Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

As Disney continues cranking out one formulaic film after another based on Marvel Comics characters or yet another entry into the Star Wars franchise, it is easy to forget one of the company's more original attempts at making fantasy/adventure films.  Back in 2001, Disney released Atlantis: the Lost Empire in an effort to appeal to young adolescent boys, a demographic the company has always struggled to snag.  Although the film was only a modest success compared to other Disney blockbusters, the result is a story of great narrative and visual imagination.

Before I go any further I should offer the following disclaimer so my nerd brothers don't get up in arms.  I am not disparaging the Disney films made under either of the Marvel Comics or Star Wars banners - far from it.  The results of Disney's stewardship of these movie universes have actually been pretty good.  But, the cracks have long been showing on the Marvel films to the point where the plots are achingly predictable and the dialogue can be recited before it is said on screen.  And, Star Wars is in danger at long last of skating into the realm of over-saturation under Disney's relentless promotion machine.

Bearing all this in mind, I can't help but look back at Atlantis: the Lost Empire and wonder why such a well-made and great looking film wasn't a bigger success or hasn't started to develop more of a cult following.  The nerd cred is certainly there: legendary comic book artist, Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy), provided the character designs and overall look for the film.  The general tone of the story is darker and somber than what one usually finds in a Disney release, although it still retains some of the telltale elements of Disney humor.  And, the voice cast is one of the best assembled for a feature-length animated movie, including such diverse talents as Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and Leonard Nimoy.

The film's story follows the paces of classic adventure in the vein of Wells or Burroughs in which the main character goes on a journey to find something most people don't even believe exists.  In this instance, the hero is Milo Thatch, a nerdy cartographer and linguist who grew up being regaled with tales of the ancient continent of Atlantis by his grandfather.  His examinations of an old manuscript found on an expedition in Iceland lead him to discover clues to the location of Atlantis, and soon he is recruited to join a team setting out to find the lost civilization.

Milo is accompanied on this journey by a trope of characters familiar to the genre but still so colorful that calling them eccentric couldn't even begin to describe them.  I don't want to take up space describing them as a viewing of the film would be infinitely more effective than any description I could give.  But, I will say that the really cool thing about animation (or even comics) is that the characters can be visualized to suggest personality traits.  Mignola is a master at character design, and his work here, informed a great deal by the steampunk genre, is able to convey volumes about each character without a single line of dialogue.

As we have come to expect from a Disney film, the animation is topnotch, and I am glad Atlantis was done in the classic hand-drawn style as the look best fits the style.  I, by no means, sniff at CGI animated films, but I do believe different techniques benefit different stories.  A computer would have made the visuals too sleek, too neat, and Atlantis is a film that is enhanced by the graininess and grit of hand-drawn animation.

When last I looked, Atlantis: the Lost Empire is streaming on Netflix.  Think about giving it a try, especially if you have young boys who are too old for lighter fare, but too young for movies like Avatar or most of the Marvel films.


  1. I'm afraid the trailer looks a lot like the original Star Gate movie. Like the actors and the graphics though.

    1. The story is a far cry from Stargate, though. Give it a try if you have Netflix.


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