Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) / Animation-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast (voices): Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, Don Novello, Phil Morris, Jacqueline Obradors, Jim Varney, Claudia Christian, John Mahoney, Leonard Nimoy, Corey Burton, Florence Stanley, David Ogden Stiers
Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Screenplay: Tab Murphy
Review published February 29, 2004

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a weaker Disney animated feature, but still delivers enough goods to justify a viewing for those who enjoy their lesser efforts.  There's no song-and-dance, or even any cute anthropomorphic animals to be found here, clearly going for an older children's audience.  As a result, it's more forgettable than classic, yet still quite an impressive achievement in terms of animated adventures.

Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future, The Frighteners) provides the voice of main character Milo Thatch, the linguist grandson of a great adventurer, Thaddeus.  Utilizing Thaddeus' discovered journal, Milo is convinced of the actual existence of the legendary Atlantis, the mythical island that was written about by Plato, technologically advanced yet unable to save itself from being consumed by the ocean.  Milo has trouble getting funding, mostly because investors have a hard time believing the myth, but an old, wealthy friend of his grandfather's saves the day by providing the men and equipment to make such an expedition a reality.  The motley crew find their destination, but aren't exactly prepared for what they will find, or Milo also discovers ulterior motives for some of the rest of the crew.

Atlantis is written and directed by the same crew that brought us Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the directors of Beauty and the Beast.  Unlike those films, this one is clearly a different breed, with a lack of singing, no sweeping romance, and it's an entirely new, original story.  Although no one would ever really confuse Disney's style with those of anime, this is probably as close as they have come, with a leaning more on technology and action than in previous films, hoping to capture a different, more demanding audience, while not exactly leaving the typical Disney fans behind. 

It takes about 45 minutes before Atlantis becomes truly entertaining, but once it does, it remains so for the duration.  It's very much an amalgamation film, sort of a cross between Stargate and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and just like those films, all stops have been pulled in an effort to wow the audience with sights and sounds breathtaking and awe-inspiring.  It's a difficult task for an animated film to do, especially one which looks very cartoonish, but there is an element of mysterious grandeur that permeates much of the final half hour that works quite well.

OK, so it's not an altogether memorable Disney adventure, but it's entertaining enough while it lasts.  It has all of the great animation, voice work, scoring, and art design you'd expect from a Disney animated adventure, and should be of particular interest to young boys who love sci-fi fantasy adventures.  It's not the sort of film one would watch repeatedly, but as a rental, it will fit the bill.

-- Followed by a straight-to-video release, Atlantis: Milo's Return.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo