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In 1914, archaeologist Milo Thatch (voice of Michael J Fox) dreams of finding the lost island of Atlantis. His colleagues at the Smithsonian Institute however see him as nothing more than a crackpot who would be better served stoking the furnaces. But then he’s approached by Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney), an eccentric millionaire who has a mythical book known as the Shepherd’s Journal, which Milo believes holds the key to finding Atlantis. Not only does Whitmore have the journal, he wants to finance an expedition. The journey is to be undertaken in an advanced submarine, the Ulysses, captained by Commander Rourke (James Garner). When the submarine encounters the leviathan, a beast reputed to guard the entrance to Atlantis, it looks like the legend might just be true.

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 little farther.

Published March 21, 2002

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia


ANIMATION WITH THE VOICES OF: Michael J Fox, Cree Summer, John Mahoney, Leonard Nimoy, James Garner

DIRECTORS: Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes (feature)

PRESENTATION: 16:9 widescreen; 2 disc set

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary, visual commentary, multiple navigation system with navigation options - explore mode (CG on submarine used in film), tour mode (2 hour self-navigating), files mode listing all features, behind the scenes – story, editorial, art direction, music & sound, animation production, digital production, history, publicity, deleted scenes.


DVD RELEASE: February 20, 2002

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