Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Disney's newest animation feature journeys to the depths of the ocean to find the lost civilization of Atlantis. The explorers in us all will enjoy the action-adventure story, but Disney lovers may be in for a few surprises.
The year is 1914. Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox) is a lowly museum cartographer and linguistics expert who knows the whereabouts of Atlantis. He isn't taken seriously, however, until an eccentric billionaire (voiced by Fraiser's John Mahoney) funds an expedition based on Milo's late grandfather's journal about the lost city. Milo joins a motley group of mercenaries, led by Commander Rourke (voiced by James Garner), on a dangerous trip through the ocean, where they discover a thriving civilization ruled by the King (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) and his beautiful warrior daughter, Princess Kida (voiced by Cree Summer). It's Atlantis, and it's been kept alive by a crystal energy hidden deep within the city, which thrills Commander Rourke--his evil plan is to steal the crystals. Now it's up to Milo and the others to save the city from certain doom.
Once again, Disney has gathered a talented cast to lend their voices to the characters. Fox easily handles the hapless hero, Milo, and the animators capture Fox's essence, especially in Milo's oh-so-familiar hand gestures. Garner's fairly menacing vocal quality in the evil Commander Rourke is equaled only by the majesty of Nimoy's Atlantean King. However, it's the team of explorers, each with their own special abilities, that really make Atlantis fun. There's demolition expert Vinny, voiced in a monotone by the hilarious Don Novello; creepy geologist Mole, voiced by Corey Burton in a combination of French and Peter Lorre-ish speak; and Cookie, the expedition's lard-lovin' cook, voiced by the late Jim Varney. Together, they represent the collective "sidekick character" Disney films love, but this time it's done with a surprising and delightful twist.
The creators of Atlantis decided try a different approach to the Disney animated formula. Instead of the usual hero-must-find-his/her-way-in-the-world-and-get-the-girl/boy, directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale went for the pure adrenaline of an action-adventure story, paying tribute to the great Disney adventure movies of the '50s. Also conspicuously absent are the songs so common in recent Disney films. Some die-hard Disney fans may not like that, but it's actually a refreshing change of pace. The one thing, however, that detracts from the film slightly is its look. The animators were going for a particular style--merging computer-generated imagery with traditional animation and giving the film a flat, dark, comic-book look. This works well for some scenes, but when the audience gets to Atlantis, that lush Disney look we've seen in films like Tarzan and The Lion King needed to be there.
By all means bring the kids to this one--and sit back to enjoy the ride in Adventureland.