Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) (PG)

I don't understand it. I really don't. In an age (ooh, how mystical sounding) where "Frozen" is still considered the most radical of Disney movies, I don't understand how a film like "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" can slip under the radar. Not only does it feature the most diverse cast seen in the majority of Disney movies, it also provides us with a hero who is a weakling and a female protagonist who is a warrior. Brains meets brawn; but brawn has beauty.
I'm getting ahead of myself...
"Atlantis" begins with the viewer seeing the great empire sink beneath the surface of the waves, cocooned in a great prism like crystal. We see drama that will be explained later and then we cut to early 20th century Washington, D.C. where a young linguist named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is trying to decipher the ancient runes to find a book which will lead him to the lost city of Atlantis. Sounds complicated, right?
He needs the financial backing from the museum that he works at; but they all think of his quest more like a pipe dream than a firm scientific exploration. Rejected by his bosses and laughed at, Milo returns home to find a sultry woman waiting for him with a proposition. Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian) takes Milo to go meet with a wealthy individual named Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney) who knew Milo's grandfather.
Milo comes from a family of explorers. Raised by his grandfather under the mantra that everything is worth knowing and worth pursuing, Milo has a sensational appetite for the unexplained and discovering the city of Atlantis would be the jewel in his proverbial crown.
It turns out that Preston Whitmore and Milo's grandfather had a bet concerning the book that would lead an expedition to Atlantis, if the book did exist Whitmore promised to fund the team. Now, an old man filled with regret waiting to die alone (see what I did there?), Whitmore wants to fulfill his debts and go to the afterlife with a clean conscience.
But there is an ugly side to "Atlantis", one that feels all too plausible for its magical and whimsical setting...I'll let that be a surprise.
Whitmore assembles a rag-tag team of quirky individuals who are the best of the best and puts them on a boat, sending them out to sea. Let by Commander Rourke (James Garner), the team soon finds themselves drawing close to the sight of the entrance to Atlantis, or that's what they think it is at least; but they are not going to get there without putting up a fight from an assortment of strange creatures.
"Atlantis" succeeds because it carries itself at a break-neck speed.  There is never a dull moment, because there's never a chance for a dull moment. The movie is so intent on furthering its plot that it doesn't bother with the unnecessary sentimentalities that most of its cohorts do and this also sets it above the rest of the playing field.
Besides being one of the most politically forward animated movies, it terms of gender roles and race, "Atlantis" is remarkably entertaining for bringing a noir style to a wild and colorful movie. There is philosophy, death, smoking, and the more-than occasional quotable one-liner.
Stumbling upon the ruins of what is thought to be Atlantis, the team is surprised to find people living and thriving in the underground city; but they are not welcome to stay and are only given one night before being kicked out again. One night to discover all the secrets of a lost world.
The drama is real, the action is exciting, and the thrill has never been higher. What "Atlantis" manages to do is present a situation in which the loss of life is given a lot of weight. People die in this movie, lots of people actually; but it is handled without gore or extreme violence. It is an adventure story, true and true; and this helps it elevate itself above its sappy minded comparisons.
"Atlantis" is perhaps the pristine example of all the right decisions being made in a movie. It has a strong voice cast, a compelling and fun story, genuine peril, and the anti-cliche embodiment of heroes and love interests.
Nicely summed up: it's pretty amazing.

Score: ★★★★

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