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ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE
Two Disc Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, Don Novello, Phil Morris, Corey Burton, Claudia Christian, Jacqueline Obradors, Jim Varney, Florence Stanley, Leonard Nimoy
Directors:  Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  96 Minutes
Release Date:  January 29, 2002

“Attention…tonight’s supper will be baked beans.  Musical program to follow.  Who wrote this??”

Film ***

On one hand, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a welcome change of pace from most of Disney’s animated fare.  There are no cute animals, no bombastic songs, and no fairy tales, even though it comes from the same directors who made the Oscar nominated Beauty and the Beast.   Instead, they’ve created an animated film for the older kids and up…ones that probably appreciate what Japan has been doing in anime for a few decades.  It’s more of a throwback to the great Disney live action adventure pictures than any cartoon movies in its past.

On the other hand, what the movie misses is good strong characters and a solid story to go along with its visual flair.  I give the movie a somewhat hesitant three stars because of how incredible it is to look at, and how masterfully well many of the best segments have been done, but I’d be false if I didn’t say the movie didn’t leave me a little cold about some crucial points.

I didn’t have a problem with the new mythology of Atlantis, or the way the city or its residents looked.  In fact, I found the movie’s overall visual style to be an unqualified triumph.  The setting is 1914, a year before the first filmed version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would be released, and I’ll be darned if the designers and animators didn’t give Atlantis the appearance of some of the earliest comic books.  The characters are all strikingly drawn with generous bits of exaggeration, the angles and POVs are all reminiscent of comic panels, and the over-the-top action sequences are fresh out of the pages of the most heroic illustrated adventures.

It’s too bad neither the characters nor the story were worthy.  You’ll never think of Milo Thatch as Milo Thatch, but as Michael J. Fox, whose recognizable voice dominates the empty shell of a character shamelessly.  The ragtag group of adventurers fare no better, making up a comic sub-cast mix of races, sexes and ages, but without a single one breaking out of one-dimensional mode.  Even the plotline, which starts out as a quest for the legendary lost city, ends up with a forced and frankly unnecessary sense of conflict created from one of the biggest clichés possible in this kind of picture.

While Walt Disney would have certainly approved the technological advancements of this movie, the experimental visual style and the overall design and layout, with him, character and story always came first.  If you have good character and story, it can salvage a picture with less than spectacular production values.  It’s not so easy the other way around.

So overall, I enjoyed Atlantis for what it had to show me, and not for what it had to tell me.  A couple of days after viewing the movie, I barely remembered any of the characters at all, which is a bad sign to me.  I didn’t have any problem, however, remembering my favorite sequences, which didn’t depend on who was in them rather than what was being shown.  On that level, at least, the picture works.

Video ****

Simply stunning…this anamorphic transfer boasts a digital-to-digital reproduction, and it’s gorgeous.  Images are sharp and crystal clear throughout, and the wide array of colors come across beautifully and truthfully, with no distortions or bleedings.  Several sequences are an all out visual assault of motion and changing color and light schemes; don’t look for blemishes in them, they all work perfectly.  Reference quality all the way.

Audio ****

Take your pick of 5.1 tracks and sit back…this is an incredible audio experience.  There are plenty of action sequences that will keep your system’s processors running hot, sending action in multiple directions, but always with smooth crossovers and pans.  An underwater chase sequence and the triumphant finale will center you right in the crux of the action.  Dialogue is always cleanly rendered, as is the majestic musical score.  Dynamic range is strong, and the .1 channel offers plenty of punch.  A superb effort!

Features ****

This double disc Collector’s Edition is a triumph…Disc One starts with choice of audio or video commentary from directors Trousdale and Wise and producer Don Hahn…in video mode, they occasionally break away from the movie to show you storyboarding sessions, meetings, concept drawings, and others before taking you back to where you left off…if you don’t want that, just listen to the audio commentary, which is detailed and entertaining.  This disc also features a DisneyPedia on the fact and fiction and mythology of Atlantis, some of which was used in the film, some not.

Disc Two has three ways to navigate…I recommend starting with “tour”, which is a 2 hour making of documentary.  After that, you can go into “explore” or “file” mode to find even more detailed information.  Each section contains it’s own segment of the making-of film, plus more to peruse.  Under these sections, you have an interactive version of the Shepherd’s Journal, and a “How to Speak Atlantean” segment on the very real dialect and alphabet created for the movie.  There are four deleted scenes (some of which are most impressive), an original treatment, galleries on design, style, characters and more, a look at the voiceover actors, digital production and tests for effects, vehicles and more, and even virtual tours of CG models.

All in all, a most impressive offering!

Summary:

If it weren’t for the terrific visual style, Atlantis might have just stayed lost.  But it more than makes up for character and story deficiency with its terrific look and impressive action adventure sequences that combine traditional and computer generated animations.  This double disc offering from Disney is an impressive package all the way, however, and one of their best overall DVDs to date.