August 11th, 2010

piranha - bluebird

Disney Movies: #41 Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Entry #11 in the 'Watch all the Classic Disney (Animated) Movies' Challenge

Previous movies:
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Peter Pan (1953)
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
The Sword in the Stone (1963)
The Fox and the Hound (1981)
The Black Cauldron (1985)
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
Mulan (1998)
Tarzan (1999)
Brother Bear (2003)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

By 2001, the 'Disney Renaissance' that had been sparked by 1989's The Little Mermaid and characterized by great films like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin was over.  There's some debate over when the decline began - some critics would probably time it as early as the release of Pocahontas in 1995 - but the Renaissance generally refers to the studio's animated releases in the 1990s.   Atlantis: The Lost Empire was a disappointing follow-up to the previous decade's masterpieces.

Set on the eve of World War I, the film follows the adventures of Milo Thatch, a specialist in the study of dead languages, who believes that Atlantis is real.  When his museum refuses to fund his expedition, a friend of Milo's grandfather steps in with a ship and crew.  The intrepid linguist and a motley multicultural crew set out in a massive submarine to find the lost city, following the clues Milo deciphers from an old book written in Atlantean.  Somehow, the surface dwellers make it past Atlantis' defenses and find the underwater city, where Milo meets the Princess Kida and her countrymen, all thousands of years old, but an unexpected (*cough*yeahright*cough*) betrayal threatens the lives of Milo and his new friends.

This is one of the few Disney movies we actually own.  My brother bought the DVD at some point from a closing Blockbuster.  But I have been putting off watching the film because I did see it during its theatrical run, and didn't like it.  I couldn't remember many specifics, so today with Jeannie and I grabbed some pizza and settled down to watch Atlantis

The first thing I was reminded of was that I hated the character animation for this film.  Specifically, it was the hands that got to me.  The fingers were squared off at the end, with triangle-shaped nails.  It looks weird.   Princess Kida, in an odd throwback to the 1980s, has the same hairstyle as Jem.  (Seriously, if you added some hairspray and volume, Kida could be the fifth sixth Hologram.) 

Many of the minor characters are little more than stereotypes.  We have a feisty Latina mechanic, a cool smooth-taking black man who resembles Mr. Clean, a French pervert, an Italian pyromaniac, and a gorgeous femme fatale second in command to the cool-until-you-make-him-mad white military leader.  Even our two leads, Milo and Kida, were annoying.  Milo was an obnoxious little know-it-all at times, and his fast-paced patter and mumbling didn't help.  Kida starts out so strong, but then becomes passive so quickly.  I mean, when she is absorbed into the crystal/becomes the crystal (which is never adequately explained, BTW) she gains phenomenal power, but she doesn't use it.  She allows her super-powered self to be boxed up so that Commander Rourke can carry her away, even though her disappearance means the death of all the Atlanteans.  What the hell, Joss Whedon?  (BTW, he was one of the writers for this movie.  What the hell, Joss Whedon??)

The world-building was total crap.
A/ The Atlanteans can understand any language in the world because they speak a 'root language.'  So they can speak English, French, Chinese, Greek and Latin perfectly fluently.  WHAT THE FRENCH TOAST, MOVIE??  I can't read English from one thousand years ago fluently, and the Atlantean people are looking at thousands of years of separation and evolution from their 'root' language and surface languages.
Yet the Atlanteans have somehow lost the ability to read their own written language.  When the surface Atlantis was destroyed nearly nine thousand years ago, Kida was a child.  Appearance-wise, she's now in her late teens/early twenties.  Atlanteans live an extremely long time, and the majority of the present Atlanteans were also in the Atlantean city.  HOW COULD THEY FORGET THEIR WRITTEN LANGUAGE WITHIN A SINGLE GENERATION???  Unless Kida's blind father was the only person who could read, that's just crap.  I mean, it couldn't have been that difficult if Milo was able to decipher it in a few years using a single source.

B/ The Atlantean civilization is powered by a crystal/energy source that is powered by 'the kings of the past.'  So ghosts or souls, basically?  This energy can take over the body of a female of the royal line (just a female of the royal line, mind you) granting her the power to defend the civilization in times of trouble.  As I complained, Kida doesn't utilize this power when it would make sense to do so, but after she's been rescued and returned to Atlantis, she suddenly decides to use it to bring stone statues to life.  They create a shield and Atlantis is saved from drowning in magma.   Stupid.

C/ Why did using the crystal energy destroy Kida's mother, but Kida was just fine?

D/ See "A" and apply the same questions to how could the Atlanteans forget how to use their own technology when they're clearly shown using it in the opening scene of the movie?  For that matter, why do the Atlanteans, a dark-skinned 'ethnic/alien' race with white hair and blue tattoos, need a skinny white nerd to save them from the Evil Oppressive White Man?  I am so sick of that trope being trotted out in movies. 

I appreciate that Disney tried to do something a little different and made a science fiction movie, but this was just bad.  The plot's completely predictable, the characterization is little more than caricature, and while the Atlantean ship animation was often impressive, the character animation was not.  I'm glad there wasn't an attempt to bring a musical to the story, at least.  This is a plodding, boring movie that clocks in at 96 minutes. Trust me, you feel every single one of those minutes.

At the time of Atlantis's release, there was controversy that the character design and story were stolen from Japanese anime, specifically Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water and Castle in the Sky.   This Japanese website shows side-by-side images; this chart from Anime News Network translates some of the text.

Did I miss anything, Jeans?

2/10 stars.