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.)
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.