Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #41: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)
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So you may have noticed that I’ve been doing a little housekeeping around here.
Anything to avoid doing a little housekeeping around here.

Anything to avoid doing a little housekeeping around here.

Since we’re now pushing fifty reviews I’ve finally organised the reviews by era and decade so you can more easily browse them. Longtime readers of the blog will know that I’ve got my own idiosyncratic way of organising the canon Disney movies; The Tar and Sugar Movies of the late thirties and early forties, the Never Heard of ‘Ems of the war years, the fifties Restoration, the sixties and seventies Scratchy Era, the Mourning Era of the eighties and the Renaissance of the nineties. I then had to come up with a name for this weird post-millenial chunk of movies between Fantasia 2000 and The Princess and the Frog and this had me stumped for a good while. I hear “The Dark Age” trotted out a lot as a description for this era but that just doesn’t sit well with me for two reasons; firstly I try to use a name that suits the overall style and tone of the movies and the movies of this period are not particularly “dark”. Then of course, “The Dark Age” implies that all these films are somehow inferior and you can tell me that The Emperor’s New Groove and Lilo and Stitch are bad movies or you can keep your limbs intact but you cannot do both. Finally, I settled on “The Lost Era” because this era, like the Mourning Era, was an experimental time where Disney was trying to answer the question “What kind of movies do we make?” The most sustained periods of success in Disney’s history have always been times when the company found a formula that worked. When they knew what they were about. In the fifties, it was fairytales and adaptations of classic children’s literature. In the sixties, it was jazzy Sherman Brothers musicals, in the nineties it was all about Broadway. The origins of Atlantis: The Lost Empire began in a Mexican restaurant when directors Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise and producer Don Hahn sat down to a big bowl of nachos and tried to figure out the future of Disney. These three men were the creative heads behind my personal favorite Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and this meeting was born largely out of a desire to keep the band together, so to speak. Trousdale, Wise and Hahn realised that they had put together an absolutely phenomenal team for Hunchback and were anxious not to see this incredibly talented group of people separated and put on other projects. The solution was obvious: Make another movie. But what kind of movie? It was clear by now that the Broadway Disney musical had been done. And done again. And then, why not, done a couple more times. And while those movies had been hugely (HUGELY) successful, it was clear that enough was enough. When you’ve got a formula that’s familiar enough for this kind of parody to work…
…it’s time to try something new. This was the paradox Disney faced in the early 21st century. They knew what worked, but they couldn’t do it anymore. For a while, Tarzan had seemed to offer a way forward, a pseudo-musical with all the songs sung by a big name musical talent instead of the characters. But then that had come a rather massive cropper with the Kingdom of the Sun/Emperor’s New Groove  debacle. Yeah, yeah, I know. You love the movie, I love the movie. That’s because it didn’t cost us $100 Million. More importantly perhaps, Trousdale, Wise and Hahn did not want to make another animated musical. As the nacho cheese flowed like wine, the three men began talking about the movies they had loved growing up, and specifically, the Disney movies they had loved growing up. Now, hold onto your hats people because I am about to blow your freaking minds. Did you know that Disney also made live action, non-animated, human-acted with actual human beings movies?
I warned you.

I warned you.

My paw to God, it’s true. In fact, my good buddy Animation Commendation even has a blog devoted to Disney’s live action efforts which I’ve been meaning to link to for ever. You should check it out. The germ for the idea that would become Atlantis began with a desire to do an animated version of the old Disney live action adventure movies. You know, Davy Crockett, Treasure Island and by far it’s most obvious influence, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 

Atlantis represented a huge, daring creative gamble for Disney, an attempt to break out of the admittedly lucrative formula that had begun to stifle the studio creatively. This was going to be something new. There would be no funny animal sidekicks. The movie’s unofficial motto during production was “less singing, more explosions”. Comic book creator Mike Mignola was brought in to give the movie a new distinctive visual look.  This thing would have a PG rating by God!

I'm frightened.

I’m frightened.

One thing that really comes across watching this movie and the bonus material that comes with it is just how much everybody cared about this film. Seriously, you can tell, they worked their asses off on this. Did it pay off?

Well…read the review! You think I’m just going to tell you up front?

Nerve of some people...

Nerve of some people…

Let’s take a look at the movie.

The movie begins as it means to go, with a big ass explosion. It’s 8800 years ago and…something…has just blown up in the middle of the ocean. A fleet of Atlantean hovercraft flee the shockwave, trying to reach Atlantis in time to warn the city. One of the pilots shouts to another “YOU FOOL! YOU’VE DESTROYED US ALL!”

"I am going to spend the last few precious seconds we have alive making sure you know SCREWED THE POOCH LAURENCE!"

“I am going to spend the last few precious seconds we have alive making sure you know you SCREWED THE POOCH, LAWRENCE!”

Oh if you’re watching this scene and wondering why those hovercraft sound so familiar, it’s because the sound effects were done at Skywalker Ranch. They were originally used in the pod-racing scene in The Phantom Menace and were then re-used here, presumably because everyone felt sorry for them.

Atlantis battens down the hatches and the terrified people take shelter in the face of the oncoming wave. We see the young princess, Kida, being rushed to safety by her mother Queen…Unnamed. Kida drops her doll and tries to do back for it but Unnamed stops  in her tracks to explain to Kida why she can’t do that and okay, is this just some kind of Atlantean cultural thing or what?

"We are going to stay here until you understand that there is no time to waste! LITERALLY EVERY SECOND COUNTS!"

“We are going to stay here until you understand that there is no time to waste! LITERALLY EVERY SECOND COUNTS!”

But then, Unnamed is enveloped in a strange blue light and is lifted into the air by an unseen force while Kida looks on in horror. Unnamed rises through the air, drawn into a strange spinning light that hovers overhead.

Ancient-Aliens

This light then extends a forcefield around the city and Atlantis sinks beneath the waves.

