Thursday, March 21, 2013

Day Eighty - Atlantis: The Lost Empire, or "How I want Disney movies to be."

You know, I was actually shocked when I saw Atlantis in theaters over a decade ago.

Even though the animation was familiar and the fantastical plot a bit rote, from its opening moments, Atlantis was nothing at all what I expected coming from Disney Animation. Not a minute in and you're witnessing the deaths of thousands, tens of thousands as a tidal wave, instigated by what looked to be a nuclear explosion, bears down on the Atlantean paradise and spared only those behind the MacGuffiny energy shield surrounding the central palace of the civilization.

Everything we really need to know about Atlantis is spoiled in those brief minutes of disaster. The city sinks, they have high technology, and that technology's use requires sacrifice.

Even though there's no blood or obvious death, you know the people outside the shield are doomed... and, what's more, they knew it, too. My favorite shot of that sequence is a couple, who just missed getting behind the protective blue dome of the capital, looking back on the approaching wave in despair and taking solace in each others' arms.

Heavy, beautiful fragility.

Not the stuff of your typical Disney movie where death is typically reserved for key supporting figures like the hero or damsel's parents or, almost exclusively, to the villains once they've been thwarted.

That's not to say the pattern is completely broken. Once the evil-doers of the film are unmasked and there's a large, tumultuous fight scene in the climax, they get what they deserve, have no doubt, but Disney is usually much more generous with the bit players. Here, they drop like flies, and it fits.

Aside from my apparent obsession with death, I also love how it's a grand old tomb adventure in the style of Indiana Jones or Allan Quartermain. Almost the entirety of the first act centers on the expedition under the sea and deep in the bowels of the Earth. There's a quirky party of specialists that are cliche as much as they are delightful. Each is unique with backstories fitting of the most pulpy of comic books or role playing games, all laid out with fantastic pacing and sporting the most amusing of idiosyncrasies.

Once Atlantis is rediscovered, we are also treated to more MacGuffiny explanations and rationalizations concerning language, technology, and culture. It's great popcorn fun.

I especially like the chemistry between Milo and Kida. Usually Disney films try to rush an onscreen romance with montages or forced emotion. Not so much here, as Milo and Kida have definite sparks, but are often pushed in other directions as the second and third acts move briskly along. Sure, it's heavily implied that they will eventually get together, especially at the end when they hold hands with interlocking fingers (a trope that signals heavy trust and intimacy), but there's nary a kiss to be seen and barely a hug that passes between them.

And I LIKE it that way!

Too often film romance is trite, boring, and too cliche and quick. This is just right with not an ounce more than is necessary to sow the seeds of an eventual relationship... and barely any pandering (I'm looking at YOU Claudia Christian... or, at least, your character design... great way to work in the noir femme fatale... and excellent voice work, too).

Overall, this is pretty much everything that I want from a pulp adventure and Disney actually delivered. It's a pity that so many folks dismiss it because it's not your typical crap kid's movie with comic relief monkeys... though, the argument could be made using Mole.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~


  1. People actually tend to see this movie as the end of drawn animation, which I think is sad, because it was really good.

    1. I agree... I think it was superior to most of what Disney was putting out in that era... heck, most of what everyone but PIXAR was putting out in that era.

      Yes, it had plenty of well done CGI effects (unlike Titan AE a few years earlier), but it terms of story, pacing, etc.? Magnifique!