Atlantis: The Lost Empire

on June 08, 2001 by Paul Clinton
"Atlantis" skirts Disney's typical fairytale format, instead serving up an action-sprinkled adventure straight out of Jules Verne. Mostly, it's a refreshing change of pace; however, the movie doesn't sustain a promising start. Loopy New Age thinking and implausible plot twists mar its second half, putting the brakes on the momentum.

Taking a page out of the Indiana Jones playbook, the movie follows archeologist dreamer Milo (voiced by Michael J. Fox), who sets out with a crew of specialists to locate the mythological city first documented by Plato. While idealistic Milo hopes to uncover the city's secrets for the benefit of research, other members of the team want to cash in on the mystical "power source" that has allowed a civilization to survive for 9,000 years in the sunken city. Mercenary Commander Rourke (James Garner) and Helga (Claudia Christian), an icy Joan Blondell-style blonde, hijack the mission when they see a chance for riches.

Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (who also collaborated on "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") enhance Tab Murphy's funny, barbed script with at times jaw-dropping computer animation--the scenes of the expedition's ship drifting into the ocean's depth and navigating past a monster lobster are an absolute treat.

Once the team reaches the lost city, the movie falters. They meet an Atlantean princess (Cree Summer) who doesn't seem to have much of a purpose other than to stare doe-eyed into fluorescent crystals. But some dandy gunplay in an action-packed finale gives the movie some energy (and a surprisingly high body count for a Disney offering).

Usually, the storytellers at Disney aren't satisfied with entertaining their audience. They must also offer a moral lesson. "Atlantis," with its motley band of adventurers and meaty kinetic shoot-outs, proves someone at the Burbank studio has a broader brand of humor. Voiced by Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, John Mahoney and Jim Varney. Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Written by Tab Murphy. Produced by Don Hahn. A Buena Vista release. Animated/Adventure. Rated PG for action violence. Running time: 98 min

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