Film Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

“If these outsiders can unlock the secrets of our past, perhaps we can save our future.”

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I let my boyfriend pick this week’s movie.  Halp.

Oh, Atlantis: The Lost Empire…one of Disney’s more forgotten animated films.  Around the time of its release in the early 2000s, Walt Disney Animation Studios was seeing some rough times.  I’m not sure if it was because of the rise of computer animation, the company’s deviation from the animated musicals of the 1990s, or, hell, maybe Disney was just making bad movies.  I’d like to imagine it was the latter.

Anyway, it wasn’t long after the release of films like Atlantis, Brother Bear, and Home on the Range (shudder) that Disney ceased productions on movies featuring the “classic” 2D animation in favor of the 3D animation of Bolt, Tangled, etc.  And, with very few exceptions, Disney hasn’t really looked back.  To me, this is a shame – it’s a waning art form that, honestly, made Disney the beloved and iconic media mogul that it is today.

But, I digress: Atlantis: The Lost Empire...is it really as bad as it seems?  As bad as you’ve heard it is?  Well, let’s find out:

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In 1914, we meet a linguist named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), who is dead-set on breaking out of his studies to become an adventurer; specifically, he wants to fulfill his late grandfather’s dream and find the lost city of Atlantis.  Exciting enough.

Luckily for Milo, it turns out his grandfather’s best friend is a BILLIONAIRE…yet Milo’s never heard of the guy.  But, who cares – the friend suddenly decides to fund the entire expedition and send the linguist on his way, with means of travel, weaponry, crew, food – everything tied up in one, neat little package.  Okay, movie, I’ll suspend my disbelief…I’m still with ya…but wow, that was certainly…convenient?

Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with getting technicalities out of the way and jumping right into the action.  With a seasoned crew of explorers in tow, Milo and Commander Rourke (James Garner) captain a submarine to find the sunken continent.  And, speaking of “jumping right into the action,” most of the film’s action-adventure sequences take place during the crew’s journey to Atlantis…and, as I was watching the film, I figured the journey itself would be the focus.  But…things become complicated once Milo and the gang FINALLY reach the lost city.  We embark on a rushed storyline involving the city’s surviving people, their forgotten culture, and an omni-powerful life force embedded in the city’s crown jewel.  In short, it gets sloppy (and confusing) pretty quickly.

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Nevertheless, I can definitely understand why people (especially in the male demographic…lookin’ at you, boyfriend) would enjoy Atlantis: it was Disney’s first animated venture into mature sci-fi and action/adventure.  It reminds me of Indiana Jones, James Cameron’s Avatar, take your pick.  And, it could’ve been really cool – just look at the trailer!  But, man, this fell flat for me.

But, you know what, I don’t hate this movie.  Let’s take a look at The Good:

THE GOOD

Who doesn’t love a solid protagonist?  Better yet, who doesn’t love a nerd?  In my opinion, Milo Thatch is the best thing about Atlantis.

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We got a badass over here.

But, on a serious note, Milo is a refreshing change from the “usual male leads” you tend to see in Disney movies.  I’m talking about the hyper-masculine, or always-charming, or always-brooding guys…from Tarzan to the Beast to Aladdin.  Milo’s nothing like these heroes…sure, he has a heart of gold, but he’s also bookish, awkward, and, physically, a bit of a weakling too.  You sympathize with him because he’s intelligent, dedicated, and ethically sound.

In my opinion, being masculine shouldn’t necessarily mean bulging muscles, outbursts of anger, or outsmarting every other guy that comes your way.  Just as I appreciate female Disney characters who want more than “being free” or falling in love, I appreciate male Disney characters who are a little different too.  Quasimodo falls under this category as well – except Milo gets the girl in this movie.  Sorry, Quasi.

Plus, how can you not root for a character played by Michael J. Fox?

