Review: ‘Atlantis: the Lost Empire’

You know a formula is tired when the people that invented it figure it’s time for a change. Don’t look for singing, dancing, or talking animals in Disney’s “Atlantis” this summer, but bear witness to something missing from most of this summer’s other blockbuster films: a tight, well written script. The real question is, in terms of traditional Disney animation, will “Atlantis” prove to be be merely a break or a break through?

Milo Thatch (voice by Michael J. Fox) is a museum historian obsessed with his grandfather’s pursuit of Atlantis, the legendary city said to have sunk into the ocean centuries before. When a new clue gives him the inspiration to seek funding, an already-in-progress expedition recruits Milo instead, launching him on an adventure to the bottom of the sea and into unknown dangers to prove the existence of a myth.

Think “Stargate” meets “The Abyss” set in the world of Jules Verne, and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from this animated adventure. This isn’t your father’s Disney, or even your grampa’s, for that matter. A LOT of people die in order to get these adventurers where they are going, and these guys churn through equipment almost as faster than animators can draw them. The themes are a lot more adult, including an updated look and attitude for the common Disney ‘princess’ (showing more skin than Jasmine from “Aladdin” and attempting to stab someone to death), anatomical references other than the backside, and actual blood when someone is wounded. Fortunately, the survivors of all the aforementioned mishaps happen to be the main characters; Disney has employed the Star Trek ‘red shirt’ principle and created masked (faceless) grunts that keep dying and keep on coming. It IS a cartoon, after all, and these aren’t speaking parts, but parents should still be warned that animated ‘PG’ would likely get ‘PG-13’ if real people were doing all this (did I mention actual blood?)

What really keeps this film moving is the script. Once the story gets started, “Atlantis” never looks back, packed with enough story and details that, at least at the very beginning, it may tell TOO much for some audience members to keep up with. Combining traditional animation with computer-aided work and cleverly blending them to keep everything consistent, the film tells its story with plenty of action, adventure, danger, and interesting things to see. Plus, as an ensemble piece with over ten characters to keep track of, there is still an amazing amount of character development going on and a few surprises along the way. Perhaps it was intended this way, but having the audience follow Milo as he ‘loses his innocence’ can almost be compared to the effect the film has on the audience; it’s Disney animation for adults, and it’s about time.

There are too many voices, too many good performances, and not one with enough screen time to single out. Plot holes are patched nicely by moving past them too fast to think about and providing sufficient eye-candy as a reward. Rumors about where Disney managed to snag this nifty “original” storyline are all over the internet, but you can’t fault them for making the best that they can out of wherever it came from. Bottom line: we prefer this stuff over another “Inspector Gadget” film or another “Dalmations” sequel. Now, go make another one! Scoot!

(a adventurously-spirited 3 and a half out of 4 skulls!)

Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

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