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If you like action adventure films, Dear Readers, then Disney’s newest animated film, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, may be your cup of tea.
Atlantis is a departure from Disney’s last few outings. It’s not only stylistically different, it’s also not a musical, and there’s no cute little animal sidekick to provide comic relief. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its comic moments, because Atlantis certainly has them. They’re just provided by a couple of the members of the expedition team accompanying the hero of the story, Milo Thatch, in the quest for the lost city.
Unfortunately, the movie is a kind of good news / bad news story. We’ll start with the bad news first; it’s always nice to end on an up note.
My first thought upon viewing the movie, was that Disney Feature Animation has lost it, as far as innovation goes. Atlantis didn’t seem too original to me. The basic story is pretty stock, a rag-tag team of adventurers set out in search of ________. (You fill in the blank, gold, eternal youth, lost princess, mythical city. It’s been done a thousand times.)
The characters also seem kind of stock. It’s as if Disney went to the character store, looked through the merchandise on the shelf and said, "I’ll take one of those and one of those, and one of those.
The hero of the piece is misunderstood by his colleagues and brainy. How do we know this? Simple. He wears big, thick, glasses and the folks he works with do everything they can to avoid him.
The heroine is a princess (isn’t she always a princess?) who seems to be able to speak every language ever known and comes equipped with a "magic crystal" (whose magic is never really explained, we just have to accept).
There is a crotchety, wisecracking old lady, a hulky, intimidating- looking doctor who’s really a big teddy bear, a weird guy who likes dirt (the animal side- kick replacement) and a cook who can’t cook.
The bad guy masquerades as something he’s not. There’s a bevy of storm troopers, right out of Star Wars (dressed in brown instead of white), some of whom do a mean imitation of Darth Vader- style breathing.
The story is also a bit tired. It borrows from Star Wars and tries to look like Indiana Jones. Atlantis is based on Jules Verne’s 2000 Leagues Under the Sea. So is an anime television series named Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. Nadia ran in Japan for 39 episodes from April 1990 through April 1991, well before Atlantis hit the scene. Since both Nadia and Atlantis are based on the same source, it’s to be expected that there would be an awful lot of similarities, even though the two stories differ slightly. In both cases though, the hero is a brainy guy who wears big glasses and the heroine is a dark- skinned princess with a magic crystal.
The plot is so full of holes it would make a good piece of Swiss cheese for a ham sandwich. Maybe the fine Disney folks were targeting kids who wouldn’t question the plot deficiencies as their audience, but if that’s the case, then there is another point for the bad column. Disney’s animated films have always been multi- layered, richly textured pieces that all fit together, which adults, as well as children, could appreciate.
That sounds like I hated it doesn’t it? Au contraire, Dear Readers. While I didn’t love it (which is what I expect to do with Disney’s animated features), I did like it, found it entertaining, and would certainly admit it’s worth the price of admission. And while I will have no desire to see this film repeatedly, I think kids are going to like Atlantis a lot, probably to the point of driving their parents insane. It has the look of a Saturday morning cartoon series. In fact, it’s tailor- made to be turned into a television series. (And one is on the way wouldn't you know, bet you didn't see that one coming!)
The style of the film may not be for everyone but I found it, at the very least, interesting that Disney tried something new for them. It doesn’t look like your typical Disney film. Atlantis leans more toward an anime / comic book style. There is a very good reason for this. The production and character design was done by famous comic book artist, Mike Mignola, the man responsible for the popular comic book series, Hellboy.
As for the characters in the film, I have to say that while they are straight off the shelf as far as type, it’s nice they have their merits too. The girls are all strong; none of that falling down, poor, helpless, female stuff is found in Atlantis.
A couple of the members of the expedition team are pretty darned funny. If you liked comedian Don Novello’s character, Father Guido Sarducci, you’ll love Vinnie Santorini, the demolitions expert. He has some of the best lines in the film and Novello delivers them with perfect aplomb. Florence Stanley, the voice of Wilhelmina Packard, the chain- smoking communications expert, rivals Don Novello for the best line delivery prize with her "We’re all gonna die," line.
So, there you have it. Atlantis is a mixed bag of a movie. Not what you would expect from the folks who brought you Beauty and the Beast or Hunchback of Notre Dame, but certainly worth the price of one viewing. Perhaps, many more than that, if you happen to be in the seven to ten year age range.
Runs: 95 minutes
Michael J. Fox - Milo Thatch
Cree Summer – Princess Kida
James Garner – Commander Lyle T. Rourke
Claudia Christian – Helga Sinclair
Don Novello – Vincenzo Santorini
Florence Stanley – Wilhelmina Packard
John Mahoney – Preston Whitmore
Jim Varney – Cookie
Phil Morris – Dr. Joshua Sweet
Jacqueline Obradors – Audrey Ramirez
Corey Burton – Gaetan Moliere
Kashekim Nedakh – Leonard Nimoy
Directors: Gary Trousdale – Also worked on Oliver and Company, Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Beauty and the Beast. Kirk Wise – Also worked on The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Beauty and the Beast.
Producers: Don Hahn – Nominated for an Academy Award for Beauty and the Beast, also worked on The Lion King and Hunchback of Notre Dame. Kendra Halland
Art Director: Dave Goetz - Hunchback of Notre Dame
Production and Character Design: Mike Mignola
Linguist: Marc Okraud
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