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Alongside Milo, there’s a wide ensemble of supporting characters: some are really strong, some just aren’t.  But, the strong characters are really memorable…and it’s nice to see Disney dive into some diversity, in terms of both race and age:

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We meet the motormouthed Joshua Sweet (Phil Morris), an intimidating but well-meaning medical officer of African-American and Native-American descent.  There’s also Vinny (Don Novello), a rambling, Italian demolitions expert, and the tomboyish Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors), a teenage mechanic from Puerto Rico.  We also have a weird little French dude named Mole (Corey Burton) – the geologist of gross-out humor – and an elderly, chain-smoking radio operator named Mrs. Packard (Florence Stanley).  All of these characters are distinct, well-developed, and FUNNY.  It’s a shame that the film spends so much time on action sequences and…er, Atlantis (we’ll get to that LATER).  Personally, I would’ve loved to see even more of the crew.

The animation in Atlantis is detailed and beautiful – well, at least the backgrounds are detailed and beautiful.  While the character designs are unique and fit well with the film’s “comic book-style,” there are a number of scenes where, I swear, the characters just look out of place…something about the really cartoony imagery of the characters and the sweeping, almost-3D look of those gorgeous backgrounds:

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Seriously, look at that cartoonish lobster.  LOOK AT IT.  Versus…

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I could just be nit-picking, but I don’t know.  These animation styles clash too much for my liking.

THE NOT-SO-GOOD

The quote at the top of the article?  That’s the big line from Kida (Cree Summer), the exotic Atlantian princess and Milo’s obvious love interest.  Yeah…the dramatic writing in this film is OOZING with cheese.  So. much. cheese.

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I mean, I guess cheesy dialogue is typical of these types of adventure movies…but I’m not a huge fan.  At least the more comical dialogue between Milo and the crew is well-written.

But, back to Kida: uh…standard Disney princess alert.  Like the others before her, she’s curious and attractive…her personality ends there.  But, I will give her points for wanting to help her people specifically.  She isn’t terrible, but she isn’t interesting either.  Another problem lies in her screen time – I swear, for such an “important” character, Kida is in the movie for about fifteen to twenty minutes tops.  That leaves little time for character development, as well as the development of her relationship with Milo.  In short, she is forgettable…though I think it’s cool (and progressive) that this film doesn’t end with a wedding, or even a kiss for that matter!  Kida and Milo hug and hold hands at most…it’s refreshing to see a Disney couple that takes it realistically slow.

Finally, Atlantis takes place in 1914, right?  There were submarines like THIS IN 1914?!

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If there are any history or mechanic/technology buffs out there, help me out.  Could American machinery like this really exist back then?  And, I wouldn’t have minded it so much if not for ONE THING: Milo mentions a few times that the Atlantians were “technologically advanced” people – they mastered electricity, machinery, even the power of flight.  Dude, what about your OWN technology?!  LOOK AT THAT SUBMARINE.  You’re not that far off from the Atlantians, I’ll tell ya that much.

I know, I know, science-fiction.  Still, it bugged me.

THE BAD

Remember earlier…when I said something to effect of “it’s a shame Atlantis spends so much time on ATLANTIS”?  You guys probably know where this is going.  Uh, yikes.

I’ll be blunt: Disney made the legendary civilization of Atlantis BORING.  I didn’t think it was possible, but, somehow, Disney managed it.

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First of all, when Milo and the gang finally reach the city, the Atlantians are just like…oh hey, whaddup, welcome to Atlantis.  That’s how you react when people you didn’t even know existed come knocking at your gate with weapons?!  Really, COME ON.  No fight, no struggle, just a big welcome – for no reason!  Right off the bat, it’s boring.

On top of that, the supposed conflict within the city walls lies in the Atlantians’ “lost culture,” according to Kida.  The people have apparently forgotten their ancient language, which was regularly spoken and written during the time of Atlantis’ downfall.  This whole theory is unbelievably confusing, since these people are THE SAME PEOPLE who went down with the continent when it originally sunk!  No, really, Kida and her people are thousands of years old…and yet they forgot their own language?  Huh?!  I’m sure a reason is quickly explained somewhere in the film, but I didn’t catch it – and that’s a problem for any audience member.

