Some of the best work Disney has done is in the last five years. Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan were brilliant movies, advancing with modern technology while using old Disney standbys to tell a wonderful, touching story. Unfortunately in a now constantly changing world of animation, with fierce competitors that didn't exist years ago, Disney has to explore new ground. Sometimes this will be successful, but in the last two years it has done no favors for Disney. Atlantis: The Lost Empire carries on that unfortunate torch.
Atlantis is the story of Milo Thatch, a young linguist who is trying to carry on his grandfather's research to find the lost empire of Atlantis. Finding out about Milo's failure even though he has much potential, Preston Whitmore, a friend of Milo's grandfather, offers to support Milo's theories thereby keeping a promise he made to the older Thatch. Soon Milo finds himself surrounded by a motley band of mercenaries on an expedition to Atlantis, based on his and his grandfather's work.
In Disney style, the film is full of well performed vocal actors. James Garner ( Maverick), Michael J. Fox ( Spin City), Claudia Christian ( Babylon 5), Cree Summer ( Batman Beyond), Don Novello ( Saturday Night Live) John Mahoney ( Frasier), Leonard Nimoy ( Star Trek), and Jim Varney ( Know'what'I'mean'vern in his final role) make up some of the spectacular voices that bring life to this movie. Unfortunately, a poor, sometimes overly complicated script takes away from their performances.
This is Disney's first foray into a non-musical film. There are no catchy tunes a la "I Can Go the Distance" or "A Whole New World" that will be in your minds when you leave the theatre. (Although they were able to sneak one pop song into the closing credits). The score is not really impressive though. It is almost generic in it's presentation, giving no real emotion to the film. It is also the first Disney animated film to receive a PG rating. The movie itself is pretty much pure action adventure, which gives the movie an almost Anime touch. I found myself at several times almost wishing they had done the film as a real life film instead of animated though. I think the kind of action they were trying to show would have played better that way. The art of the Atlanteans was wonderfully beautiful, but the humans were drawn harshly, with lots of straight lines, making them sometimes hard to watch even though they made up for 2/3rds of the movie.
When I first left the theatre I thought hard about this film. There were some parts I liked better the first time I saw them, in a little film called The Road to El Dorado. I think it would be impossible to make a quest film such as this without being compared to what has come before, but some sequences were almost identical. (The showing of the map compared to reality while music plays over it all is almost shot for shot the same). There were parts I really wanted to like more, but just couldn't. And when I left the theatre I had the same feeling I've felt a lot this summer. I felt this movie had a lot of potential, but didn't live up to it as much as it could have. But at the end Disney played it's typical emotion cards and had me tearing up. Some things can always be counted on, and Disney has always known how to tug at heartstrings, and even trying to experiment with their craft they have not lost that.
All in all it is a Disney film... minus the cute creatures, minus the songs, but with nothing to really in the spaces in the equation for success. The script is complicated and has nothing really cute to hold a kids attention, and unfortunately can get boring at times even for an adult. My recommendation is to save yourself a costly afternoon and wait for this one to come out on video.