Tuesday, February 23, 2010

#41: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Done by the directors of "Beast" and "Hunchback," "Atlantis" was to be completely unlike those films, or any other Disney film for that matter. It was going to be an epic adventure full of thrilling creatures and perils. However around this time the Disney higher-ups were becoming more and more discouraged with their feature animation's lack of success, and started to meddle with their films more to cut costs, so they could quickly release a movie, pump millions into promotion, and hope it was a hit. "Atlantis" was pretty expensive as is, but cuts forced them to remove most of the creature scenes, as the executives wanted to know why it was taking so long for the crew to GET to Atlantis, not realizing that was the whole point. The film is viewed as a bomb, a victim of excessive executive meddling, and one of the first nails in the coffin for Disney 2D animation.
At the cusp of World War I, linguist Milo Thatch has uncovered evidence that might prove the ancient civilization of Atlantis is actually real, but none of his peers will hear such nonsense. However, a mysterious benefactor beckons Milo, and having made a bet with his grandfather, pledges to fund his expedition to Atlantis and provide him with a crew, full of a bunch of ragtag characters. After a tough and dangerous journey, they arrive at the gorgeous ancient city, to find that it is going into decay due to the current citizens' inability to read the ancient texts of their people and resurrect the source of their power. Kida, the daughter of the Atlantian leader, discovers Milo's ability to read dead languages, and enlists his help, but unbeknown to them, the rest of the crew has more greedy intentions regarding the treasures of the lost city.
Visually, the film is quite strong, adapting a style akin to a graphic novel, which I personally liked. Although there were times where the different style clashed with traditional Disney elements, the characters were mostly interesting to watch in action. Then there's the great CG integration; the money shot here is where the camera sits as the Ulysses ship sinks down into the sea, where, through a giant orange ocular window we see the intricate ship design, exterior and interior, in 3D and the characters watching in 2D, all in one great seamless shot. The city of Atlantis is also incredibly lush and beautiful, with many technically proficient and gorgeous set pieces, like the gigantic undersea tablets, and the floating glowing masks representing lost leaders. The high-tech ancient vehicles (oxymoron?) are also pretty cool and pulled off quite well.
As for the story... well, let's say it's spotty. With so many plot elements and an entire civilization's back story and plight to explain, there's bound to be a lot of exposition, but the problem is that major elements of it are spread out throughout the film, and you forget important elements along the way. It doesn't help that a lot of the expedition to Atlantis is full of the side characters' comedic antics, which aren't really that amusing or interesting, and also take away from the sci-fi adventure aura that the film had presented itself to be. As a result, I'm still a bit hazy on the entire plot and what exactly the Atlantians' life force exactly is, even though they attempt to explain it several times in the film. Also, there's a few things that are just silly. Kida and her father are old enough to have been alive when the city was submerged into the Earth, so that must mean there are others still alive too who can read their own language, right? Did they just happen to forget? She seems to speak every other language that would prove her no use in Atlantis, and she forgot the most important one? The story became over-complicated, and as such, it was hard to follow, and ultimately care, about this epic story that was unfolding.
There's also the matter of our cast. The various crew members are slightly amusing in their quirkiness, but none of them really generate a real response from me like classic Disney side characters of the past. They all seem very distant, and it becomes even harder to root for them when they betray Milo under the orders of the greedy commander. And later when they have a change of heart and help the Atlantians, there's only like ten minutes of movie left, and I could really care less. As for Milo, he's likable enough, a well-meaning and bumbling nerd (nothing of which I can relate to, mind you), but when he's your only likable character, it's a bit tough to hold a movie together. Kida counts too, I guess. She's brave, earnest... hot... *ahem*...

Verdict? Perhaps if the higher-ups had left this film alone it could have been a bit stronger... or maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. It's futile to speculate on these matters; all I can talk about is the film as it is now, and unfortunately, despite it being one of the visually strongest and most stylistic Disney has done, there seems to be a real disconnect on a human level from this thing. Between the distant characters and somewhat slapdash story, "Atlantis" gets bogged down with a lot of dialogue when it should be kicking my ass with gorgeous scenery and giant monsters. Oh well, and so it is, the tribulations of our lost city...


  1. !!!

    You're a Lilo and Stitch away from reviewing my favorite movie!


  2. Kida would been a better hero then Milo if they ever decide to rework Atlantis into an more neater remake(animated or live action)that would have ignored the original story's pitfalls. Make the crew better then showing them as randomly greedy for no real reason, have Atlantis be a place that the audience would care about and finally make the villain someone that challenge them to the limits and have a danger to it that the original just failed to have because of overly rushed storyline and such. It could be along the lines of the anime style they wanted to do in 2001 but the rewrites throw a monkey wench into that idea however great it was.