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'Atlantis': Lost at Sea

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2001


    'Atlantis: The Lost Empire' Milo finds the lost city and meets Atlantean Kida in "Atlantis: The Lost Empire."
(Walt Disney)
Let's start with what's good about "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." That's obvious: the humor. Thanks to punchy and funny off-screen performances from Michael J. Fox (as the central character, Milo Thatch), Don Novello (you know, Father Guido Sarducci), the late Jim Varney (Ernest P. Worrell, the "Hey Vern" guy) and Phil Morris (who played a recurring character on "Seinfeld"), there's a lot of verbal zest going on behind the movie.

And to keep things positive for, oh, another paragraph, I thought this PG-rated animated feature had the makings of a Jules Verne-style matinee adventure, as nerdy scholar Milo teams with a tough crew to retrace the fabled city.

Unfortunately, the humor (much of it aimed at adults) isn't enough to propel us through the slow-moving, often listless plot, or breathe more than functional life into the characters.

Perhaps the watery domain of Atlantis, some underwater seacraft and the large lobsterlike creature (the Leviathan) that protects the city will be enough for young eyes. Maybe they'll be amused by Gaetan Moliere (Corey Burton), a geologist who looks like Jean Reno and very much deserves the nickname Mole. But the story will force many of these kids to feel as if they're treading water.

Milo is a museum cartographer, determined to follow in his late explorer-grandfather's footsteps in search of the mythic Atlantis. Joining forces with Commander Rourke (voice of James Garner) and a group of mercenary explorers, he finds himself traveling under the sea, near the coast of Iceland.

Before you can go "aah-aah-aah" like Ariel, the team has found a busy, hoppin' Atlantis and Milo has gone flippers for a curvaceous Atlantean named Kida (Cree Summer). Milo and Kida, who happens to be the king's daughter, eventually join forces to stop Commander Rourke from stealing Atlantis's super secret: a positive energy force that could change the world.

While this story goes on (and on), we cling like drowning victims to the rare moments of humor. As Vincenzo "Vinny" Santorini, an explosives expert who dreams of starting a flower shop, Novello's definitely the funniest of the lot. And it's nice that Varney bids us farewell with such an amusing role – as "Cookie," an old sea dog whose cooking is atrocious.

But for the most part, the movie's a bland disappointment, on many levels. Watching "Atlantis," which is supposed to be graced with "eye-popping, wide-screen animation" (according to Disney), I found myself thinking, are these the rough draft drawings for the final print? When will they fill in the rest? I had the same reaction watching "Hercules," a poorly designed, ineptly illustrated Disney spectacle. Both movies seem to avoid detail in the figure drawings, a sort of short-cut animation that looks cheap, fast and economic. Even though this movie will undoubtedly make money (if not theatrically, definitely through its video release), you'd think the folks at Disney would have pride enough to draw better.

"Atlantis: The Lost Empire" (PG, 96 minutes) – Contains some action violence, and story details and humor that might need explanation for kids.


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