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Atlantis The Lost Empire - lost or found?

01/10/2001. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

Buy Atlantis: The Lost Empire in the USA - or Buy Atlantis: The Lost Empire in the UK

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While Shrek, still playing in theaters, mocks the old Disney traditions, Atlantis: The Lost Empire pays respectful homage to old Disney films while telling a story like H. Rider Haggard on steroids.

A film review by Mark R. Leeper

Capsule: While SHREK, still playing in theaters, mocks the old Disney traditions, ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE pays respectful homage to old Disney films while telling a story like H. Rider Haggard on steroids.

A legendary book leads a mismatched expedition to find the mythical city still alive, though just barely, deep beneath the waves of the ocean.

A little heavy on the mysticism and the fighting, this animated film is not a bad choice adventure fans.

Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

In the late 1800s there was still a lot of the world that was terra incognita.

Much of the map had still to be filled in and adventure stories were being written about fabulous finds of ancient cities still alive in the far corners of the world.

The greatest of these stories, in my opinion at least, was H. Rider Haggard's SHE, filmed in multiple silent versions and at least two sound versions.

Other authors who have written lost race stories include Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ian Cameron, and A. Merritt.What science fiction is to many branches of science and alternate history is to the study of history, lost race stories are to archeology.

They are the stories of the imaginative dreams of every archeologist.(For those interested in the lost race genre I can recommend the web site

The current film starts at a breakneck pace as a huge wave rushes foreword to engulf the advanced island-civilization of Atlantis and some strange flying machines racing it to try to save the island.

Meanwhile there is something strange and mystical happening on the island, but not so powerful that it saves the island from sinking below the waves. Flash forward to 1910 or so.

Exploration runs in the family for Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox). Thatch's grandfather searched for the lost city of Atlantis. Milo has his own ideas as to where the city can be found. His dedication and energy applied to this goal has won him a reputation of being a little demented on the subject.

Then an enigmatic millionaire has his own plan to find Atlantis with the help of an ancient book thought to be lost but found by Milo's grandfather.

A new expedition will search for the city and its mysterious power source. The expedition will be led by Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke (James Garner) and begin with a descent to the ocean floor in a fabulous submarine. The base story by Bryce and Jackie Zabel leaves room for some spectacular action scenes with an undeniable excitement.

The film seems to be an H. Rider Haggard adventure in concentrated form. The story moves faster and has more action than Haggard would have given it, but the spirit is there. One thing that does seem a little out of place: most lost race stories were told in a serious tone.

Because of the subject matter the stories were rarely told with much humor. There is a lot of Disney-style comedy and weird international characters on the expedition. (Is the character of Moliere based on the character of the same name in the ZBS's Ruby series? There are definite similarities.)

The writers make the usual politically correct choice for the presence and ethnicity of the villain. The script in the end feels a little top-heavy with fighting and mysticism. Some may long for the subtlety of some of the writers of years past, but overall the film does have its moments.

To some extent ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE is an experiment. First it is a PG cartoon, unusual for Disney. The whimsical nature and the less realistic animation techniques seem less likely choices for the subject matter. The style might go better with a humorous animal story.

Further toward the end of the film a lot of what is happening is not carefully explained and is left to the viewer's interpretation. The film does have some breathtaking images of the city Atlantis and especially of the great submarine seen all too briefly in the first part of the film. The submarine seems like a cross between Disney's Nautilus and the interior of an airship.

Real submarines don't look like this, but they ought to.

Once again we have an all-star cast of voices in an animated film where their familiarity can be only a distraction. We have Michael J. Fox in the lead. We also have James Garner, Jim Verney (who died in February of 2000), Claudia Christian, Don Novello (who frequently played the comedic Father Guido Sarducci), John Mahoney, and Leonard Nimoy as the King of Atlantis.

While far from ideal, Atlantis is a good adventure film with at least some of the nostalgic feel of classic exploration films.

I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2001 Mark R. Leeper

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