Fast forward to Washington 1914 where linguist Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is prepping for his big presentation to the board of the Smithsonian so that they’ll fund his mission to find the lost city of Atlantis. This movie was made around ten years after Fox had first been diagnosed with Parkinson’s but only three since he had gone public with his condition. Fox really enjoyed working on Atlantis because he didn’t have to worry about controlling his symptoms and could just focus on the acting and I think that comes through. He gives a lot of energy to this performance and it sounds like someone who’s really enjoying himself. As he goes through his mock presentation he explains that an ancient manuscript called The Shepherd’s Journal shows the way to Atlantis. He says that it had been previously believed that the Journal was somewhere in Ireland, but that this was the result of a dodgy translation and that the Journal is actually in Iceland. Now, I know that sounds like something deserving of a trip to the highest summit of bullshit mountain, but actually, the Norse translations of “Ireland” and “Iceland” really are only one letter apart, just like their English counterparts, so I can’t really rip the movie on that. But there shall be linguistic ripping later on. Oh my, yes.

We learn that Milo is intent on following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Thaddeus Thatch, who spent his whole life looking for Atlantis. Milo even has Thaddeus’ old helmet in his office. In a shrine.

Shrines. Never not creepy.

Shrines. Never not creepy.

Suddenly Milo gets a memo that his meeting with the board has been pushed back to half an hour ago, and then a second memo saying that since he didn’t show up to his meeting he ain’t getting any of that sweet, sweet, research grant cheddar.

Mmm...cheddar. Where was I?

Mmm…cheddar. Where was I?

Outraged, Milo confronts Mr Harcourt (David Ogden Stiers) who tells him that he has a lot of potential, but that if he continues chasing fairy tales he’ll just throw his career down the toilet like his grandfather before him.

"Stop wasting your time with this quackery and switch to one of the legitimate sciences. Like eugencis, or phrenology."

“Stop wasting your time with this quackery and switch to one of the legitimate sciences. Like eugenics, or phrenology.”

Disheartened, Milo returns home to discover that he has an unexpected guest.

"Doctor Jackson? The US government needs your help to decifer a series of ancient hyroglyphs..."

“Doctor Jackson? The US government needs your help. The Stargate programme is of vital importance to…”

"Oh Christ, not again. For the last time I'm not Daniel Jackson!"

“Oh Christ, not again. For the last time I’m not Daniel Jackson!”

No actually, a beautiful blonde woman named Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian) has let herself in and says she has a proposition for him from her employer. I will probably never do a “Hottest Disney Women” list because honestly that’s kinda skeevy, but if I did, Helga would be right up there. She’s also a great example of just how mold-breaking this movie is, there really is no equivalent character type for Helga anywhere else in the canon. She honestly doesn’t get that much to do but she’s probably the most memorable of the supporting characters.

"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way. Nah, kidding. I'm totally bad."

“I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way. Nah, kidding. I’m totally bad.”

She drives Milo through the rain to the mansion of reclusive millionaire Preston Whitmore…

No, no WHITMORE. That's Charles Widmore. From Lost. Remember Lost? That was a show, wasn't it?

No, no WHITMORE. That’s Widmore. From Lost. Remember Lost? Yeah, it’s weird. It was huge. I mean, it was really, really colossal. And then it just kind of dropped off the face of the pop culture landscape. I think it’s kind of emblematic of JJ Abrams’ whole oeuvre really. Everything he does is really successful in the time it’s released but seems to lack any kind of real staying power. That’s why I’m really worried about him taking over Star Wars…what? Oh right, the review.

…and shows him inside telling him not to “drip on the Caravaggio”. Yeah, so just in case you were in any doubt as to how rich this guy is, there’s your answer; “Priceless paintings as carpets” rich. Whitmore is an eccentric rich guy in the proud “Howard Hughes” tradition voiced by John Mahoney, perhaps best known for playing Marty Crane on Frasier. Now, Frasier is one of my favorite shows and Mahoney is one of my favorite actors so it’s hard for me to quite pin down why he just…doesn’t…work…in this role. I don’t mean that he’s bad, it’s just that the voice and the character design don’t gel for me. I can’t accept this character speaking with that voice, it just feels off. Well anyway, Whitmore tells Milo that he was a friend of Thaddeus Thatch and gives him a gift from his grandfather which turns out to be the frickin’ Shepherd’s Journal. Whitmore says that he’s willing to fund an expedition to find Atlantis, that the submarine is already built and the crew hired (the same crew who found the Shepherd’s Journal in Iceland). Milo agrees but said that he’ll have to quit his job but Whitmore says it’s already taken care of as he doesn’t like loose ends, which may be the first time I’ve ever heard that expression used in a non threatening way.

We cut to the launching of the submarine Ulysses (an absolutely gorgeous diesel-punk lookin’ thing) and the movie proceeds to drop an absolute metric shit ton of supporting characters. Okay, full disclosure, for the last week I, my wife and our baby daughter (I call her “Mini-Mouse”) have been stricken down with some kind of medieval plague so this review is going to be a little on the short side. I don’t actually have time to list all of the supporting characters so please avail of this handy chart.

Chart

Yeah, that’s a lot of supporting players. Add to this, Helga’s also along for the ride and there’s also the movie’s attempted break out character, Gaetan “The Mole” Moliere, who’s a dirty Frenchman.

No, I mean, he’s literally a dirty French…he’s French and he specialises in dirt…he’s…

No, listen I’m not racist! I swear, some of my best friends are French, tell ’em Maurice!

"I can't believe you'd use our friendship like that."

“I can’t believe you’d use our friendship like that.”

