Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Walt Disney Animation Studios Part 41: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Series Intro: This is Part 41 of a multi-part retrospective of Walt Disney Animation Studios' endeavors.

Official Title: Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Release: June 15, 2001 (Six months between releases)
Running Time: 95 minutes (pretty long)
Estimated Cost: $120 million
Estimated Revenue: $230.05 million (much better than Groove
Overall Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Plot Summary:
Milo Thatch is a nerdy linguist who works in the basement of a DC museum [Smithsonian?]. His obsession with the lost empire of Atlantis has made him the laughing stock of all the researchers. He tenders his resignation when the board refuses to hear his latest proposal.

Luckily, Milo’s deceased grandfather’s old friend (Preston Whitmore) just happens to be a financier and has recently decided to hand over a book he was supposed to give to Milo “when he is ready,” according to the grandfather. Milo accepts the offer to find Atlantis using the book (written in Atlantean).

Preston puts together an ethnically (and sexually) diverse group of explorers (keep in mind this is 1914!):

  • Commander Rourke (aging former military)
  • Claudia – second in command (blonde vixen)
  • Mole – geologist (Smelly, creepy and French)
  • Vinny – demolition expert (Italian)
  • Sweet – doctor (African American)
  • Audrey – mechanic (Puerto Rican)
  • Florence – telephone operator (old nay-sayer)
  • Cookie – cook (cowboy-Western)
  • additionally dozens to hundreds of unnamed crew for the high-tech submarine
After the sub is attacked by a leviathan (where dozens to hundreds of people die), the team is on there way through the underground highway to Atlantic. Milo uses the book to guide them through. Several misadventures, and Milo finds himself face-to-face with an Atlantean. Kida (and Atlantean Princess) guides Milo around the country and discovers he can read the language (a skill lost to her people hundreds of years ago when the country sank into the ocean).

Suddenly, Milo discovers Rourke and crew are there to take the Atlantean power source. They succeed in stealing it (which has manifested itself in Kida). The crew, except Claudia, decide this is wrong and help Milo retrieve Kida before Rourke can take her to the surface. An epic battle occurs, where both Claudia and Rourke die. The crew return Kida to Atlantis. The Atlantean’s thank them by giving them untold amounts of gold for them to return with to the surface. Milo stays behind with Kida. Whitmore and the wealthy crew meet to debrief, and decide to never mention Rourke’s betrayal and never say that the energy source was ever found. Milo and Kida live happily ever after.

Songs: Not a musical. (current trend since the end of the Renaissance). The score was not memorable.

Plot Rating: 2 stars out of 5
 By the end, I was hooked into the plot, but the slow movie beginning; the adult themes (sex, death and violence); and the stock characters really made most of this movie drag. However, if this move were produced by a different company it might have received a higher rating. This type of violence and action are not what I expect from a WDAS movie. Here is one of those poor choices they make (like Black Cauldron) when they are trying to break away from the fairy tale/princess theme and they fail.

Animation Rating: 2 out of 5
 I applaud WDAS for trying the new style, more comic book and angular, and if the entire movie were hand drawn, it would have received a higher rating. However, the movie wasn’t all hand drawn and the CG graphics were poor at best. They stood out and were distracting. Where Groove animators had worked hard to make their CG effects look cartoonish, Atlantis animators just didn’t seem to care. This is one of the problems of working on five films in 2 years (Tarzan (released ’99), Fantasia 2000 (’00), Dinosaur (’00), Groove (’00), Atlantis (’01)) (and they were already working on Lilo before the release of Atlanis). The problem is they didn’t give themselves time to fix mistakes from previous movies, or make the next movie better based on what worked with previous ones.

The Test of Time:
 None. This movie was supposed to spawn a TV series and an attraction at Disneyland, but the poor reception made that fall to the wayside.

Through the Modern Lens
Last movie I was calling WDAS out for hiring a famous actor for a voice, but here I very much enjoyed Michael J. Fox as Milo.

 I made a comment above about the diverse group. I understand that by 2001, WDAS was trying to make up for the fact that most characters were white, but this seems a bit unbelievable. 1914 wasn’t that far from the American Civil War and although DC was a “Free ‘state’” there was still a lot of hostilities toward non-white people. Women still did not have the right to vote, but here a group of soldiers are taking orders from Claudia? Very few Disney films give both an historic time and location, and that is what keeps them timeless: this film gives both a time and location, and drew me out of the movie, because I continued to think about the time period the movie is supposed to take place. (Not to mention the crazy machinery/technology that they were using and the gigantic submarine that went miles under the sea!)

  Next Up: Lilo & Stitch

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