Meanwhile, Kida complains about her people suffering because they’ve “lost their way of life,” but the people seem HAPPY.  The film takes us on a brief tour of Atlantis alongside Milo and Kida, and we see children playing and laughing in street, sailors returning from bountiful fishing trips, and families sitting down to grand seafood dinners.  You said something about suffering…?

Well, I suppose security in Atlantis is a bit of a mess.  After all, if THIS shows up out of the blue, I guess there’s no reason to worry:

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Oh wait, yes there is: the antagonist.  No spoiler alert needed, the villain is this guy – you could spot him from a MILE away.

Rourke

SOMEONE GIVE ME A GOOD VILLAIN.  JUST ONCE.  PLEASE.

Yeah, it turns out Commander Rourke is a mercenary who’s just in it for the plunder.  Specifically, he’s after a giant, magical crystal, which is actually the life force – or the heart – of Atlantis.  I HATE these kinds of bad guys – no motivation except money…seriously, how boring is that?!  FURTHERMORE, Rourke helped discover an entire lost civilization.  He was going to be rich anyway!

Plus, I’m sorry…the whole life-sustaining rock thing?  It comes out of nowhere and, yeah, it’s a convenient explanation for why thousand year-old people are still walking around…but then it dives into a subplot where Kida becomes the embodiment of the crystal, and – God, it feels like this movie makes stuff up as it goes along!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Confusing and silly.  Those are the words that come to mind when I think Atlantis.  So, to answer my earlier question, is this movie really that bad?  Um…yes.

Some of the characters are really likable, but that isn’t enough to salvage an entire film – especially when the film focuses so little on those characters.  Instead of deepening character development, Atlantis jumps right into gratuitous action sequences, a quick and BORING tour of the city itself, followed by an anti-climatic showdown between Milo and Rourke.  It’s just so predictable and cheesy – it’s almost difficult to watch.

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The concept is great, but the execution is poor.  To me, this movie feels rushed and slapped-together at the last minute.  All-in-all, I’m glad I was reintroduced to Milo and some of his friends, but I probably won’t depart for Atlantis again anytime soon.

2.5/5

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5 thoughts on “Film Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

  1. I love your style of reviewing and am looking forward to more reviews from you!

    I don’t hate “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” either and would prefer to re-watch this multiple times than a movie like “Pocahontas”. The story had potential to be amazing as did the movie. But, of course it didn’t follow through, although one can see that there was some effort put into the film.

    Kida’s another one like Eilonwy from “The Black Cauldron”: a Disney princess, but not an official one!

    May I ask, what is your favorite film from the Disney Canon and what is your least favorite film from the Disney Canon?

  2. Thanks so much! Feel free to leave a request if there’s something you’d like me to review!

    My favorite animated Disney film would have to be Wreck-It Ralph – I don’t think it’s Disney’s BEST film, but it is my personal favorite 🙂 I was thinking of doing a Laura’s List about my top five favorite animated films in the future…

    I’ve heard Home on the Range is the absolute worst, so I’ve steered clear of that…otherwise, my least favorite Disney film would have to be…does Cars count? Yeah, Cars.

    Thanks again for reading!!!

    • Well, the Disney Canon only refers to the animated films produced by Walt Disney Studios, so it doesn’t include films from other studios like Pixar, etc. There are currently 52 films in the Canon with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” being the first and “Wreck-It Ralph” being the most recent.

      If you go to my blog, there’s a button that says “Disney Canon: Forgotten/Minor Characters Index” or something like that at the top. If you click it, you’ll see a list of all the 52 films.

      P.S. When you reply to my comments on here, do you hit the “reply” button underneath my comment or do you just post your reply as a comment? What I mean is that I’m never notified when you reply to my comments, because it seems that the blog isn’t registering your reply as an actual “reply”, rather it sees it as a separate comment.

      • Ohh I gotcha – nice list! Well, to modify: Wreck-It Ralph is my favorite and I guess Brother Bear is my least favorite…honestly, there’s a good handful of Disney films I haven’t seen, but that’s what I got so far.

        I usually do press reply but it’s possible I forgot last time. Me and this confounded Internet machine…sorry you were missing notifications!

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