Retro Review: Atlantis: Lost Empire

One of the most ambitious Disney animated projects in years. “Atlantis” centers around a shy, educated dreamer named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox). Milo is carrying on his grandfather’s quest which is to find the lost and forgotten city of Atlantis.

Milo’s fascinations with the myths surrounding Atlantis turn him into an outsider in the educated world. Until one fateful night, where he is taken to meet Preston Whitmore (Frasier’s John Mahoney), an old man who has a mysterious connection to Milo’s grandfather.

Whitmore needs a linguist to translate an ancient journal that promises to pave out the journey to the fabled city. Whitmore has assembled a team of experts to complete the journey but he needs Milo to translate the “gibberish” within the journal so the expedition can commence.

What obstacles must Milo unlock during his journey? What is left of the long dead Atlantean culture? Will Milo ever find the respect that eluded his grandfather before him?

“Atlantis” starts off with a bang and shifts back to a mirror image of the beginnings of a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel come to life. As the story kicks in the texture changes and the admiration of legendary science fiction writer Jules Verne is very relevant.

As the film’s plot develops and action commences, you do see a lot of last year’s “Titan AE”. Many plot elements are very similar to that film and the action sequences definitely reflect that film’s feel. It truly is amazing how many different elements and inspirations of other films are within this film.

This film will be compared to “Titan” on a lot of levels but one thing that maybe forgotten or not mentioned is that this script is far, far superior to that of “Titan”.

The character’s humor, interaction, and development are vastly superior to that of “Titan”. And without the confusion of the different animation styles eating each other up, you have a chance to enjoy the journey.

The animated characters are drawn and interact a lot like the ones found in the sleeper classic, “The Iron Giant”. Their movements and personalities really reflect that style. That key difference is why this fantasy adventure works so much more than “Titan” ever did. The characters of Milo Thatch and “Vinny” Santorini (Don Novello), the expedition’s demolition expert, are classic examples of the similarities between the characters here and in “Giant”.

One thing that was very similar to other Disney classics was the presence of the beautiful curvaceous, and independent woman. In Atlantis, there are actually three strong female characters. From the Atlantean princess to a mercenary to a mechanic, women have always held a presence in Disney animation and here is no different.

The voices provided by Fox and Novello, for me were the most suiting to the characters. Fox really brings depth and personality to the skinny and reluctant Milo. His voice tone and direction is very similar to that of his performance in “Stuart Little” but does echo a new maturity.

As for Novello, he is most famous for his Father Guido Sarducci character and that very personality is perfect for Vinny. I liked these two characters and their interactions with the film’s plot and wonder. They were by far my favorite. There were a lot of other characters in this film but it was really hard to commend any of their performances.

Like all quest films, “Atlantis” does seem to run out of steam once the characters have arrived at their fabled destination. I was pulled into the quest side of the story and loved the look of a lot of the vehicles, monsters and chasms. The fabled Atlantean civilization reminded me a lot of the native culture in “Road to El Dorado”. Why couldn’t their have been some sort of inner struggle within the city or an Atlantean villain?

I admired the scope and magnitude that Disney was trying to achieve with Atlantis but this surely isn’t your typical Disney film. In some ways it’s good and other ways it may hurt business. It will play good with science fiction and action fans but may hurt the rather loyal Disney audience. I am definitely among that crowd because I enjoyed myself.

It is also worthy to note that this is only the second Disney animated film to ever receive a PG rating. The first was the long forgotten and dark 80s film, “The Black Cauldron”. Let’s hope this film doesn’t suffer the same fate as “Cauldron”.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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