“Hey, look, I made a bridge. It only took me like, what? Ten seconds? Eleven, tops.” – Vinny
Let’s take a look at another modern Disney film with Atlantis: The Lost Empire, released in 2001. It is an important film because it was the first real confirmation to the public that Disney was taking this new direction, away from the musical stylings and fairy tale settings that defined the 90s, and more towards these non-musical films, and delving into the realm of Science Fiction and in some cases, more real settings. Sure, The Emperor’s New Groove also had this new direction, but as we’ll talk about in the future, The Emperor’s New Groove is one of oddest, most different films in the entire canon. Atlantis was better proof of this direction.
Set in the 1910s, the story of Atlantis follows Milo Thatch, the grandson of a brilliant explorer, who desperately wants to convince the world that Atlantis exists. He gets that opportunity when a friend of his grandfather gives him The Shepard’s Journal, the key to finding Atlantis. With the funding for this grand expedition and a very eccentric crew, they set off into the depths of the ocean. After a long struggle, they find the city, and its inhabitants, including the curious Kida, the daughter of the king. Milo and Kida explore each other’s cultures, but when a betrayal occurs, Milo must save the citizens of the Lost Empire.
The first thing I think of when I think of Atlantis, even before I rewatched it for this project, is the Characters. Atlantis has memorable and fun characters, even if it just the concept or on the superficial level. They have a lot of funny moments, especially Mole, the crazy french digger, and my personal favorite, Vinny, the awesome Italian Demolition Man and Flower Shop Owner. If there is anything you take with you from Atlantis, it will be remembering these characters.
I enjoy Milo as the protagonist, even if there is a tiny problem with his progression in the final act. Michael J. Fox brings a lot to the character, and I love how much he cares about the discovery in comparison to the rest of the crew. His status quo is great, and I think that the opening scenes, even if they go a little long, do a lot for his character.
I also love Atlantis, for the most part. The bits we get about the culture and the world of Atlantis are fascinating to me. It’s got a great design, the blue crystal theme and the “ancient South American Culture” influences are appealing and make Atlantis a unique and wonderful place. When the film explores Atlantis, it reaches its potential.
Finally, like Treasure Planet after it, the action sequences are well paced, well choreographed, and well done. It was a good idea to have all of the action involve the Atlantis technology or connecting to Atlantis in some way. They are fun and are pretty cool.
The faults of Atlantis are a bit weird, because they all connect with the strengths in some way. The best way I can describe the main fault of Atlantis is that it always leaves you wanting more, and not in that good way, Everything feels superficial, just glossed over, and just when things get interesting, they just become relegated to the background, forgotten about without being expanded upon. The film flies at a frantic pace, and never slows down enough to give you what you want.
The characters a big example of that. In rewatching the film, I was surprised at how the characters I remembered so fondly were barely on-screen in reality. The film only gives us a single bonding sequence with them and Milo, and then they just disappear, only popping up for the occasional joke and their eventual betrayal. These a fun characters, but they just become there, having nothing more than their surface personalities. You watch because you hope that they do a lot more, but they never really do, even in the ending. We should see more of their bonding with Milo, after we constantly see them shun him before their one sequence. This would not only help the characters, but it would make their betrayal much more effective. Partly, though, it is also because there are so many characters that its hard to give them all ample screen time, but I still think it could have been done.
The city of Atlantis itself also suffers from this glossing over attitude. This is a chance to create an entirely new culture, and the mythology of Atlantis that is presented to us is interesting, and a great device to help build the relationship of Milo and Kida. However, the film barely gives us anything on Atlantis. This film is about Atlantis. This is something that should be explored more, not pushed to the side. As OK as Kida’s and Milo’s relationship is, having Milo explore more of Atlantean technology instead of just one or two things, and having Kida ask about the surface culture, which is teased, but only used for a very unfunny joke, would have done a lot. This is a culture lost in time. There should be a lot to see. Instead we get very little, and it actually becomes frustrating. It actually would help the final battle if they explained the mythology behind the Deus Ex Machina force field in the ending.
I think if there were going to be places in the film to cut, It would all be in the first act. The opening depicting the fall of Atlantis is not necessary. The audience should discover the city along with the cast, not know of its existence nearly 40 minutes before it actually is discovered. There is also a bit too much set up before the true search for Atlantis begins, meaning when they are in the caves that lead to Atlantis. There’s a ton of fluff here that really could be used later in the film for a number of purposes. Also, the fire fly action sequence is a little unnecessary. I feel that the lead up to Atlantis could have had a smaller scale sequence, possibly involving the Atlantean people, would have taken less time and have been just as effective.
Atlantis features another weak Disney villain. Lyle Rourke, ever the villainous name if there was one, really doesn’t do anything until the third act. It is partly the nature of the film, but it is also the fact that Lyle does not have much of a presence in the first hour or so of the film. He’s actually a forgettable character for most of the time. There needed to be more lead up, more reason to not trust the guy. As much as I don’t like to compare films directly, Treasure Planet did it well with John Silver. Even though we liked the guy, the film gave us enough where his turn was hinted at and made sense. Atlantis never really does this. In fact, it would have been more interesting if Lyle was power hungry rather than money hungry. His Atlantean form is one of the most interesting part of the final battle, and if he had it more, it could have made him more interesting.
Finally, three smaller points: I find it a bit hard to believe that the people of Atlantis know English and French. If they knew about these languages, wouldn’t the legend of Atlantis be apparent in more cultures other than Greece? While Milo’s progression from outcast to leader make sense, I feel that he needed more leader like qualities earlier, to make the transition easier. Finally, while I don’t normally complain about animation, the comic book influenced design of the film can sometimes make the film look more like Saturday Morning Cartoon than Feature Animated Film.
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
Atlantis is not a musical. However, it does feature a pretty decent score.
My personal favorite moment of the film is the initial discovery of Atlantis. I think it is a pretty fun sequence, and would be much more fun if we didn’t know what it looked like.
Atlantis frustrates me, because it is a film with so much potential. It’s a film I enjoy, but one that I want to be so much better than it is. There’s a lot of groundwork laid that presents it as a unique, interesting, different Disney film. However. It barely scratches the surface of what it could be, with its characters and with Atlantis. As we continue to approach the higher films, the good that this surface scratching presents just doesn’t cut it. Atlantis is 39, as much as I don’t want it to be here.