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Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Review written by: Alex Sandell


"Don't worry, honey, on land we call this a 'dildo.' 

What's the story?:

Wishing to carry on his grandfather's work, Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is working in a museum's boiler room, buying time until he can convince the museum curator, Fenton Q. Harcourt (David Ogden Stiers) to fund an exploration to find The Shepherds Journal, a book that is rumored to show its user the way to the lost city of Atlantis.  After a particularly bad rejection from Harcourt, and the rest of the museum board, Thatch begins feeling that he's going to be stuck working in the boiler room the rest of his life.  It is only when he is at his lowest that he meets an eccentric old friend of his grandfather, Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney), who it turns out has the Journal and has already assembled a ragtag team of explorers for an expedition he is funding, due to a bet he lost with Thatch's grandfather . . . an expedition all the way to the heart of Atlantis.

So, how is it? (Get to the point, already.)

Disney's directing team of Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the duo behind the modern Disney classics, Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, have done it again; too bad Disney's budget cutbacks didn't allow the movie's animators to paint Trousdale and Wise's visions onto the screen in the beautiful way they did with the pair's earlier films.  This movie, more than any Disney animated release during the past 10 years, relies on drama far more than it does on action.  There are no songs, there is no rock and roll soundtrack, and the action scenes, while incredible, are merely bookends to a far more grown-up Disney animated film.    

To truly make Atlantis:  The Lost Empire come to life, as it was envisioned, Disney would have had to use the spending muscle they did with animated movies such as 1999's Tarzan, which was given a 150 million dollar budget to work with.  There are numerous scenes where we are to feel awe over the beauty of the lost city of Atlantis, but, due to the lackluster drawings, we feel more like we're looking at Smurfville, or some other Saturday morning cartoon village.  None of the intense visuals that had our jaws dropping on the floor in amazement during lavish animated Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King are on display in Atlantis.  The computer animation is used sparingly, and the artistry is simply flat.  I put no blame on the actual artists -- they did the best with what they had -- it's just that Mickey's butt-muscles are cramping up, giving him a massive case of tight-ass-ness, and Disney animators, the few that are left, are feeling the pinch.  In the long run, this strategy will end up hurting Disney, because people do notice (this film will never approach the 171 million dollar gross Tarzan brought in two years earlier), and, no matter how good the film actually is, it does give off an overwhelming feeling of being generic, when the animation can't hold its own against the directing, acting, soundtrack, and storytelling.  

If you can get past the blandness of its animation, there is a lot to offer in Atlantis:  The Lost Empire.  Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise bring their catchy enthusiasm to the film, and prove, once again, that they are still the best directors the animated world has to offer.  If you squeeze your eyes to the point that the drawings become sort of blurred, and you pay attention only to the directorial style, there is some pretty powerful stuff at play here.  It doesn't hurt that Trousdale and Wise are working off of a wonderful script, written by seasoned greats Tab Murphy (Tarzan, Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story), who up the level of where a traditionally animated Disney film can go at least a notch or two. 

We have a pretty adult plot here (as far as "kid" movies go).  Even more amazing (especially with Whedon behind it), the plot is adult without all the pop-culture references that have been plaguing animated films since Robin Williams first opened his hyper-verbal mouth in Aladdin.  You can sit back and rest assured that nobody is going to suddenly step out of both time and character, look at the the lead female in the film, Princes Kidagakash (Cree Summer), and exclaim, "this babe's built like Britney!"  And, thank heaven, no one will meet up with Kashekim Nedakh (Leonard Nimoy), split their fingers into a "V" and tell him to, "live long and prosper," hoping to elicit a giggle or two from the film geeks.  In other words, Atlantis:  The Lost Empire, is a family film, without being childish, and suddenly, like they say in the song, everything old is new again.     

Like the old-fashioned feel of the dialogue, the action scenes also seem as though they came from another time; there is a little Star Wars here, and a little Indiana Jones there, but, unlike the recent Mummy Returns and Tomb Raider, they are inspired by, but not rip-offs of, the older movies that they pay homage to.  The scenes are brilliantly put together, and will have your eyes glued to the screen with fast-acting bonding goop.  The action moves so fast, and is so oddly beautiful, for a moment or two you'll forget the drawings look like a bunch of stick figures running around with guns.  

The action-free dramatic scenes, of which there are plenty, will probably bore the hell out of kids, but this isn't really a kid's movie, anyway.  It's a movie for the people that stare at the stars, and refuse to believe that they're grounded, rather than about to fly.  It's a movie for the people that stare into the ocean below them, and refuse to believe that they're stuck in a boat, rather than a camouflaged submarine.  In the words of the immortal Kermit the Frog; it's a movie for "the lovers, the dreamers, and me."

What does it make you feel like eating?

Seafood.

What are you selling us here???

No product placements.  You heard me right.  NONE.

If it won an Oscar, what would it be?

"Best restraint shown in an animated film during the early part of the 21st century" - Atlantis:  The Lost Empire

On a scale of 1-10?

8

Agree? Disagree? Email me at alex@juicycerebellum.com

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Text (Copyright) 2001 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]. If you copy this, without my permission, I'll get Mickey to shit on you, and it will be gross, cuz he's been holding it in for a loooooooooooooooooong time!

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