Now, here’s the biggest problem with this movie. There’s too many characters and not enough time to develop them. Not that the movie doesn’t try. We certainly do get scenes of the characters just handing out, trading backstories, all the usual tricks of the trade. It’s just not enough. My wife, who is kind of a genius at pinning down why a movie doesn’t work, nailed the problem: This movie needs to be like half an hour longer. Now, that’s not something you normally find yourself saying, specially in this day and age, but it’s the truth. The filmmakers here try to do a big grown up action movie but with the time constraints of a Disney animated feature and that’s just not doable. Animated movies tend to be quite a bit shorter than live action films and there’s a reason for that. With a live action movie you shoot several days worth of footage and then edit it down into a ninety minute movie or three hour movie or whatever. The final length of the finished film has no real bearing on the cost of the thing. But with an animated movie, every second costs money. If you decide halfway through that your ninety minute movie needs to be two hours long, congratulations, your costs have just gone up thirty percent. There’s just too much plot and too many character in the time we have and everything just feels rushed. Some of the characters are quite funny (Vinny and Mole in particular) but they’re all pretty flat. That’d be a problem in a normal Disney movie but in this one it creates major problems with the plot twist that comes halfway through. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve already mentioned how the filmmakers were trying consciously to break away from the standard Disney tropes and you can see this in the villain especially. Rourke is the leader of the expedition and he’s one of very few Disney villainous who isn’t obviously villainous from the getgo (Gaston and Edgar are the only other ones I can think of off the top of my head). He’s got a non-villainous character design and he’s even voiced by James Garner, who’s most famous for playing heroic roles like Maverick.

Tom-Cruise-new-Top-Gun-Movie

Nope.

Uh uh.

Uh uh.

There ya go.

There ya go.

Does it work? Honestly, no. Like all the other characters Rourke is just too underdeveloped for his face-heel turn to have much of an impact, and as a villain his motive is just not that interesting. He wants to get rich, whoop-dee-frickin’-doo. Now, a villain who’s motivated by greed can work of course (see McLeach, Percival C.) but you need some strong writing’ and a charismatic performance to back it up.

Alright, enough about what the movie does wrong, let’s talk about what the movie does right. While searching for the entrance to Atlantis, the Ulysses comes under attack from a giant robot lobster (which incidentally looks like it clawed it’s way straight out of a Hellboy comic) and the sub responds by sending out a fleet of mini-sub TIE fighters and that is frickin’ awesome. It’s a submarine that shoots out little submarines! I WANT THAT TOY!

Oh wow. Thanks McDonalds. I always wanted a plastic turd.

Oh wow. Thanks McDonalds. Spared no expense, huh?

Well, apparently the Ulysses was for robot lobsters ages five and up because it smashes the submarine pretty handily and the crew have to escape in some undersea life rafts. Only one of the rafts actually makes it to the safety of the undersea cave and the surviving crew hold a brief memorial service for their fallen shipmates.

Those brave men and women gave their lives so that the animators would not have to do any large crowd scenes.

Those brave men and women gave their lives so that the animators would not have to draw any large crowd scenes.

Following the directions in the Shepherd’s journal, Milo leads the surviving members of the Odyssey team through the caves, unaware that they are being trailed by a team of Atlantean scouts led by the now adult Kida.

Their masks glow in the dark. You know. For stealth.

Their masks glow in the dark. You know. For stealth.

And I have to say, the animation for the Atlanteans running through the caves in stealth mode is just lovely.

The crew finally discover Atlantis and are surrounded by Kida’s scouts. Kida challenges them in Atlantean and Milo answers haltingly. The filmmakers wanted the Alanteans to have a real living language so they hired Marc Okrand, who devised Klingon and Vulcan for Star Trek, to invent Atlantean, complete with it’s own alphabet and grammatical structure.

I’m not entirely sure why they did that however, because almost instantly the Atlanteans start speaking English because Atlantean is the root of all modern languages so of course they can speak a language that sprang into existence many millenia after they lost all contact with the surface world excuse me for a moment…

BUUUUUUUUULLLLLLLSHIIIIIIIT!

BUUUUUUUUULLLLLLLSHIIIIIIIT!

It would appear that as well as giant lobsters, Atlantis is home to the legendary voodoo shark.

Kida is voiced by Cree Summer and I can’t get on board with that. Conceptually I like the character a lot. I like the idea of a Disney couple where the princess is the badass warrior, definitely. But Kida is still a stock character, the dull, overly earnest tribal princess who uses the phrase “my people” around as often as the word “the”. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a stock character if you have an actor who can bring some  depth to it, but Summer just doesn’t rise to the challenge here.

Well anyway, Kida takes the explorers to see her father King Nedakh who is voiced by LEONARD FUCKING NIMOY!

According to Michael Cadeno, the lead animator for Nedakh, the whole crew would come down to watch Nimoy record his lines. As well they should. He’s LEONARD FUCKING NIMOY!

I mean, it's frickin' Galvatron!

I mean, it’s frickin’ Galvatron!

Kida tells her father that the Ulysses crew might be able to help them, but Nedakh has this crazy idea that a bunch of white guys with guns may not be what his ancient lost civilization needs right now and tells Rourke to live long and suck a dick. Rourke asks if they can stay for one night to rest and resupply and Nedakh grudgingly agrees. After they leave Nedakh tells Kida “You heart has grown soft. A thousand years a go you would have slain them on sight.” and I think more Disney movies need father daughter conversations like that.

"A merchant almost cut off your hard? I can remember a time when you would have cut off his nose and fed it to him."

“A merchant almost cut off your hand? I can remember a time when you would have cut off his nose and fed it to him.”

"You rescued a human from a shipwreck? What happened to my little girl who used to drown sailors for fun?"

“You rescued a human from a shipwreck? What happened to my little girl who used to drown sailors for fun?”

"You were attacked by an army of huns? There was a time when you would have slain every last one of them and left their frozen corpses for the wolves."

“You were attacked by an army of huns? There was a time when you would have slain every last one of them and left their frozen corpses for the wolves.”

"I did."

“I did.”

"The greatest honour and glory is having your for a daughter."

“The greatest honour and glory is having you for a daughter.”

Outside, Rourke says that someone needs to talk to Kida and get her to convince her father to stay. Someone with good people skills and who can speak the language (because apparently that matters again? Christ, I need a drink.) Milo gets volunteered . But fortunately, Kida is just as interested in getting information out of him. She asks him if he’s a scholar, seeing as with his “diminished physique and large forehead you must be good for nothing else!”

Oh, now that's not fair. He'd make a very good flail.

Oh, now that’s not fair. He’d make a very good flail.

