Movie #42 2022: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

They just don’t make them like this anymore. Of course, kids these days are so accustomed to 3D, all singing, all dancing, hyper-colourised animated films that I can’t imagine Atlantis: The Lost Empire would attract much attention from youngsters if it were released today. But you know what? There’s so much charm here that these lesser-watched Disney movies deserve much more credit than they usually get.

Atlantis is based on exactly what you’d deduce from its title: the lost city of Atlantis. (Not to be confused with The Lost City, of course, which is a whole different kettle of fish.) Our hero is Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox), a talented historian who joins forces with a group of talented but kooky archaeologists to search for the fabled ‘lost empire’ of Atlantis. Aboard a submarine, the crew’s mission takes an unexpected turn, when their focus turns from finding Atlantis to protecting it from extinction.

Ahhh this felt so nostalgic. One of Disney’s last 2D animations, yet somehow it still felt modern enough to engage a current audience. That is, a young adult audience at least.

First off, the plot is just brilliant. It’s so refreshing to see a Disney movie that is so focused on adventure and discovery, rather than just being a movie about singing princesses. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those films – I really love some of those too). And it doesn’t hurt that the writing itself is so good; everything is so witty and so funny. I can’t remember how many times I laughed during this movie. Special shout out to Florence Stanley as Wilhelmina Packard, who may be one of the most underrated animated Disney characters of all time. She walked so Edna Mode could run, if you ask me.

Not only is the writing so sharp, but there’s something else that stands out so strongly here: the music. Holy fuck, James Newton Howard is a good composer. His arrangements create such a strong sense of magic and wonderment and I don’t remember being so strongly affected by an animated score before I cried at Up, alongside many other theatre-goers. Good to know that there was some attention paid to Disney soundtracks before Carl and Ellie.

Though there’s a lot of ground to cover with the story and the pacing is pretty decent for the most part, it does feel just a tad too long. There’s definitely just a little bit too much crammed into this one. Nevertheless, the visuals are generally really strong and interesting, so if younger viewers don’t exactly follow the plot down to a tee, at least there’s something aesthetically engrossing to focus on. 

Overall though, it would just be nice if there were more animated movies like this one, instead of leaving the grunt work up to Studio Ghibli. Although it’s not my favourite, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a solid, solid film.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK.

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