reviewed by Steve Sailer
UPI, June 13, 2001
"Atlantis: The Lost Empire" is Disney's spectacular Jules Verne-style adventure cartoon about a 1914 undersea expedition.
The always-likable Michael J. Fox provides the voice of nerdy young linguist Milo Thatch. As the only scholar who can read an ancient manuscript written in "Atlantean," Milo is hired to interpret for a lavishly bankrolled submarine expedition. It hopes to find the technologically advanced, yet environmentally correct, utopia that sank 8,800 years ago, but has been protected ever since by an energy shield powered by New Age crystals (or something).
Lacking the singing, dancing, and talking animals of Disney's typical animated features, "Atlantis" is aimed at older little boys repelled by Disney's girly reputation. My twelve-year-old son wouldn't go because he doesn't want any of his friends to ever hear of him watching another Disney cartoon, but my eight-year-old boy found "Atlantis" exciting.
Animated features are trickier to evaluate than a typical live-action film. While movies for grown-ups try to deliver all the goods in a single viewing, animated features are made for kids to watch over and over on home video.
Having seen it only once, "Atlantis" struck me as a little too fast-paced, almost to the point of sensory overload. The slam-bang action scenes seemed herky-jerky. Similarly, a lot of the wisecracks zipped by me.
On the other hand, this visual intensity and verbal density might be just about right for a home video.
On the other other hand, VHS won't do justice to the wonderful panoramas in "Atlantis." Disney's computer-assisted hand drawing created magnificently detailed landscapes and formidable machines. The crumbling empire of Atlantis looks like the incomparable Cambodian ruined city of Angkor Wat plunked down amidst the cliffs and beaches of Rio de Janeiro. In the future, when more homes have DVD players and big flat screen TV's, "Atlantis" will finally come into its own.
On the other (ahh, forget it) … Many of the characters are pointlessly ugly. The people are supposed to look realistic, even heroic - that's why they have five fingers instead of the four found in comic cartoons such as "The Simpsons." Yet, Disney hired comic-book artist Mike Mignola, who draws the disturbing "Hellboy" series, to give them his awkward, angular style.
Milo's leader on the journey is the manly Commander Rourke (James Garner), who calls himself an "adventure capitalist." Apparently pursuant to the Affirmative Action Act of 1913, Rourke leads an ethnically and gender diverse crew, which provides a field guide to the modern movie industry's reigning racial prejudices.
In Hollywood's eyes, the lowest dregs of humanity are the Germans, who are here represented by Rourke's right hand woman, Helga, a vicious proto-Nazi. Less evil than the Teutons - but still unsanitary and laughable - are the French. Moliere (or "Mole" for short) is the dirt and fly-covered semi-human comic relief.
On the middle tier of the Hollywood Hierarchy of Humanity are the Ellis Island immigrants. Demolitions expert Vinny Santorini (hilariously voiced by Don Novello, using the deadpan cadences of his Father Guido Sarducci character) reminds us that, according to 70 years of film lore, Sicilians are thuggish but fascinating. Jews, such as the cynical old lady radio operator, kvetch a lot, but in an amusing way.
At the peak of the moral pyramid are the People of Color. The expedition's chief mechanic is a pugnacious but kind-hearted teenage Latina. Its surgeon is the Shaquille O'Neal-sized Dr. Sweet. You can tell that the good doctor will indeed be the epitome of sweetness when he reveals that not only was his father black, but that his mother was Native American.
Still, not even this paragon can compare to the endangered Atlanteans. Lead by the curvaceous yet strong-minded Princess Kidakagash, they sport the pan-Third World good looks of Tiger Woods. Of course, they also have trendy platinum blonde hair. The Atlanteans turn out to be - surprise! - nonmaterialistic.
In an equally stunning turn, Helga turns out to be a genocidal mercenary who intends to steal the Atlanteans' precious power crystals and sell them to the Kaiser. In Hollywood, the only thing more popular than making anti-capitalist, anti-German, pro-environment movies is taking the profits from them and buying $80,000 Mercedes-Benzes that get twelve miles to the gallon.
What is actually unsettling, though, is that Garner's Commander Rourke is also in on the scheme. This bothered my son no end. Disney has trained kids that villains are supposed to be effete English-accented connivers like Jeremy Irons in "The Lion King," not brave Irish-American soldiers.
Also, if they wanted Commander Rourke to be a bad guy, they should have hired Mickey Rourke, not James Garner. In his 44 years since debuting as TV's "Maverick," Garner has provided America's model of manly affability. Is age 73 really the time for Garner to start a new career as a villain?
Rated "PG" for cartoon violence (including a gun battle) that might be too scary for toddlers.