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Atlantis: The Lost Empire Review
by Harvey Karten (republished with permission)

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Writer: Tab Murphy
Cast: Voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, CreeSummer, Jim Varney, Corey Burton, Claudia Christian, Phil Morris, Don Novello, Jacqueline Obradors, Florence Stanley, Leonard Nimoy, John Mahoney, David Ogden Stiers

For animated stories that can absorb the attention of both adults and kids and provide substantial lessons as well, you can't go wrong with Shrek (which pokes fun at the concept that surface beauty is everything), Chicken Run (a shrewd tale which among other things conveys a note about animal rights), and The Iron Giant (which parodies 1950s paranoia).

For sheer spectacle, however, without Disney trademarks like Broadway songs and snugly animals and without any real Aesopian dimensions, look to Atlantis. Atlantis provided me with my first experience with digital projection, the wave of the future, and darned if the colors aren't brighter, sharper and, well, more colorful than film stock could afford. For the kids there's non-stop action and loud noises which make this film a must for the big big screen.

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Atlantis takes us back to 1914 when a bright-eyed, idealistic young man, the grandson of a great explorer who found a map of Atlantis, succeeds in raising foundation money to search for the lost continent.

After a dazzling prologue featuring the big bang which caused this fabled land to be lost near the coast of Iceland, we watch Milo Thatch (voice of Michael J. Fox) emerge behind his oversized glasses to join a group in search of the buried land. They include a cook who is awfully fond of bacon grease, Cookie (Jim Varney); an expert with explosives who, as one character remarks, looks as though he had just come out of a Turkish prison, Vinny (Don Novello); a robust physician adept at chiropractic manipulations of the neck, Sweet (Phil Morris); a mole (Corey Burton) who is considered like a pet but is adept at digging; and good-looking but cynical Helga (Claudia Christian) together with the commander of the group, Rourke (James Garner).

Zipping along in a submarine-like object that could have come out of Jules Verne's most celebrated sci-fi novel, they engage soon enough in battles; first with the largest lobster ever discovered east of Maine, ultimately with a couple of members of their own team who break off into a minor civil war with the crew. When they do discover their objective, which could be a Shangri-La if the civilization were not doomed to die out, they meet King Nedakh (Leonard Nimroy) and his heir-apparent, the lovely Princess Kida (Cree Summer). Kida is sharp-looking and playful, giving the impression that Atlantis is not going to fall into the Shrekian idea that beauty is unimportant in heroines.

Less talk, more action, appears the credo of Disney's latest, spectacular animated feature, while James Newton Howard's music, which at some times appears ready to compete with the score of Pearl Harbor, inflects the drama of this heroic adventure. Atlantis features subtitles whenever the local dialect is spoken (a language known to the adventurers as gibberish), a concept which could help habituate the small fry to the idea that English is not spoken everywhere and that there just may be a few foreign films in their future that could match Armageddon in quality.

Rated PG. Running time: 93 minutes.
Review (C) 2001, Harvey Karten (republished with permission)

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