Looking back, Atlantis seemed like a sure winner. From the directors of the magnificent Beauty and the Beast (which in my opinion is the finest Disney animated film, a sentiment not shared by my A113 colleagues, but one that seems pretty popular within the Twitter community) and the also very good Hunchback of Notre Dame, the film offered an adventure like no other. Staying away from the "Broadway style" that they employed for their previous two films, directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise - and producer Don Hahn - created a superb looking film that unfortunately suffers from a lack of heart and too many characters, which only serves to make the already contrived plot even more confusing.
But, don’t let that discourage you from seeing the film. The filmmakers wanted to make a fast-paced adventure film and that they did. Your level of enjoyment of Atlantis depends on how willing you are to overlook the serious lack of character development and all the plot inconsistencies. Not everything makes sense and some loose ends (what happened to Helga?) are unresolved, but the movie moves fast enough that you probably won’t care about them.
One of the good points about this film is how good it looks. Atlantis is a marvel to watch and, even to this day, it remains a beautifully animated film with breathtaking backgrounds and a unique design. Another great thing about this film is the fact that the filmmakers created a whole new language to be part of the film, just like in Avatar, they strive to create a whole new culture that makes the film much more engaging. The action is also well balanced making the film run along at a brisk pace that will keep everyone entertained the entire time.
Unfortunately, if you look a little deeper, you come to realize that the film is more style than substance; that most characters are one note personalities who are difficult to warm up to, and that when the movie is over you’ll have a hard time remembering them. Some characters are more interesting than others though. We have our hero Milo, expertly voiced by Michael J. Fox, who is the only character that feels real. Then we have Kida, who is sort of Pocahontas-like, but she doesn't have enough screen time to allow us to properly relate to her. And then we have the rest of the crew, including a various range of characters that go from kind of relatable (Audrey) to completely insufferable (Mole). Also the villain, Rourke, is a carbon copy of Tarzan’s Clayton - even their motivation is the same! So, instead of feeling a real menace, you feel some sort of déjà vu. Milo and Kida’s relationship is also completely undeveloped and you don’t relate to their "love story" at all. When you watch Atlantis, you may enjoy the ride but the movie is so cold that you'll enjoy it as an outsider instead of been part of it like you would be with many other Disney movies.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire warrants at least one view, mainly because of the great visuals and the fast-paced sequences. As with many other Disney films (particularly of this era), the movie could've been much better if the filmmakers devoted more time to their characters and stories, rather than just making it look good. As it is, Atlantis is a fun but very flawed film, and your love for it will depend on how much you are willing to overlook. Rating: 3/5.
Next Week - Animated Classic #42 Review: Lilo & Stitch (2002).