Set in 1914, Atlantis is just the kind of movie Disney set out to make in the old days, sans songs – imagination-firing fantasy coupled with enjoyable, humorous characters, beautiful, lush visuals, and, if a few toys would be cool too, so be it. The story is pretty straightforward: plucky, underexperienced scientist haplessly lures unsavory types to magical other world, which is therefore put in danger, and adventure ensues. Nothing surprising happens in this film, but quite a bit that is beautiful and funny does. It is worthy of note that this animated feature is rated PG, not the traditional Disney G, and, thinking back, I cannot decide why. The fair maiden Kida is foxy, but so was Jasmine in Aladdin and Ariel in the Little Mermaid. Someone uses the word “nude,” is that enough to rate it PG? Is it more violent than the G-rated set can handle? It doesn’t seem so, but perhaps it is.
Atlantis is simply beautiful, hand-drawn and computer-generated imagery blending together smoothly, character’s faces interesting and attractive (their fingertips are kind of creepy, but oh well). They move like Disney characters seem not to have moved in a long time – it’s more of a visceral impression than anything, but there it is. The animation department has finally perfected that difficult hand-drawn maneuver, the camera-rotating around the moving subject, which has looked jerky even in recent films – it’s perfect here! The special FX (you know, glowing stuff, fire, lighting type animation tricks) are very cool, very high tech.
The submarine that takes our crew of characters (shallowly drawn but endlessly interesting and amusing) with their enormous crew of faceless underlings is more than a little reminiscent of the now-defunct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride in the Disney parks, as well as enormously tempting for giant squid (the big glass observation dome invites a giant squid beak to pop it open for the goodies inside). Don’t get too attached to it! Other vehicles are equally groovy – you see some of them in the fast-food tie-in commercials, in the drive-through.
Bizarrely, Don Novello (you may know him as Father Guido Sarducci) makes a come-back as the munitions expert on the voyage – it is impossible not to picture him in his hat and sunglasses and mustache, but his delivery is divine. Florence Stanley is a favorite, of my companions and I as well as others who saw the film, as Mrs. Packard, the communications lady. Very very very funny, all. On the ship, M*A*S*H-like PA announcements set the tone, and the cast quickly follows. the screenplay is very tight, but does not feel rushed, despite the fact that the 93 minute film has goodly length action-only sequences. Maybe the absence of songs was what was needed to make Disney films feel less perfunctory with the story, but I can’t say I wish them gone. James Newton Howard’s score worked, in that I was caught up enough in the movie not to notice the score glaring out.
Overall, Atlantis was a nicely rendered, well-executed piece of film. I don’t know if it will excite the rabid fandom of the more princessy themed Disney films of recent years, but perhaps a few kids will get excited about anthropology and exploring as a result.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 6/15/01
Time in minutes 93
Director Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Studio Walt Disney