Atlantis: The Lost Empire seems destined not to be judged on its own merits, opening as it does amid a swirl of speculation about the state of animated movies. Traditional animation is viewed as passé now that computer-generated images have grown increasingly sophisticated. But don’t discount Atlantis, which possesses a quality not necessarily associated with Disney features: a sense of adventure.
This PG-rated tale about uncovering new worlds doesn’t emulate the latest technology of video games (which provide the aesthetic groundwork for much of the new animation). Instead, directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise look to tried-and-true entertainment for boys: comic books (by incorporating the bold style of graphic artist Mike Mignola) and the large-scale action adventure films which Disney once produced (which have now mutated into special-effects blood-fests such as The Mummy).
It’s 1914 and Milo Thatch (voice of Michael J. Fox), a specialist in ancient languages and maps, is relegated to maintaining the boiler at the Smithsonian Institution. Plucked from ignominy by a wealthy benefactor, Milo becomes part of an elite crew of fearless adventurers heading underwater to locate the lost island of Atlantis, believed to have been home to a technologically advanced civilization which disappeared after a cataclysmic occurrence. What they discover is a magnificent utopia whose residents have lost touch with their past. So much so that Princess Kida (Cree Summer) asks Milo to read their ancient texts (shades of Stargate) and unlock the mysteries of their fate, which is connected to the Atlantean crystals that serve as their energy source/life force.
Atlantis effectively blends yang and yin into something that’s both aggressively energetic and reverentially New Agey, mixing up manifest destiny with transcendentalism to create a distinctively American moral battleground. Heady stuff for a summer movie which aims to be an exciting ride through Adventureland (and is chock-full of magnificent creations like the leviathan who guards the entrance to Atlantis).
Like Spy Kids, Atlantis: The Lost Empire shows filmmakers reinterpreting their own childhood thrills for a jaded generation and aiming to make the act of discovery exciting again.
Click here to read Serena Donadoni's exclusive interview with Gary Trousdale, director of Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Visit the official Atlantis: The Lost Empire Web site at www.disney.com/atlantis.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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