Milo asks her about the sinking of Atlantis and she basically recounts the opening scene for him and he asks how she can remember something that happened 8800 years ago and she’s like “Yeah, I’m hot and super old you got a problem with that?” She then asks him how he got down here and he explains that he followed the instructions in the Shepherd’s Journal and that gets Kida all kinds of excited because that means Milo can read Atlantean, something the Atlanteans themselves have long forgotten how to do. Which…how? How does that happen? You’re trapped under the ocean with literally no form of entertainment but reading. How do you just forget? I mean, if the language has changed so much over 8800 years as to be unreadable to modern Atlanteans, that makes perfect sense…except for the fact that at least some of the Atlanteans like Kida and her father are effectively immortal so…screw it, I’m overthinking this.

Kida lays it on the line for Milo; Atlantis is dying, it’s once proud culture now almost forgotten, its advanced technology rusting and unused, the once proud city now a mere debased shadow if its former glory.

*DETROIT JOKE GOES HERE*

 Kida takes him to an underwater mosaic which he’s able to translate for her because it’s totally possible to read underwater (God I hate when movies do that). Milo tells Kida that the light that took her mother was something called the Heart of Atlantis and that it’s the life force of the city. They return to the surface only to find that…

Absolutely EVERYONE is evil now.

Absolutely EVERYONE is evil now.

Seriously. Everybody. Pretty much the entire supporting cast does a face-heel turn and is revealed to be working for Rourke as a ruthless group of mercenaries. Everybody. Sweet, Vinnie, Audrey, Packard, Mole…fucking Cookie?! You made Jim Varney a villain, movie. Jim Varney. I don’t know whether to punch you or kiss you.

And this is really the biggest problem with the movie. I admit this is certainly a bold move. But ask yourself…who do we care about now? Pretty much everyone the movie has been getting us to root for with the exception of Milo is now someone we’re rooting against. Do we care about the Atlanteans? Nope. Apart from Kida and Nekadh not one of them has even gotten a line of dialogue. So it’s really all on Milo, he pretty much has to singlehandedly carry the audience’s investment and that’s a big ask. Now, as it happens, most of Rourke’s crew do actually switch allegiances back to the light side of the force after it becomes clear that Rourke’s plan will doom the Atlanteans forever. But because they’re all so underdeveloped it’s not like they’re complex, layered individuals with shifting allegiances and loyalties. It’s as if they’re goddamned schizophrenic.

Evil Mole!

Evil Mole!

Nice Mole!

Nice Mole!

Evil Mole!

Evil Mole!

Nice Mole!

Nice Mole!

Rourke explains that he’s known about the Heart of Atlantis ever since he found the book in Iceland and he forces Milo to show him where it is or else he’ll shoot Kida. Milo reluctantly takes him to the throne room and Rourke roughs up Nedakh until he finally reveals the way to the crystal chamber.

Shit just got real

Rourke, Kida, Helga and Milo descend into the chamber where the Heart of Atlantis is revealed to be a big massive spinny glowing thing surrounded by the stone heads of Atlantis’ dead kings (called it!). Kida is suddenly possessed by the crystal and her eyes go white and she tells Milo in an unearthly voice not to worry because everything’s going to be alright.

Aw yeah, I think we all know what’s going to happen now right? Kida’s going to go all Dark Phoenix and incinerate all of Rourke’s crew and then….noooo apparently she’s just going to quietly let them put her in a crate and cart her away.

Hm. Apparently "All will be well" is Atlantean for "Help. Save me."

Hm. Apparently “All will be well” is Atlantean for “Help. Save me.”

Milo then proceeds to lay the mother of all guilt trips on Rourke’s crew and Vinnie, Packard, Mole, Cookie, Sweet and Audrey put their white hats back on. Rourke and Helga take Kida out of Atlantis and then blow up the bridge behind them.

Milo goes back into the palace where Sweet is tending to the wounded king and Nedakh lays a big old heaping pile of exposition on Milo, explaining that it was he who caused the sinking of Atlantis by using the heart of Atlantis as a weapon.

Well, I think SOMEONE is owed an apology.

Well, I think SOMEONE is owed an apology.

Honestly, the whole Heart of Atlantis mythology stuff is never very well explained which kind of hurts the ending as pretty much everything that happens is as a result of it and we’re never really given a good idea about how it works and what the rules are. Nedakh tells Milo that he has to save Kida or else the crystal will…do…something. Guys, this is like recapping mist there is NOTHING HERE. Well, realising that not even the power of Nimoy can lend gravitas to this hippy bullshit, Nedakh dies and Milo comes up with a plan; to use all the old Atlantean hoverships that are just lying around that he now knows how to use because he’s read the inscriptions. Milo leads a force of the defecting Ulysses crew and the Atlanteans against Rourke’s men and suddenly this movie is back doing what it does best.

Kick ass battle scenes!

Rourke has attached the crate containing Kida to a balloon which he’s going to ride to the surface up the inside of an extinct volcano. Milo flies his hovercraft into the balloon and battles with Rourke which goes about as well as you’d expect. Milo gets knocked onto the crate containing Kida and Rourke swings at him with an axe, which smashes the glass porthole in the crate. Milo then uses a shard of glass to which has become infused with the crystal’s power to cut Rourke who then turns into a blue crystal man and what the close up mouth whore fuck did I just type?

Oh right. The villain becomes a blue crystal monster. That old saw.

Oh right. The villain becomes a blue crystal monster. That old saw.

 Seriously. That’s as much explanation as you get. There is literally no foreshadowing that this was going to happen. If I want to watch a writer pull a plot resolution that big out of his ass I’ll watch Doctor Who, thank you very much.

Their asses are bigger on the inside. That's the secret.

Their asses are bigger on the inside. That’s their secret.

 Okay, let’s wrap this up. Crystal Rourke smashes, the volcano starts to erupt and the crew race to get Kida back to the city. Crystal Kida brings some big stone golems to life who erect a forcefield over the city and everyone lives. The Atlanteans overlook the whole regicide thing and send the surviving Ulysses crew members home with enough gold to choke a camel.

"Thanks for killing Nedakh. Guy was a douche."

