ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE
Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an animated feature from Disney. It comes from the directing team of Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise who began the modern Disney animation renaissance with Beauty and the Beast (1991) and next made The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Unlike some of the other current Disney directing teams notably Ron Clement and John Musker, who made Aladdin (1992) and Hercules (1997) Trousdale and Wise are the two among the current crop of the Disney directors who most self-consciously craft their films as art. Indeed, Atlantis: The Lost Empire seems a film pitched at a more adult level than most Disney films there are no songs, no cute animal sidekicks and the film is thankfully free of the irritating need to throw in contemporary (and often irritatingly anachronistic) pop culture references that has dogged many recent Disneys (the aforementioned Musker-Clements efforts being particularly guilty offenders).
Trousdale and Wise look back to classic Disney of yore for inspiration in this case, the live-action 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) from which it borrows the retro-Victorian design scheme, serving up a wonderful array of drilling moles, hot-air balloons, period vehicles and a lavishly designed submarine (which is disposed of disappointingly early in the action). Less successful is the attempt to create crystalline and piscine themed Atlantean designs. The influence of Japanese anime has also crept in in one eerily beautiful set-piece where Kida is transformed into a being of pure light (the likes of which happen with almost cliched regularity in anime). Although the problem here is that the films attempts to grasp at the transcendental falls into Disney feelgood cliches, which these days are far too New Age in nature. Thus Atlantis: The Lost Empire contains protests against environmental despoliation, the exploitation of minority cultures, has a belief in the healing power of crystals, while the being of light is banally revealed to embody combined Atlantean heart-magic. There are also some odd pieces where the script co-written by no less than Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon has not done its research a root language is a language from which other languages have evolved, not something where a speaker can act as a universal translator. English, for example, evolved from Latin but a Latin speaker would be hard-pressed to recognise any words in todays English.
Trousdale and Wise conduct some good action sequences with fighting leviathans and the climactic shootout between flying fish cycles and armed mercenaries. There is also a wonderfully engaging lineup of human supporting characters including an endearingly tough tomboy mechanic; Jim Varney in his last performance as the cook; and a character with a Peter Lorre-modelled voice and a strange obsession with burrowing, although the show is fairly much stolen by Florence Stanley as the cynical radio operator. Trousdale and Wise create some impressively scaled journeys through caverns. There is one spectacular shot with where Milo and Kida ascend the tip of a pyramid and the animation does a 360-degree pan around the whole of the island.
Unfortunately, while Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of the better of the modern Disney animated films (even if is not up there with one of the classic Disney epics), it was also one of the least successful. This was in part due to the fact that it opened the same week as Lara Croft, Tomb Raider (2001), whose runaway success totally eclipsed Atlantis. Indeed, the less-than-expected box-office returns of both Pearl Harbor (2001) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire within the space of a month forced the resignation of studio head Peter Schneider one week following Atlantiss premiere, while directors GaryTrousdale and Kirk Wise have not been employed since.
Disney later made a shabby video-released sequel Atlantis: Milos Return (2003).