Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 6/15/01
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Claudia Christian, James Garner, Leonard Nimoy, Corey Burton

This PG animated film from Disney is considerably darker and more violent than their recent animated outings, and is the first Disney animated feature since "The Black Cauldron" (1985) that doesn't feature any musical numbers. As such, it suffers from that awkward situation of being too adult for children and too juvenile for adults. The film is an adventure film from start to finish. Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is the grandson of an infamous archeologist who was obsessed with finding the lost city of Atlantis. Milo also has Atlantis fever and is determined to find funding to mount a mission based on his research. Of course, everyone laughs at him and finds him a nuisance, until one day when an associate of his grandfather decides to give him a hand and mounts a huge expedition with a gigantic Jules Verne-esque submarine. The 200+ crew consists of a stern and shrewd military captain (James Garner), a firm and sexy pistol packing lieutenant (Claudia Christian), a quirky doctor, a strange demolitions expert, a sassy Hispanic mechanic, a very peculiar French excavation expert, an eccentric cook, and a cranky communications officer. Within minutes of the submarine being deployed, it is destroyed by a giant mechanical leviathan that guards the entrance to Atlantis. The remaining survivors manage to make their way into Atlantis which is teeming with life and culture, and Milo befriends the sexy princess Kida. All too late, Milo realizes what the mission is really about as the captain breaks out the guns and loots the city. The violence and greed of Man takes over, and it's up to the kind-hearted Milo to save the princess and avert the destruction of Atlantis.

As you would expect, the animation is excellent and beautiful. The character designs feature detail as well as flair, and the aquatic beauty of Atlantis is breathtaking. Helga, the resident bad girl, is quite something to behold. She is definitely NOT for the kiddies. Shockingly sexy and fiercely violent, she's always packing heat and only answers to the captain. Her design and execution actually reminded me a lot of Katchoo in Terry Moore's "Stangers In Paradise." Very strong and very impressive. (yowzah!) The film is also surprisingly violent for Disney fare, as guns, death, and destruction are prominently displayed throughout. In some bizarre way, the structure and tone of the film reminded me a lot of Hayao Miyazaki's work - in particular, "Laputa" (1986), with its secret and mystical ancient culture unspoiled by man, the guardian robots, the quirky and inventive aircraft and seacraft design, and of course the theme of Man's sinister greed. Definitely an entertaining film, if you can put up with all of the inquisitive children in the theater.