“Thanks for killing Nedakh. Guy was a douche.”

Milo stays behind and becomes King of Atlantis and Kida becomes I think the first Disney princess to actually become a Queen, so good on her.

***

Sorry, sorry, sorry.

I know this was rushed, I know I left out a ton of stuff and I know it actually updated while I was still frantically writing so you were probably wondering why the review kept cutting off. This last week has been kind of hellish.

Also hellish? The box office take for this movie (hey, I may be puking my guts out but I can still segue like a boss). This was another big disappointment for Disney, getting absolutely throttled by Shrek at the boxoffice. On one level it’s not hard to see why. There’s glaring problems with the script and the ending is completely rushed and nonsensical (I am aware of the irony, thank you). But I can’t help but feel a lot of affection for this movie. It’s brave, it’s different, it took big risks and clearly a lot of love and thought went into the design of Atlantis, the Ulysses and the overall look of the film. If the same love and attention had been given to the script this might have been a real classic. As it is, it’s pretty much the perfect cult film, not for everyone, but certainly plenty to recommend it.

Scoring
 
Animation: 17/20
Some gorgeous visuals and really nice, inventive character design.
Leads: 14/20
Fox is a natural leading man, always has been, always will be. My people do not like Kida.
Villain: 11/20
Laudable attempt to break the Disney villain mold that doesn’t quite work.
Supporting Characters: 12/20
They’re not bad, per se. They’re just frustratingly flat.
Music: 15/20
This surprised me considering how much I disliked James Howard’s score for Dinosaur but yeah, really good. I particularly liked the use of world music in the heart of Atlantis scenes.
FINAL SCORE: 69%
NEXT TIME: This is my blog. I founded it all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good.
lilo
NEXT UPDATE: 12 December 2013
Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. He is currently writing a three issue arc of superhero comic The League of Volunteers.The first issue is on sale here for five euro or seven of your Yankee dollars. The blog updates every second Thursday. Thanks for reading!

74 comments

  1. Hey mouse, for some reason the review is cutting off after the picture of the Sultan for me. It just ends right there and picks up the comments section

    1. It’s still not all coming up. After the “evil mole, nice mole” joke, I’ve got this fragment of a paragraph: “Rourke explains that he’s known about the Heart of Atlantis ever since he found the book in Iceland and he forces Milo to show him where it is or else he’ll shoot Kida. Milo reluctantly takes” and then it just goes straight into the scoring for the movie

  2. I think I’m one of maybe five people on the planet who actually like this movie. (Of the other four, one is Doug Walker aka The Nostalgia Critic and the other three have threatened me with death if I reveal their identities.) But yeah. I love this movie. It’s in my top 5 favorite animated Disney movies. I started and won a bidding war on ebay for one of the light-up plastic crystal necklaces that McDonalds sold in their Happy Meals. Not. Even. Kidding.

    Now, I know this movie is far from perfect. Far from it. The plot is full of holes. The sentient crystal mythos makes no sense. The characters are underdeveloped. The “everyone is evil” plot twist is ridiculous. They put the chalk map on Milo’s shirt right-side-up when they knew it should have been backwards, and all for the sake of a joke. Yes, I know. But I still love this movie regardless!

    Part of it was that when it came out, I was crushing hard-core on Michael J. Fox (thank you, 15th anniversary of “Back to the Future” special) so I was primed to like it from the get-go. Part of it is that I’m a sucker for Atlantis stories and have been ever since the computer game “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.” But I think what really sold me was the soundtrack and the visuals. Ye gods! I can name five scenes off the top of my head that make my heart soar because of the beautiful melding of sight and sound. Actually, here are those five scenes:
    — when the travelers enter Atlantis and Milo stares up at the ruins
    — the secret swim. The whole damn thing, from the moment Milo gets into the water to the moment he resurfaces and everyone’s evil.
    — the crystal chamber. The whole damn thing.
    — Stone Giants to the rescue!
    — the part at the end, starting when Kida returns from the crystal to the sweet hand-holding

    Actually, that’s another thing I really like about this movie: it knows how to do lovely quiet moments. And I like Kida – name me one other Disney princess who is a polyglot, can literally kick-ass and take out armed guards, swims like a fish (seriously – three rounds of Breathe When They Breathe in like ten minutes here), AND takes her rightful place as queen of the land.

    Besides – coelacanths. Mr. Whitmore has freakin’ COELACANTHS in his room-sized tank more than a decade before they were re-discovered off the coast of Madagascar. How can you be hating on a movie with anachronistic coelacanths? I ask you.

    So. Yeah. This movie. I hearts it. Just in case you couldn’t tell from this novella. 😉

    1. Yeah, I expected to hate this one but I actually found it strangely winning. Eh…she’s no Breathe When They Breathe champion. She takes breathers. Princess Buttercup on the other hand…

  3. Great review, unshavedmouse! One of my favorites in a long time!

    Great job tidying up…a place for everything and everything in its place. Also thanks for recommending my blog…I feel so special!

    I don’t hate/dislike this film, but it’s definitely one of the Disney films that I like the least. So I agree with most of your complaints against it.

    The actor Alan Dale, who played Whidmore on “Lost” also plays King George (Prince Charming’s father) on “Once Upon a Time”. Do you watch “Once Upon a Time”, unshavedmouse, and if so, do you like it?

    Also, have you seen “Frozen” yet? I know you’ll end up reviewing it eventually, but if you saw it, can you give us a hint as to how you felt about it and whether or not you agree with the statement that it’s this generation’s “Beauty and the Beast”? Thanks!

    P.S. Did you wrongly call “The Princess and the Frog” as “The Frog Princess” in one of your first paragraphs or is the film marketed as “The Frog Princess” in Ireland?

    1. I dot know if it came out in Irrland yet. While I did hear that statement about it being as good as BatB, I also heard the story is not the best, and Anna and Kristoff are eh. You deserve the props.

