A search for
the Lost Empire points the proper direction for adventure and animation.
Disney's latest animated offering, Atlantis calls back the past,
of a time when The Mouse knew how to make family pictures. A family picture
isn't merely a kid's picture with enough pop-culture jokes that the parents
don't mind sitting through it; a family picture tells a story that is
innocent and simple enough that the youngest members of the audience can
keep up while the older members of the audience remain not just entertained,
In the opening
sequence, Atlantis proves that its intended audience is older
than the average for animated Disney fare. It is completely subtitled,
indicating that unless you can read with a certain amount of speed,
accuracy, and comprehension, wait for the release of Cats and Dogs.
Atlantis (the city,
not the film) sinks mysteriously during the first fast-paced minutes.
A menacing blue tractor beam pulls the Queen of Atlantis from the city
as it sinks. The abduction teaches the first rule of parenting in a
movie, namely if one is ever separated from one's offspring, always
take or bestow a piece of jewelry for later identification and heartrending.
Following this breathless opening the action slows for a little plot.
Michael J. Fox
voices Milo Thatch, the scientist/hero with the booksmarts to find the
long-lost empire. Derided by his elders, Milo toils away at his research
in a boiler room trying to prove that his late grandfather's lifelong
pursuit of the sunken continent wasn't in vain. Strangely, Milo's memories
of his grandfather play out in a scratched, sepia-toned kinescope of
the two of them posing for a portrait. If one carries that disturbing
conceit out to its logical end, a Gen-Xer's childhood memories are all
Super-8 footage and even worse, a kid growing up today will look back
to the year 2001 through the lens of a shaky digital camera.
is once again rejected but waiting at home for him is Helga (Claudia
Christian), possibly the hottest chick ever to slink out of a Disney
animator's pen. Looking like Aeon Flux after a bleach job and a sandwich,
she invites the stuttering bookworm to the home of the obligatory eccentric
rich guy who will validate and fund all of Milo's research. From this
scene on the picture takes a turn into classic Disney adventure, most
notably 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
At a pace that
leaves the audience's heads spinning as fast as Milo's, the research
team checks in and the adventure begins. The animation styles vary greatly
from character to character. Although it is comforting to see that warm,
classic 2-D cel animation has not crumbled under the soulless computer
generated creations of late, the overall character design lacks consistency.
Milo is drawn like
a classic Disney character, somewhere between the male owner in 101
Dalmatians and an animated Dick Van Dyke. Then the smoldering Helga
and the hulking Michael Clarke Duncanesque doctor (Phil Morris) are
rendered with a level of naturalism and style heretofore unseen in Disney
humans. Some of the characters sport drastic angles while others stride
from the pages of classic adventure comics with rounded, yet rugged
features. The gas-masked thugs, reminiscent of Ralph Bakshi's Wizards,
bring a level of menace and brutality that raises the stakes higher
than any animated Disney feature before it.
It seems that while
Disney may have scoffed at Warner's box office failures in the animated
adventure market, including the entertaining Titan A.E. and the
perfect Iron Giant, they learned that the animated feature doesn't
have to be a sappy musical or strings of Pixar-animated pop-culture
praise for finally not ruining a fine adventure with talking animals,
however not all of the characters here appear to be of the same species.
Primarily the character called Mole (Corey Burton), but this complaint
could apply to a few other characters as well. Titan A.E. clocked
a lot of mileage with the John Leguizamo-voiced Gune and his mad tinkerer
hijinks, but the fact that he was a weird little alien made sense in
the sci-fi context. Mole takes the same place in the cast but as a character
he stands out the most as not just being of a different nationality
(French) but a completely different race of creature than the rest of
the cast. Some of the characters even notice this, as his is the only
back-story we don't learn and in fact are told that we don't want to
Besides Mole, the
rest of the comic relief scores more than a few big hits. In particular,
Don Novello resuscitates his Father Guido Sarducci character in the
guise of Vincenzo Santorini, with demolitions replacing his old padre
gig. Vincenzo gets his laughs from his main talents, which are blowing
things up and listing things in that halting Novello style.
Once the sunken
city is found, Atlantis: The Lost Empire manifests shades of
Frank Capra's Lost Horizon. An ancient ruler, a beautiful girl,
a land where no one ages and visitors can't go home are some of the
elements proving that Walt's kids are aiming for the thrilling adventures
of yesteryear and that they know their lineage. Thankfully, Atlantis
is the high adventure film that film fans have been waiting for.
to marketing and stolen production design, The Mummy franchise
is the heir apparent to the Indiana Jones Dynasty, Atlantis is
the picture that deserves the throne. The heroes of Atlantis
need both bravery and brains to save the world while The Mummy Returns'
Rick O'Connell needed only to decode the Egyptian equivalent of the
McDonald's picture menu for the illiterate.