Review by David Edwards:
The venerable Disney studio took a few uncharacteristic risks (not too many
though) with this bold piece of animation. The film still bears the usual Disney
hallmarks, but it will be clear to those familiar with Japanese manga animation,
that manga has had a significant influence on this production.
As the extensive range of features on this exciting DVD package makes clear,
the filmmakers created their own particular mythology about Atlantis to give a
unifying background against which the story could work. Similar techniques have
been used in several Japanese films, including Hayao Miyazaki’s landmark
Princess Mononoke, to which Atlantis bears more than a passing resemblance.
Like Princess Mononoke, this film deals with interlopers meddling in a
fragile environment. Atlantis even echoes its environmental concerns, and its
morality play on the dangers of greed. But it never forgets that it’s a Disney
flick – which means it eschews the Japanese film’s bloodshed and sombre
mood, preferring instead a tried and true adventure story structure. This means
that the outcome of the film is never really in doubt – and no prizes for
guessing who gets the girl. The result is a sometimes uneasy union of Princess
Mononoke and Indiana Jones.
The story itself is quite complex, far more so than its PG rating would
suggest. Indeed, some younger viewers may have difficulty following the whole
thing. But for adults, the difficulty is not so much the plot’s complexity as
relating to the rather one-dimensional characters. If you listen carefully to
the directors’ commentary, it seems they are acutely aware of those
limitations. Milo in particular never really breaks out of the classic Disney
good-guy mould, and he’s ultimately rather bland, despite Michael J Fox’s
enthusiastic voice work.
Some of the other characters though are a lot of fun. James Garner is
suitably robust as Rourke, John Mahony injects a winning loopiness into Whitmore
and the cast of supporting characters is a nicely eclectic bunch. Look out too
for the voice of Leonard Nimoy as the king.
Atlantis blends traditional line animation with CGI to create a striking
visual scheme that’s maintained consistently throughout the film. The final
product balances the two remarkably well, so the film is brilliant to look at.
The DVD transfer is faultless (at least to my eye) with the original 16:9 aspect
ratio faithfully preserved.
For those who ever wanted to know anything (or in fact, just about
everything) to do with animation, the extra features on this disc are an
absolute must. From original concept to musical score, the cast and crew take
you through basically the entire production. Most of this material is included
on disc 2; and is available in three different formats, dubbed “explore”
(where you navigate using a menu), a hands-free “tour” and “files” in
which you can select the individual feature from a comprehensive list.
The feature itself is on disc 1, and includes the usual audio commentary. It
also has the option of visual commentary, in which the audio commentary is
accompanied by the filmmakers popping up every so often to take viewers behind
the scenes, including some cool stuff like original storyboards and voice
recordings of deleted scenes.
Atlantis is an unusual Disney film. While it pushes the envelope in some
respects, it nonetheless doesn’t go so far as to present anything that would
be regarded as truly radical. This double disc DVD package is a wonderful
compendium on the art of animation, and students of the art form will want it
for that alone. In fact, it could be a teaching resource for animation students.
For general audiences though, the film looks and sounds brilliant. Even though
the story ultimately wimps out, it rollicks along and certainly never gets
boring. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers didn’t push the envelope a
Published March 21, 2002