  4. I warned y’all in the ENG review that in a may I to this film, so be prepared.
    This film is a colossal mess. The characters are flatter than pancakes, Milo is a Gary-Stu, the plot is beyond contrived and full of holes and things that do not make sense, though they attempted to add detail to it. How did the grandfather find the exact trail to go to Atlantis without even going there it making t far in his adventure? How did Milo learn the entire language when the language and culture of Atlantis has been abandoned for 8000 years? How did the Atlantians forget to read and their own language when they are isolated? It makes no fucking sense. The characters do not develop, flip flop like crazy, and lack any substance.

    Dont even get me started on Milo and Kida’s relationship. I ready rip them a new one in this article:
    http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/disney/
    articles/217388/title/d-couples-milo-kida

    I find this to be one of Disney’s worst, and LOADS worse than Pocahontas. It just falls flat on every level except for the animation and score.

    Your humor was top notch, and had me laughing for a few minutes, and I think you covered the issues of this film as nicely as you can. God bless you.

      1. I have to agree with Jayden…I mean the story of Pocahontas is generic, but at least it is told as well as possible, even if it is style over substance. Here the substance is so bad, not even style can rescue it.

      1. Aww, poor mouse. But yes Commendation, LOADS worse than Pocahontas. While that movie is a bit too slow paced in the first half and then fast paced in the second, this film has flat characters, an incoherent plot, and more questions than answers. It is not investible to me, while Pocahontas is a bit more investible.

  5. Good review Mouse. You pretty much summed up my feelings, it’s got some problems but I still like it quite a bit.

    More importantly (sorry to sort of ignore your hard work), I saw Frozen last night. And…it’s pretty great. When I first left the theater, I was thinking “Ok, that was better than Wreck-it-Ralph but not as good as Tangled,” but after having a whole day to think about it, it might just be better than Tangled.

    The two lead girls are both excellent characters, very fleshed out back stories that lead very well into the conflict and driving action of the film. They are also both impeccably voiced and so they really lift the movie with them. The side characters are mostly a lot of fun, my only real complaint with them was that there are these trolls that are kind of sort of completely unnecessary to the film. They show up briefly early on and accomplish something but then show up later and do pretty much nothing. Also, they sing what is hands down the worst song in the movie. Which brings me to the music, it’s really good overall. There’s four or five songs in here that are just awesome, two in particular that really stood out were “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and “Let it Go.” Only real issue with the songs is that the last two numbers are the weakest in the film and while they came fast and furious in the first half of the movie, there’s barely any in the second half. But overall, a really damn good flick and a worthy addition to the Disney canon

    1. That is great that you enjoyed it. I heard some good and some favorable tings about it. I heard that the leads are developed though Anna is a bit generic, Kristoff could have been……more, and most of the songs were good except the last few. I heard a few songs, and the troll song is bad…… and I did not get into the Hans and Anna duet. I heard some great things otherwise though. Is it the best Animated Film of the year?

      1. No, but coming in second to Monster’s University is no shame at all. Anna is a little generic, she sort of feels too similar to Rapunzel at times, but Kristen Bell does a great job making her really likeable and fun. Similarly, Kristoff feels a little similar to Flynn Rider, but again the guy who voices him gives a strong performance and it’s different enough that it feels reasonably fresh. Troll song is bad for sure but all the others are at least good with most being very strong. Let it Go is a strong contender for best Disney song since “I’ll Make a Man out of You.” Idina Menzel is just an amazingly good singer and she really brings it in the role of Elsa

  6. Jesus. You’re sick, your family is sick, and you’re still writing? Just to avoid disappointing us internet weirdos? Take some drugs and go to bed!

  7. Oh yeah, Atlantis… there are things I like about it, but it definatley has problems. You summed it up pretty well. All the side characters… I like them, they all seem really funny and endearing, but you just don’t get any time to actually get attached. And the plot makes no sense. But its a fun ride.
    Lilo and Stitch next time? Let the gushing begin! 😀

  8. This movie frustrates me…I like the design of Atlantis, it looks like something a lot of people cared about…but it is easily one of Disney’s worst. Bottom ten easily (if you don’t count the package movies as movies).

    The characters are not just flat, they are stereotypes. At least they are not bad stereotypes – the worst is Gary Stu Milo, who someone starts out as being an unemployed Archaeologist, then suddenly gets handled everything on a silver platter and ends up leading an army of Atlanter (why exactly do they trust him and don’t kill him outright)

    The plot is freaking Stargate…not just the start as you rightly pointed out, but also Milo being clumsy on the travel, him teaching Kida, some of the imagery. The only thing they switched up is the villain. (And Stargate is a guilty pleasure of mine to begin with, if they rip off something, they should pick something good).

    Speaking of teaching, the plot holes in this one are unbelievable. It is hard enough to swallow that a culture would just stopping to use writing, especially without outside influence. But if Kida is really so old, all the people have been alive during the golden time too. Did they just forget everything they learned?

    I also have a huge problem with the dead toll. And yes, I know, Mulan also killed a whole army, But there something was at stake. The scene was important. Here it just happens to explain why the expedition is so small…the scene has no weight, it is just a plot convenience. In fact, more or less everything in this movie is just a plot convenience.

    Okay, I could rant on and on about this one…*sigh*…oh well, the next two reviews should be good.

    1. We could rant on and on, it is the appropriate time to do it. I just can’t get into this. They tried to be anti-Disney using Disney cliches and elements. It would be one thing if they did it well, but oh my goodness. I can’t with this film.

      1. The frustrating thing is that there was so much potential in it…like I said, I dig the design, I dig the colours, I like the idea that Atlantis is literally under water and the contact between different cultures could have been the basic for a good movie, even without an outright villain. But nooooo, they had to produce an incoherent mess.

  9. I’m new to the blog here. Love your reviews, unshavedmouse! Keep up the good work!

    But I wanted to get this out there. I know a lot of people dislike this film. And I do see why: it does have flaws. But I personally enjoy the film. It’s a guilty pleasure if you will. You want to see REAL pieces of garbage? Dinosaur was one of them, but check out Home on the Range and Chicken Little. Uggghhhh!!! If I had to choose to watch either this film or the other ones that I mentioned, I’d watch Atlantis any day of the week. It’s a golden masterpiece compared to those truly awful movies. Atlantis at least has things about it that I can enjoy and would make me want to re-watch it. The other films do not. At all.

