Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Atlantis The Lost Empire posterAtlantis: The Lost Empire is one of the hidden treasures in the Disney Classics series. Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the movie certainly is a diversion from their previous masterpieces like Beauty and the Beast. A definite template of the “aimed at boys” strategy of the Animation Studios, Atlantis mainly thrives in its beauty, action and imaginative story. In retrospective, it doesn’t just hold up well, it even outperforms the same story that frameworked the top grossing movie of all time.

The most apparent notion when reviewing the movie is how plot driven it is. There are certainly some intriguing characters, but without characters breaking into song plainly telling the audience their wish, it’s clear just how flat Disney models its protagonists. Milo (Michael J. Fox) is a literally a textbook geek, but even he is more functional than loveable. Kida (Cree Summer) certainly should top every Disney Princess list, but that’s because her actions are admirable in their dutifulness and responsibility, not because she’s especially warming. Nevertheless, Atlantis is certainly more watchable due to the attention the supporting players get. Much of the dialogue is expositional and dry, but even then it’s nice to get to know the bunch of weird and unique workers that make up the discovery team.

What Atlantis lacks in character it makes up in story. It meticulously sets up twists by not wasting any screen space or beats. That makes all the action more enjoyable. We’re not treated to violence or enticing battles for their own sake. From its very opening scene, which features the demise of the thriving civilization of Atlantis when it is swallowed by the sea, the story asks for the action. Atlantis watches like any other adventure movie. Recognizable characters go to unimaginable places, battle distinctive evils and there’s a self-awareness that’s delightful. Giant sea creatures, flying objects, thrilling fist fights and a final battle scene that gives many blockbusters a run for their money. Atlantis tries to be the next Indiana Jones or get some of that Jerry Bruckheimer audience to watch a kids movie. It also inspired James Cameron to remake it by keeping all of the 3D but replacing the 2D with live-action.

The comparisons are what make the revision of Atlantis somewhat troubled. Not just because it feels like Avatar, but also because there are scenes from Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Dive to that depth of film criticism and it’s hard to acknowledge Atlantis for its true merits. Which are undoubtedly the parts where it is original and stunning to look at. With every wide shot from Atlantis itself, with every descent into the ocean or with explosion or waterfall, the movie is an absolute contender for wallpapers. The characters are drawn like comic book characters, which adds to the sense of adventure. The women are more capable than the men, which is what every action movie needs. Also the subject of Atlantis isn’t thrown around lightly, it’s thought through and kept to mystical proportions. On itself or compared to others, the movie stands tall.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an wonderfully adventurous movie with enough mythology to keep any attentive viewer satisfied. There’s some wit, some endearing characters but most of all it is a story that never bores. It looks absolutely stunning and uses its animation to the best of its ability. The movie definitely has flaws, but they don’t take away the enjoyability. In fact, after all these years Atlantis looks and feels still very fresh. For a certain boy at a certain time, it sparked an obsession for a mythical place where adventures are. Now, it’s still a pleasant place to revisit.

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