review by Gianni Truzzi, 15 June 2001
Disney's latest film, Atlantis,
is an eleven-year old boy's dream of an animated adventure film.
Heavy on action, light on mush, thankfully singing-free, it speeds
at a race-car pace toward a conclusion full of spectacle and great
big bangs. Like most
dreams, however, it will probably be only dimly remembered in the
Young Milo Thatch
(given voice by Michael J. Fox) is an underfed, overeager wanna-be
adventurer of 1914 who shares his departed grandfather Thadeuss'
obsession with discovering the lost city of Atlantis. He listens,
wide-eyed through large round glasses, as his grandfather's old
partner, wealthy Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney), agrees to
finance an expedition to search for it,using the ancient book
Thaddeus discovered as a roadmap. Fortunately, Milo reads ancient
Atlantean, due to his fanatical studies. Whitmore lays out dossiers
of the crew like a heist film, where each one has a special talent
to apply to the job, such as the explosives expert Vinny
Santorini (Don Novello), and the dig-happy minerologist Mole (Corey
Burton), a cross between Charles Addams' Uncle Fester and
Peter Lorre. They're led by Commander Lyle T. Rourke (James Garner),
a swaggering mercenary, and the swivel-hipped Helga (Claudia
Christian) into the ocean depths.
It's in the briny deep
that the expedition encounters formidable obstacles to prevent their
entry, such as a giant, mechanical crustacean, which inspires the
rugged Rourke to order, "Tell Cookie to melt the butter and
bring out the bibs! I want this lobster served on a silver
Once Atlantis is
found, of course, the true motive of Milo's compatriots is
discovered, to hijack the legendary power source of Atlantis and
sell it to the highest bidder -- even if that's the Kaiser. It's
left to Milo to save the dying lost city, and protect his newfound
love, the 8,000-year-old Princess Kida (Cree
The art direction is
thoughtful, if derivative. The drawing shares the outsized hands and
feet, with pronounced muscle outline of the recent Tarzan,
continuing the break from the traditional Disney look. Yet they have
scavenged their own past with a submarine that mimics Captain Nemo's
in the 1954 live-action 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
Atlantis reminds one of ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures, with
bright blue tatoos and feathered headdresses, yet it draws from
everywhere, including Byzantine mosaic.
There are six writers
credited on this film, but it seems like a waste. How many people
should it take to rewrite Frank Capra's 1937 Lost Horizon?
All the same elements are here: the stranded explorers, the hidden,
blissful city, the romance between outsider and princess, and the
intrusion of modern-world greed that threatens to destroy paradise.
Atlantis has some pretty cool technology, but that's about the only
substantive difference it shows from Shangri-La.
The film's setting of
1914 seems almost arbitrary, and often ignored. The women don't wear
corsets. Nobody ever cranks a motorcar. They don't even call
them motorcars. And the submarine, with its expansive, glass bubble
windows is thoroughly beyond any possible technology of that era.
The early 1900s were an exciting time, when modernity suggested
that, with progress, anything was possible. But there's no trace of
that feeling here.
Events move at such a
rapid clip that there's no opportunity to explore or enjoy the time
period. The filmmakers are impatient with exposition, and seem in a
hurry to get to the good stuff. The obstacles appear and disappear
without adequate tension or rest. They've forgotten that the journey
is the most fun for the audience, and is the best opportunity to
learn. The Disney team should watch the 1966 film, Fantastic
Voyage, with its micronauts drifting through the body's
What's missing most is
any conveyance of how absorbing real archaeology can be. This was
the time, after all, of some of the greatest archaeological
discoveries, ranging from Heinrich Schliemann's discovery of Troy to
Flinders Petrie's remarkable digs in Egypt, or even Howard Carter's
later discovery of Tutankhamen's intact tomb. Yet kids never get the
sense of what riches await them in the real world.
While the images of
Atlantis are beautiful, they're completely fantastic, derived less
from Plato than from every piece of utter rot found in a New Age
bookstore. The lost city's inhabitants sport crystals, which give
them the power of healing. They build in stone and dress like
primitives, yet they fly in machines like Jedi pilots. Eight
thousand years ago, Neolithic man was just figuring out how to
cultivate crops. How did this bunch get so advanced? It's never
It would be nice if Atlantis
opened its young viewers eyes to real-world ideas that might spark
their interest, and send them on their own adventure to the library
stacks. Instead, it's nothing more than a vaporous diversion, a way
to kill a couple of hours while escaping the summer heat. The
problem is, after seeing the marvels of the lost city of Atlantis,
what do you do for the rest of the day?
Michael J. Fox
David Ogden Stiers
PG - Parental
may not be suitable
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