    Looking forward to the Lilo and Stitch review!

    1. When it comes to Home one the Range…I am actually not so sure I agree. It is at least a good movie for the little ones and unlike Atlantis, it did surprise me once or twice…it is pretty much on the bottom of my list, too, but between those movies you mentioned, it is pretty much a tight run. Along with The black Cauldron and Oliver and Company, naturally. (It is really easy to name to worst of the lot, only when it comes to the best it becomes difficult).

  10. Yeah, Kida is officially queen, as stated in the *coughsequelcough* This movie actually spoiled me; I’m forcing myself to give BBC’s Atlantis a chance because the trailers give it such a generic Greek setting and Disney really put some thought into the creation of the Atlantean culture.

    I have to confess, Mouse, I was busting a gut laughing for HOURS after your “father/daughter conversations” bit.

  11. The total/final score is not loaded on this page… for some reason? It has all the individual scores, but not the average..

    Anyway, I just happened to watch this movie again on Netflix, and was surprisingly engaged by the unique style, adventurous story, and fun if not very fleshed-out characters…. TIL the climax, which was a little muddled and anticlimactic.

    I’d originally watched this movie in theaters and, naturally still recalling the fairly recent broadway-style formula of Disney films, I was disappointed.

    But with fresh eyes, I appreciate the movie for the traits I just described above. It’s certainly not one of Disney’s finest, but as a mere adventure movie, it ain’t bad. Also, the art direction really is unique and great to look at!

    It’s nice piece of escapism.

  12. Wonderful review, Mr. Mouse. This movie falls into the same category as Hunchback of Notre Dame for me. Not one of my favorites and riddled with problems but wholly enjoyable regardless. On an unrelated note, I once had a boss that looked EXACTLY like the Mole from this film.

  13. Huh, I still have that toy. I think. I remember I had a ton of McDonalds toys when I was a kid, including that Ulysses one.

    This review was hilarious, Neil…but short. Way too short. Don’t rush these, we can wait!

    Anyway…

    Sorry for taking so long (geez, I need to stop saying that), a bunch of stuff happened this week. My kitten died fairly recently and I’ve been fairly depressed these past few days.
    But yeah, ‘s all good now.

      1. Well…
        *Checks Gmail*
        First time I use this thing, seriously.

        (I was actually going to ask if you could tell Erik to do something similar, that way I wouldn’t have to edit the audio files so much…but then I was all “Nah, I don’t want to be such a pain in the ass”. Good to know the universe loves me now)

        Sure, that’d be great! I can’t help but feel we’re going to become famous on youtube someday (wishful thinking, I know)
        Talking about that, RPM Network is looking for new youtube partners. Just saying.

  14. Honestly, I never really cared for this movie. It was just not for me, and I think it would have been better as a live action film like you implied earlier. But lately, I had been thinking: what if they had decided to do Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde instead? It’s definitely much different from the formula they used in the 90’s, it’s a very dark story, and it has the added twist of the hero BEING the villain. There is a lot they could do with this story; plus, unlike Hunchback movie/stage versions never stay true to the book anyway, so they could pretty much tell any story they want with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

      1. I would love to see Don Quixote, and Voltaire would be a fun choice to voice Disney’s take on Dracula.

  15. After my success with Tarzan (and to follow along at home) I decided to give this one a shot too, but boy I could not even get through it. About halfway in Fox’s voice acting was the only thing I was remotely enjoying so I just turned it off. Hopefully the next “Lost Era” entry will go better for me!

  16. So this was made by the same trio that made Hunchback? I have to admit, I’m shocked. All the passion in Hunchback seems to be lacking from this one. Not in the animation or even the amount of thought put into it, per se, but it just seems so incredibly…hollow. To recall a lyric in Pocahontas’ Savages, “beneath that [stylish] hide, there’s emptiness inside.”

    I don’t doubt that Trousedale et al put a lot of effort into this film, but the way it’s written is just so thrown together that it gives the impression that the film was just made to fulfill some sort of quota.

    There are so many plot holes in this movie that you’d swear that a hundred different people were in charge of writing different scenes in this film and all parts were clumped up regardless of whether or not they made any sense.

    I do actually think that some of the backlash for this movie is unwarranted. I’ve definitely seen worse from Disney, but it’s a lot easier to pick on one that everyone else seems to be tearing apart, right? At the very least, it’s an semi-enjoyable film full of glaringly big holes.

    I can’t defend the characters, though. I didn’t know Milo was voiced by Fox, but no amount of good voice acting can make Milo an enjoyable character for me. Everyone else is even duller than he is, including the villains (how much of a downgrade is going from Frollo to these guys?? Oof.)

    Too much things going on, too little time.

    1. I don’t know…both movies have basically the same problems, the plot holes, the sudden shift in tone, the uneven story….the difference is that Hunchback could make up for some of its shortcomings with a kick-ass intro, some really good music and one of the best Disney villains. Atlantis only has the gorgeous animation, and one of the most boring villain ever.

      1. I had the opposite experience…each times I watched it, the flaws became more obvious. I saw it in theatres and a few times on DVD, mostly for the more impressive scenes towards the end.

  17. I don’t recall if I saw Atlantis in theaters, but I watched the hell out of it on VHS. Warts and all, I can still enjoy this movie. When I was a kid, I found Mole hilarious; now, I find Vinny and Cookie hilarious (Well, I just like Don Novello and Jim Varney), and I actually really like Milo as a protagonist. He’s the brainy type, sure, but he’s tenacious, holds his ground when threatened, and admits he rarely makes the best plans. He really helps me get through some of the more face-palm worthy parts of the movie.

    Yes, the 3rd Act twist is up there with some of the worst I’ve seen, and Rourke is just a more subtle Radcliffe. But I agree with what Gram Pol said earlier; to me, those huge, beautiful scenes makes up for it. Is it my favorite Disney film? No. But I do pop it back in every once in a while. Really excited about Lilo & Stitch Mouse!

