by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, November 16, 2012


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

The Plot: A linguistics expert and a ragtag team of mercenaries embark on a mission to discover the lost city of Atlantis.

The Songs: "Where The Dream Takes You" (End Title)

A Little History: Ideas for Atlantis: The Lost Empire began taking shape in October 1996, when Don Hahn, Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale - still smarting from the less-than-stellar box office of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame - decided to steer Disney Animation in a completely different direction. They settled on a non-musical, action-oriented adventure in the vein of Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Inspired, in part, by the writings of philosopher Edgar Cayce, plus a trip 800 feet underground to New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns, the filmmakers based their designs for Atlantis on Mayan and Tibetan architecture, rather than the "Greco-Roman" look of previous incarnations. Over 350 artists and animators helped contribute to the production. The animators based the film's look on the works of comic book artist Mike Mignola (note the angular shapes, pencil-thin lines and enlarged hands on most of the characters). The filmmakers also made extensive use of computer-generated imagery, with digital artists and traditional animators working in tandem to combine both 2D and 3D artwork. Marc Okrand, who previously created the Klingon language for Star Trek, was hired to develop the Atlantean dialect for the film. It is an Indo-Eupeopean-based language, designed by John Emerson (with Okrand's help) to read in boustrophedon - left-to-right on the first line, then right-to-left on the second, to mimic the flow of water. Joss Whedon wrote the film's initial treatment; final screenplay credit goes to Tab Murphy, Trousdale, Wise, Bryce Zabel and Jackie Zabel. Atlantis is the first Animated Classic to be shot in widescreen (2:35:1) format - and also the first to receive a PG rating by the MPAA - since The Black Cauldron (1985). Starring the voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, John Mahoney, Don Novello (aka Father Guido from Saturday Night Live), Leonard Nimoy and Jim Varney (in his final film performance), Atlantis: The Lost Empire premiered on June 3, 2001, at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA, and opened nationwide on June 15th. It grossed a modest $186 million across the globe; because of this, plans for an animated TV series and an Atlantis-themed revival of Disneyland's Submarine Voyage attraction were scrapped. Critics note that some of Atlantis' plot and character design bears a striking resemblance to Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water, a 1990-91 anime produced for Japanese television.

How It Broke New Ground: The first sci-fi/ adventure title in Disney's Animated Classic canon.

How It Holds Up Today: More than forty films under their belt, and still the folks at Disney Animation are busy staking a claim for themselves. No longer the forerunners of traditional cartoon entertainment (by this time, the CG wonders of Pixar and Dreamworks had pretty much cornered the market), it's as if the makers of Atlantis decided to step up the pace a bit or die trying. The results are decidedly un-Disney-like: a Boys' Own Adventure with a truncated plot (rumor has it the first draft of the screenplay was cut from 155 pages to 90 pages, and it shows) and a flat, angular animation style that's more Don Bluth than Disney. (Indeed, Bluth's similarly-themed Titan A.E. was met with equal box office indifference during its summer 2000 release.) One look, and you'd never guess that directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale were also the guys who brought us Beauty And The Beast; they try for a similar sort of resurrection here, though just beneath the surface, it's business as usual, with the same put-upon protagonist, multi-cultural supporting cast, and hokey New Age philosophizing we've been gulping down for decades. (All that's missing are the Broadway-sized musical numbers - although, truth be told, you'll hardly miss them.) Cutting-edge inventive yet also borderline generic, this is Disney at a treacherous crossroads: caught between a glorious past and a not-so-certain future.

Grade: C+


Hang on, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down UnderBeauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, PocahontasThe Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, Fantasia/2000, Dinosaur, and The Emperor's New Groove. Please comment! Let me know what you think!

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