“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” is not your typical Disney cartoon. First of all, despite a romantic thread that runs through the plot, there are no pauses in the action for a love song. In fact, the only song with lyrics plays during the end credits (performed by Mya). The first scenes of the film are of the destruction of a city and the deaths of many of its inhabitants. And there are subtitles.
Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is a linguist, a cartographer, a maintenance man and a geek, complete with big glasses. In Washington, D.C., circa 1914, he wants to propose to his museum superiors a plan for an expedition to find the Shepherds” Journal. This book, supposedly located in Iceland, explains exactly how to get to Atlantis, a city that existed long ago with some mysterious power source much more advanced than anything in the early 20th century. His superiors want nothing to do with the foolish expedition, but when Milo gets home, he finds a sexy blonde with an intriguing proposal. Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian) takes Milo to her boss, Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney) a friend of Milo”s explorer grandfather, who has the necessary book, a high tech submarine and funds for a deep-sea expedition to find the lost city of Atlantis.
The city is located, its still-living culture is discovered and many of the surviving crew members (they are attacked by a giant mechanical lobster, bringing down their submarine) admit devious intentions for the expedition. The story then turns into an attempt to save the newly discovered civilization and its princess, Kida (Cree Summer).
In “Atlantis,” the crew is one of the primary means of entertainment. They are a myriad group, composed of people of many different ethnicities and nationalities. There is Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors), the Hispanic teenage mechanic (from Dearborn, MI, according to www.disney.com), Vinny Santorini (Don Novello) the Italian demolition expert, Joshua Sweet (Phil Morris), the gigantic African American/Native American doctor, Gaeton Moliere (Corey Burton), the human mole geologist, mineralogist and tunneling expert who is afraid of soap and Mrs. Packard (Florence Stanley), the old, white communications expert with a morbid sense of humor.
Together, the group is interesting to see interact, and is often hilarious. Vinny is perhaps the funniest, with his unintentional wit. Mrs. Packard”s catch phrase is, “We”re all going to die.” In fact, there are a lot of jokes alluding to death and destruction. This element by Tab Murphy (screenwriter) makes the movie quite funny for the adults in the theater, while probably not disturbing the kids.
Some adult political themes result from the plot, such as environmentalism, humanitarianism and problems of colonialism. However, understanding these bigger lessons is not essential to the enjoyment of the film. For both the child and the adult, there are elements of magic and fun futuristic gadgets, such as hovering vehicles shaped like fish and powered by magic crystals.
The animation itself was both disappointing and impressive. For a city based on myth, Atlantis is not as extravagant and interesting as it could have been.
Additionally, this film is evidence that the animation of humans is becoming more advanced. The minute detail of these characters” physical movement is amazing. With these visuals and a screenplay that both makes people laugh and teaches them a lesson, it is an overall success for Disney.