"Atlantis" Sinks Due To Story’s ‘Mushy Mysticism’
This time out, Disney went burrowing deep underground for animation gold. With "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," the studio struck copper, or at best, maybe something silver-plated.
The animation of "Atlantis" is grand and glorious, the mix of quirky characters is fairly appealing, there’s a strong voice cast, and the overall story — a quest for the legendary sunken civilization — holds promise.
But after a rousing first half filled with solid action and a good dose of comedy, "Atlantis" veers into New Age never-never land, a realm of energy crystals and preachy eco-babble about responsible use of the awesome powers entrusted to the Atlantean people.
The plot remains a pretty direct good-guys, bad-guys battle, but the tale’s fine points become fuzzy and weakened by a patina of mushy mysticism.
That makes the last part of the film a bit dense for children and rather hokey for adults.
"Atlantis" was overseen by producer Don Hahn and directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the team that made the animated musicals "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
They set aside the musical format this time, wanting to do the animated equivalent of such sprawling live-action Disney adventures as ‘’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’’
The film opens in un-Disneylike fashion with stark drama and terror as the people of Atlantis sink beneath the ocean with their island. The message presented is that the Atlanteans are being punished for arrogant use of their technology, which includes space-age weapons and flying machines.
Jump to 1914 and Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox), a nerdy map-reader and linguist who inherited his deceased grandfather’s obsession with Atlantis. Branded a crackpot at the museum where he works, Milo’s stuck in the basement fixing the boiler.
Then a kooky billionaire (John Mahoney) drafts Milo to join a team searching for Atlantis. Off Milo goes in a fanciful submarine straight out of Jules Verne, in the company of a ragtag band of mercenary explorers.
There’s a chatty explosives expert (Don Novello); a seedy digger called Mole (Corey Burton); a tomboy mechanic (Jacqueline Obradors); a suave doctor (Phil Morris); a gossipy radio operator (Florence Stanley); and a bean-fixated cook (the late Jim Varney).
Leading the expedition _ with sinister ulterior motives _ are a square-jawed captain (James Garner) and his tough lieutenant (Claudia Christian).
Once the adventurers reach Atlantis _ and discover people still alive _ the cast is rounded out by Leonard Nimoy as the city’s aging king and Cree Summer as his daughter, who becomes Milo’s love interest.
There’s good, comic interplay among the characters, especially in the early going as the surface-dwellers make their way underground.
The dramatic buildup during that journey fails to pan out once the group arrives in Atlantis, however. The story grows less interesting and limps toward a predictable conclusion, cluttered further by all that spiritual mumbo-jumbo.
The animation of "Atlantis" is a striking blend of largely traditional pen-and-ink work enhanced with computer-generated images. But as with last year’s disappointing sci-fi epic "Titan A.E.," the wildest animation in the world will not elevate a merely passable plot.
"Atlantis: The Lost Empire" runs 92 minutes.