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Atlantis: The Lost Empire - A Lost Classic to Rediscover

Jun 13, 2008
Atlantis: The Lost Empire was released by Walt Disney Pictures in the summer of 2001. It was written for the screen by Tab Murphy, who had also co-written Tarzan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Disney. This is the 40th feature in the Walt Disney animated film canon, and only the second Disney film ever, since The Black Cauldron, to be rated with a PG rating.

Set in 1914, the plot begins with Milo Thatch, voiced by Michael J. Fox, stumbling upon a book he feels will lead him to the lost city of Atlantis. Milo is soon greeted by Helga Sinclair, voiced by Claudia Christian, who asks Milo to see her employer, Preston B. Whitmore. Whitmore, voiced by John Mahoney, is an odd millionaire who wants Milo to translate the book and join an expedition to Atlantis. The expedition, headed by Commander Lyle Rourke, voiced by James Garner, sets off in a submarine named the Ulysses. The submarine soon comes under attack from Leviathan, sending the crew members to escape via emergency submarine pods. They soon come upon an undersea carven where they encounter the Atlantean princess, Kida, voiced by Cree Summer. Kida takes the crew to meet her father, the King of Atlantis, Kashekim Nedakh, voiced by Leonard Nimoy. They are commanded to leave, but Rourke soon leads the crew to discover the Heart of Atlantis. This discovery changes the nature of the crew's relationship and sets friends against one another. Soon the battle lines are drawn and the fate of Atlantis hangs in the balance.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire performed terribly at the box office, grossing approximately $85 million dollars domestically. This was markedly less than its production cost of $120 million and far from the grosses of such films as The Lion King, which enjoyed a $312 million run. That said, it earned $186 million worldwide, saving it from the clutches of being a complete bomb. Regardless, it was a major disappointment for Disney.

The critical response was generally poor. It was claimed the characters were remote, the character of Milo hard to like, the over-abundant supporting characters had little screen time, and the pacing of the film was turgid. Furthermore, the internal logic of the film was attacked, with Atlanteans enjoying multi-millennia life-spans, yet forgetting how to read their own language whilst speaking fluent Latin, French, and English. Many critics felt the reach of the film exceeded its grasp, with the complexity of the plot exceeding the intended audience, namely, children.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is notable for being one of the few animated features shot using the anamorphic widescreen process. This method allowed the animators to use a variety of camera angles. Additionally, the majority of the characters in the film are over the age of 30, a rare trait for any Disney production. Moreover, this is the first Disney feature to showcase both an African-American character, Dr. Joshua Sweet, voiced by Phil Morris, and a character who smoke, Wilhelmina Packard, voiced by Florence Stanley.
About the Author
Steve Collins is an Author and Journalist based in Encino, CA. A big Disney fan, he uses the Disney Movie Club to complete his collection. Read his reviews of the Disney Movie Club here.
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