1914: Milo Thatch, grandson of the great Thaddeus Thatch works in the boiler room of a museum. He knows that Atlantis was real, and he can get there if he has the mysterious Shephards journal, which can guide him to Atlantis. But he needs someone to fund a voyage. His employer thinks he's dotty, and refuses to fund any crazy idea. He returns home to his apartment and finds a woman there. She takes him to Preston B. Whitmore, an old friend of his Grandfathers. He gives him the shepherds journal, a submarine and a 5 star crew. They travel through the Atlantic ocean, face a large lobster called the Leviathan, and finally get to Atlantis. But does the Atlantis crew have a lust for discovery, or something else? Written by
In Whitmore's room, when he's explaining why he's funding the Atlantis trip, he smacks the painting above the mantelpiece with his cane at his head is level with, or above, the mantelpiece. However, in the next shot, his head is at least a foot beneath the mantelpiece. See more »
On Screen Text:
[the text that appears on screen]
"... in a single day and night of misfortune, the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea." - Plato, 360 B.C.
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Great potential, but it winds up wasted in this middling sci-fi adventure.
Rating: ** out of ****
If anyone still remembers, the early 2000s featured a glut of big-studio animated attempts at science-fiction adventures, with the likes of Titan A.E., Heavy Metal 2000, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and Treasure Planet all tapped heavily for box office or home video success. In hindsight, the studios were apparently capitalizing on a nonexistent trend, seeing as all these films were box office disappointments. Of the bunch, the only one that could qualify as a mild financial success would be Disney's Atlantis, which is baffling considering it's probably the weakest film of the bunch.
After dispensing with a spectacle of a prologue in which the titular city is flooded by massive tidal waves, the film skips to the year 1914, where linguist and generally nerdy scientist Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox) is once again unsuccessful in securing funds for an expedition to the fabled lost city. But he's given a second chance by a rich recluse (voiced by John Mahoney) who's put together a large team to search for Atlantis, led by a military commander (James Garner) who may have ulterior motives.
Traveling by submarine, the expedition finds themselves depleted of manpower and resources after an encounter with a robotic sea creature. Making their way through a system of underground caverns, the team eventually finds Atlantis and its native inhabitants, who greet them with an equal mix of suspicion and enthusiasm. The Atlanteans are apparently all centuries old but have forgotten how to read and write their own language. Problems arise when the commander reveals his true intentions to steal Atlantis' power source, putting Milo into action hero mode when he decides it's up to him to save the city and its princess.
Despite a potentially exciting premise, Atlantis virtually derails itself in its early scenes when it introduces its colorful cast of characters. Right off the bat, almost everyone is too quirky, be it in personality or in the manner in which they've been artistically rendered (characters' hands are drawn way too large). The worst offender has to be the horribly misguided Mole character, whose one-note schtick, that being his obsession with digging, is milked for all its worth for its humor, which is to say, not much at all, making almost every attempt at comic relief fall flat. The other supporting characters, whether it's the deadpan old lady or the sarcastic Italian explosives expert, aren't much better, but at least they're not as annoying.
As the film's hero, Milo Thatch is made fairly personable by the likable Michael J. Fox, but he's too awkward and gangly to be bought as an action hero even by animated standards. About the only characters who consistently work, either through their visual rendition or their personalities, are Helga and Princess Kida, the former oozing with sultry sex appeal and the latter quite charming and winning.
For such minor to moderate successes, it's unfortunate the most detrimental flaw of all is that the film just isn't that exciting. The first half of the picture, which details the crew's journey to Atlantis, should have been fraught with excitement and wondrous discovery, but these scenes are rushed through too quickly to sustain any sort of momentum. The second half is admittedly more successful, thanks to some surprisingly solid and charming romantic chemistry between Milo and Kida. Though the plot turns absolutely cliché at this point (what are the chances Milo's quirky buddies won't help him out?), the climactic battle delivers its share of visceral thrills, and the main villain is dispatched in a convincingly unpleasant fashion. It's not quite enough to win me over, but it does keep this film somewhat firmly above the level of subpar entertainment.
The story "borrows" quite liberally from Stargate, which itself stole from quite a few other films, making Atlantis feel almost like a second generation rip-off. Despite having been marketed to the teenage audience, I see this film being most enjoyed by younger children who have the higher tolerance for the quirky characters, the rushed pace, and the by-the-numbers plotting.
Even though the film didn't work for me, I am nonetheless quite glad the movie had even been made in the first place. American studios don't usually market their big-screen animated productions to the sci-fi and action/adventure crowd, so part of me still gets a thrill or two that Disney actually gave it a shot. They'd try again a year later with Treasure Planet, and though that film was unquestionably a financial disaster, it was a massive improvement upon Atlantis in every conceivable manner.
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