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Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Despite the old-school look, Atlantis feels unpolished, both gawky and colorless.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a deviation of sorts for the studio, as it’s absent of bossomy females, cutesy sidekicks, and pop songs tailor-made for the Billboard and Oscar limelight. This dopey piece of fantastical folklore takes a while to get to its awe-inspiring finale, and though it transmits an anti-colonialist vibe, it’s still a hard pill to swallow. Michael J. Fox voices Milo Thatch, a geek with a serious grandfather fixation and a lifelong dream of discovering the fabled city of Atlantis, a mission that’s funded by an old friend of his grandfather’s. The film’s animation harks back to the jagged-edged stylings of 101 Dalmations, but despite the old-school look, Atlantis feels unpolished, both gawky and colorless. The first 30 minutes of the film are plotty and headache-inducing, not least of which because of the rainbow-coalition that accompanies Thatch on his journey: a Latina mechanic with flava, a black man for a doctor, an “explosive” Italian, a chain-smoking old bitty—and so on. When Thatch & Co. arrive in Atlantis, a buxom beauty voiced by Cree Summer shows them around the place and Thatch trivially ponders the Atlantisian command for multilingualism (read: Disney was too lazy to use subtitles for the duration of the film). Thatch eventually reclaims Atlantis’s glory by uncovering the hidden crystal that once saved the city from a god-induced tsunami, but despite some inspired moments (see the final confrontation between a group of giant-sized statues and an overzealous volcano) and one or two witty vocal performances (Florence Stanley as the aforementioned bitty), the film is strictly by-the-numbers. Disney has been trying to one-up the Beast/Gaston showdown from Beauty and the Beast for the last 10 years, and it’s never felt so transparent as it is here. A more subtle and insidious message is how Thatch gets the job done in more ways the one, killing the enemy but also saving the film’s foreigners from themselves. And Disney calls this politically correct?

Cast: Michael J. Fox, Jim Varney, Corey Burton, Claudia Christian, James Garner, John Mahoney, Phil Morris, Leonard Nimoy, David Ogden Stiers, Jacqueline Obradors, Florence Stanley, Don Novello, Cree Summer Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise Screenwriter: Tab Murphy, Joss Wedon, Bryce Zabel, Jackie Zabel Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures Running Time: 93 min Rating: PG Year: 2001 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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