July 9, 2013

"Atlantis: the Lost Empire"

        Another animated children's fantasy movie my family watched a little while ago was Disney's "Atlantis: the Lost Empire."  This didn't get a huge amount of fanfare at release, and I was pretty much oblivious of it at the time, so perhaps this one isn't really on your radar, either.  I was predisposed in its favor since the main character, Milo Thatch, is a linguist at the Smithsonian.  Also, it was supposed to be unique
among Disney animated features in being inspired by Jules-Verne-type sci-fi adventures.  But while I found it enjoyable, I also found it very typical of Disney's style.  My summary: serviceable, nothing outstanding, but worth watching with children who need a movie that appeals to the imagination without being too intense.  Three and a half stars, B, mild thumbs-up… Take your pick of rating system.
        (Spoiler Alert: plot summary below.)
        Perhaps the most noticeable thing for D and me was the striking resemblance of the plot to that of "Avatar," (another movie known for pushing the use of CGI.)  It goes like this: a group of modern western humans discover an exotic civilization and, in their desire to exploit a natural resource of incredible power, threaten to destroy the civilization without regard to land or people.  However, the member of the human team in charge of interpreting the foreign culture falls in love with the scantily clad yet feisty native princess, and manages to pull together a team to defend her land in an exciting battle against superior force.  At the end all the humans leave except our hero, who stays behind to marry the princess.  Sound familiar?  The funny thing is, "Atlantis" was released in 2001, eight years before "Avatar," so it would be unfair to fault it for unoriginality - at least on that score.  (On the other hand, it did come after "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," with which it shares a Grail Diary and a sexy blonde German-born second-in-command who falls to her death at the climax.)
        While "Atlantis" can't be accused of copying "Avatar," it certainly made plenty of use of standard tropes and clichés, including the modern white male who has to save the natives who are incapable of saving themselves, and the humble adventurer who wins the heart of the princess.  I have no objection to a judicious use of classic tropes - after all, they're classic for a reason - and I really don't fault "Atlantis" for following a somewhat clichéd story line as its basic outline.  The story satisfied P and T (who have not seen "Avatar"), and was also satisfactory to me in that caring about others was Good, the search for knowledge was Good, exploiting natural resources for greed was Bad, following your conscience and cooperating to stand up for what's right Saved the Day, Good triumphed, and True Love crowned it all.  Really, I'm never going to complain about that!  But nevertheless, I would have liked a few more unexpected twists along the way.
        As for the visual experience, I see that "Atlantis" was supposed to represent "the distinctive visual style of comic book creator Mike Mignola."  I know nothing of Mignola, and I'm no comic book aficionada, but I will say that the style of the characters did strike me -- it struck me as a jarring mish-mash of assorted disparate styles, as if different animators were in charge of different characters without any effort to bring them together into a cohesive look.  For example, Princess Kida looked like standard Disney, Helga Sinclair looked like "Aeon Flux," and Audrey the mechanic looked like she fell out of a Mario Brothers video game.  But there were fun steampunky vehicles, and the pretty scenery was clearly inspired by classical accounts of Atlantis, so that was cool.  (I plan to consider Atlantis itself another time.)
        As usual, I've listed my complaints, so I want to end with what we liked.  We liked that it was never too scary or graphically violent, but still had action.  We liked the set-up with the discovery of the lost, secret fantasy kingdom.  (I liked that linguistics was portrayed as Interesting and Useful.)  We liked Milo and Kida, and we especially liked the ensemble characters.  In fact, probably our favorite parts of the entire movie were the comic lines and interactions between some of the group of explorers.  We especially liked Dr Sweet, but our favorite of all was Vinny the demolitions expert and florist.

[Picture: "Atlantis" movie poster - I'm too lazy to try to track down the artist or artists responsible.  That's what they get for not doing block prints!]


Pax said...

Was the climactic battle yet another cliche of the myth of redemptive violence? It's hard to avoid.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

To a certain extent, though not as bad as some. The Good Guys were primarily defensive, and the Bad Guys largely self-destructed themselves.