Today is a good example of why I am glad I started this project. In 2001 when Disney’s 41st animated film Atlantis: The Lost Emperor came out I was underwhelmed by it. I remember thinking it was boring (an adjective I try to never use in my reviews because it doesn’t mean anything). It seems hard to believe because the movie I watched today was a fast paced delight. I am truly shocked how much I enjoyed it! (I was 20 by the way in 2001 so it wasn’t like a child who might be more likely to find this boring).
This review is going to be a little different than some of my others because I want to give you guys the chance to go into the film spoiler free. I am spoiler proof. For some reason repetition doesn’t bother me and I legitimately do not care if I know the ending to things. But that said, I think for this type of action adventure movie it will be more fun to not have every detail dissected like other Disney films which most people have seen.
Go out, rent it and give it another shot!!!! At the very least I don’t think you will have a terrible time at the movies and I bet you will enjoy it!
Here’s the trailer to give you an idea of the story (it is a very good non-spoilery trailer. They don’t even give away the villain and I won’t either)
I can talk a little bit about the production without giving anything away. After Hunchback the crew wanted to stay together but go in a radically different direction so Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, Don Hahn and others set out to make Disney’s first science fiction movie and one of their few original stories.
There is a definite steampunk feel with its influences from Jules Verne and Victorian/futuristic mashups. The ship could be the nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
They visited museums, researched a variety of cultures and created their own version of Atlantis. According to my research it had Mayan, Greek, Cambodian, Indian and Tibetan elements.
They even hired the guy who created the Klingon language to make one for Atlantis. That is just cool.
They had good writers including Joss Whedon who worked on the project for a while and then Tab Murphey took over and it has a Whedon team feel to it. Milo is the lead in the movie looking for Atlantis but he quickly gets joined by a rag-tag crew that is very diverse for Disney and full of surprises. It’s like the Steampunk Avengers!
The voice acting is mostly unknowns except for Michael J Fox as Milo, James Garner as Captain Rourke, John Mahoney as Whitmore, Jim Varney as Cookie and Leonard Nimoy as the King.
They also hired Mike Mignola, creator of the Hellboy comics, as a production designer and you can see his influence in the film even down to the hands he uses in his drawings:
“I remember watching a rough cut of the film and these characters have these big, square, weird hands. I said to the guy next to me, “Those are cool hands.”
And he says to me, “Yeah, they’re your hands. We had a whole meeting about how to do your hands.” It was so weird I couldn’t wrap my brain around it”
I love that comic book influence on the film and yet it avoids cliches in a lot of the characters (yes they fulfill certain tropes like the tough talking female mechanic but then she has moments of softness). There’s a moment where you feel like Milo is alone and it actually seems like he is being left and then the movie is very clever with what happens with the characters and story.
I liked every character in the movie, and I’m not normally a sci-fi person.
They were also influenced by anime at the time and particularly Hayao Miyazaki and his amazing adventure stories, and I think they pull off a lovely homage.
Some of the mysticism is a little convoluted with the blue crystals and everything but for this kind of story I bought it. And the imagery is beautiful.
The only thing parents will want to be aware of is Princess Kida wears very skimpy clothing and bathing suits throughout the film.
The score is by James Newton Howard and it is excellent but there are no songs (funny coming from the troop of Hunchback and Beauty and the Beast!). But I’m glad because they really weren’t necessary. The score is all we need to create tension.
The movie is also very funny. Characters like the Moleman and Cookie were a lot of fun.
It is also one of the few Disney movies that doesn’t really have a strong romance. It just allows you to focus on the characters. I like that.
I’ll say it again I was genuinely shocked how much I enjoyed Atlantis: The Lost Empire. It was exciting, beautifully drawn, with a fun troop of characters to root for.
Unlike in 2001, I did not think it was boring this time around. In fact, it seemed to clip along quite quickly. There also isn’t tons of exposition. They just present the world, language and everything else and let you figure it out as the characters do.
I liked the women in the picture. Kida isn’t the perfect savage you expect. Mechanic Audrey had some layers to her. Not every decision was easy, and Helga is not someone to get pushed around (she surprised me! Totally kicked butt!).
All the characters have their moment and there is humor and tough action. I loved the sound design. In fight scenes you hear punches and grunts. It helps immerse you in the experience.
There are some holes in the story and things happen in relatively tidy ways but isn’t that usually the case for these kind of movies? I mean if you start to take apart Indiana Jones movies they are very tidy too and completely implausible but it’s a B Summer movie with great action and fun characters so you go with it.
In any case, for whatever reason, I didn’t buy it at 21 but really enjoyed it at 33. Maybe I’m not the same person I was back then? Go figure!
But seriously, give this movie another shot. Go out, rent it, and let me know what you think. I bet a lot of you will be pleasantly surprised like I was!
Overall Grade- A-
It might be a little hard for kids under 7 to follow so keep that in mind.