in the all-important visuals.

Everything in the production appears to be culled from other Disney movies. The humans look like refugees from the animated "101 Dalmatians," while the Atlanteans appear to be first cousins of "The Little Mermaid." Add a submarine that would fit in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and mystical spinning crystals reminiscent of the central controller in "Tron" and you start wondering if the artists from the other films will receive royalty payments for this one.

Then there's the matter of Atlantis itself. One of the most enduring legends of all time, the fabled city that disappeared beneath the sea cries out for overkill. Atlantis should be an opulent vista of majestic buildings stretching as far as the eye can see. Flowing ivy should entwine the massive pillars supporting the exotic and ornate structures. Atlantis should look like a combination of ancient Rome and the Emerald City from Oz. Instead, we get shots of what looks like a grandiose office complex. Where's the magic? Where's the wonder? Trust me, ladies and gentlemen, Donovan would never have written a song about this place.

As for what happens in the office complex, here's the skinny. Following a prologue depicting the sinking of Atlantis, the story jumps to 1914, where we meet scrawny linguist and map expert Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox), a young man obsessed with the lost kingdom. His boss (David Ogden Stiers) and coworkers dismiss the museum curator as a crackpot, but Milo remains a true believer; after all, his grandfather once told him about the mysterious Shepherd's Journal, said to contain the secret to locating Atlantis.

Enter billionaire Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney), who has the book and wants Milo to join an expedition to the mythic land. In short order, the kid ends up in a Captain Nemo-style submarine with a ragtag (is there any other kind?) group of mercenaries. Heading the crew is brawny Commander Rourke (James Garner) and his tough lieutenant Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian), along with dirt-covered geologist Gaetan Moliere (Corey Burton), affectionately called "Mole"; Mrs. Packard (Florence Stanley), a chain-smoking radio operator; droll demolitions expert Vinny Santorini (Don "Father Guido Sarducci" Novello); fast-talking Dr. Sweet (Phil Morris); Audrey Ramirez (Jacqueline Obradors), a no-nonsense mechanic; and a crusty cook known as - what else - Cookie (the late Jim Varney).

The crew nearly meets their end early on when a violent encounter with the Leviathan, a giant Crustacean-like machine, results in the destruction of the sub. Scrambling into escape pods, the team continues the adventure, following the directions in the Journal. They eventually discover the lost city, only to find it is still inhabited. Atlantis lives, courtesy of a crystal energy that provides the denizens light, power and the ability to heal.

Milo and company meet Princess Kida (Cree Summer), a radiant being who takes them to meet her father, the King (Leonard Nimoy), who immediately orders them to leave. They do and the story is over. Just kidding. To no surprise, certain members of the expedition have ulterior motives, leading to a kidnapping, lots of fighting and a heaping pile of New Age hooey.

The New Age stuff fits in with Disney's intense desire to be all things to all people. The expedition, a rainbow coalition of sexes, races and ethnic groups, reflects the same mindset, although the gang contains a number of stereotypes. What's the deal with the filthy Frenchman? Do all Latin women in cartoons have to sound like Rosie Perez? Must all black male characters be gruff, but gentle giants? And does the leading man always have to be white?

Continuing a long-standing Disney tradition, parents are an endangered species here. Milo is an orphan (Disney loves orphans) and, while I don't want to reveal specifics about the fates of Princess Kida's mom and dad, it is safe to say that by the end of the film her Christmas list is shorter.

Given the scarcity of big screen family material, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" will likely draw a huge audience. Admittedly, the movie is light years better than most of the junk currently being cranked out for children, and the filmmakers deserve credit for avoiding gross-out humor, but this production nonetheless remains a minor league affair. Incidentally, if you think I'm being unduly hard on "Atlantis," remember this: With their stellar list of creations, it was Disney that set the quality bar so high. Now it's their responsibility to live up to their own standards.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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