  18. Yeah, this film definitely has flaws but you can tell that they really were trying hard to make something new here and keep 2D animation alive. They tried something similar with Treasure Planet, which…yeah. Didn’t exactly work out.

    You’re doing an awesome job with this blog, by the way; I loved going through all your reviews so far and can’t wait to read your future reviews.

  19. While you make several very good points about the movies flaws they aren’t sinking in. I have such nostalgia for this film because the first time I saw it was with my older brother and I felt so grow up watching an “action film” with him. 🙂 This and Treasure Planet, which I cannot wait for your review on. Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy(or tolerate) your relatives.

  20. I like that Milo is a linguist nerd. Disney never had a young nerd as the hero before, did they? Okay, we have Belle and Jane, whom I really love, but Milo is the first male nerd young hero in Disney canon, isn’t he? But other than that, yeah, this movie is mediocre. I should re-watch it some time though.-

  21. I’m indifferent toward this one, though I loved it as a kid and it was the first movie I ever saw in the theater. I like how they tried for a new character design style, but honestly, I think most of the characters don’t look that good. The music is great though!

  22. My my, just look at that house of yours! It looks like the den of some sort of vermin! Wait a minute…

    Da-ang. Did that PG sign give anyone else flashbacks? I wonder if those three had given certain mourning-era movies a miss, or if they’d just had suppressed traumatic memories.

    …Wait, Milo was played by Michael J. Fox? Interesting that this edgier movie gave Michael J. Fox a part whereas the more lighthearted Aladdin wanted to be sure its hero came off more bold as the likes of him. Yeah, I guess every new one of these I read (I was up to The Emperor’s New Groove when I started posting) I’ll probably be surprised if I recognise a name. Like Jim Varney’s. Oh my goodness, how did I miss Earnest being in this movie?!? I even watched it with the same cousins that introduced Earnest to me! I must not be that great at voice recognition. Or at least I wasn’t back when this came out.

    Hey, you aren’t in any way related to Monterey Jack, are you? Your trailing off at the word “cheddar” makes me wonder. Though maybe you’re just short of attention. You sure got *lost* in that picture caption about Lost, didn’t you? Ha ha, what are you doing with that shepherd’s crook?

    I can’t say I blame you for not making a hottest Disney lady list. We already know Cleo’s got top spot easy. Also, I like your pseudonym for your daughter. Mini-mouse, so cute. That and your token French friend just happening to be a frog cracked me up. I don’t think I can suspect you of hating France that much considering you set your novel in it. Though then again, you did have quite a nasty bit to say about them when reviewing The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

    Hmm, for being the butt monkey of the Renaissance, The Rescuers Down Under sure gets a lot of love for McLeach. This has to be the second time you referred to him as succeeding in a way later villains fail. I guess you did say you had a nostalgia filter for that one, but that’s still pretty impressive for a sequel.

    Darn it, Milo, you just *had* to decide to make your expedition to find Atlantis, didn’t you? If you’d used your resources to look for the fabled Crowd-Generating vats of the Long-Lost Kuzco Empire deep in the heart of the jungle, those extras may have been spared. Their watery graves are on you, Milo, never forget.

    Great father-daughter moments there. Especially more moments for the Death that Walks. Though I’d have suspected Ariel would probably enjoy ripping sailors’ heads off more than just drowning them. What use is the might that can lift a boulder underwater if you don’t have fun with it?

    As for the forgetting how to read, I believe you are forgetting what damage age does to the memory. Seven decades is enough to cause some pretty nasty holes, a couple of centuries has to make it all kinds of spotty. Well, it’s a bandaid theory at least. We can’t all be movie-savers, I’m sorry. Maybe I can make it up by passing you on a solution for your conundrum regarding evil Jim Varney (didn’t Earnest have a movie with his villainous doppelgänger as the antagonist? Technically this would be a second time). You can kiss Atlantis with a fist, because Florence Welch makes everything better.

    Y’know, funny you should mention Phoenix when Kida says everything will be fine when it isn’t, honestly I personally found Jean Grey’s stating that she knows what she’s doing before committing semi-suicide and becoming Phoenix to make little sense. At least after watching the movie however many times I could stand, then finally reading the explanation that apparently Jean meant to kill Phoenix by killing herself, but failed, which could really have used some exposition, guys! I mean, come on! Ok, now I’m lost too. Heh heh, lost from commenting on a movie about the lost empire that takes place in the Lost Era of Disney… Hey, what’s everybody picking tomatoes up for?

    I really, really like your explanation for why Dr. Who can pull off ass pulls. That is just perfect. But I hope you aren’t getting worse things pulled from your ass right now from a re-surge of the plague that was infecting you when you wrote this (segues are another thing I’m not as good as you are at). You’ve been silent in the comment section lately. Hope things are all right. Great review, I’ve got to hand it to you for getting it through all the nastiness you’ve been going through. Kind of stands to reason that happened during a review of a movie in a similar situation, really.

  23. You know how everyone has that one Disney movie that was part of their childhood and will defend it to their death, even if they acknowledge later that it’s not the best?
    Yeah, Atlantis is that movie for me.

    Personally, I find that the movie’s plot makes more sense if you assume that the nation they went to war with was R’lyeh, the place the Outer Gods come from. It also explains the loss other language: Cthulhu worked his insanity-inducing powers on them, and while the Heart of Atlantis protected them, it did cause them to forget their spoken language.
    (That, or it was a side effect of what the Heart of Atlantis did: give them the ability to understand every language spoken, but forget how to read their own language.)

    Also, you know how every girl has the one Disney Princess she idolizes? Mine was Kida.
    I kid you not. I got several of the playsets and action figures and everything, I was so into this movie. I even wanted a submarine toy after the movie; not necessarily the one in the movie (oh who am I kidding I wanted that exact one), and was heartbroken when the (admittedly rather cool) one we got didn’t sink underwater.
    We even had the four-disc special edition DVD and everything. (I never watched those other three, but now I’m wishing I would’ve watched them.)

    I’m not trying to be rude to anyone here. I just really love this film, and feel a lot of affection towards it.

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