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Moriarty's Been To ATLANTIS!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

The El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard is right across the street from the world-famous Chinese and the development that is going to be the new home of the Academy Awards. It was rescued and restored by the Disney corporation, and it's their flagship theater. They charge more for a ticket, they have reserved VIP seating, they have a live organist before the films, and they even have exits that dump you directly into the Disney Store so you can stock up on all the plastic crap they have stamped with whatever licensed characters are hot this week.

Inside, it's a beautiful restoration job, particularly in the elaborate woodworking that lines the ceiling of the theater. When you sit in the upper balcony, there's no better view of a screen in town, and there's no finer sound system, either. On the other hand, the rows are prohibitively tight, one right on top of another, and considering I'm 6'2", it's like some form of medieval torture to sit through anything longer than 100 minutes in the theater.

Last night, I made a last minute decision with John Robie to take in the late show of ATLANTIS, currently playing an exclusive engagement at the El Capitan. I had no idea until after we'd choked down the $8 parking fee that the tickets for the film were $13 each for general admission or $22 each for the VIP tickets, which gave us preferred seating and allowed us to bypass the line. We opted for the "cheaper" tickets, timing it so that by the time we were finished with our purchase, the line had already been let in, and we were able to just turn and head right inside.

We ran into some friends in the lobby, then headed upstairs and claimed some great seats, just off-center, and settled in. The trailers were only for Disney product (typical live action Disney crap MAX KEEBLE'S BIG MOVE, the sensational MONSTERS, INC. trailer that premiered last week online, and the truly horrifying spectacle of Garry Marshall's THE PRINCESS DIARIES, a children's film being sold as "From the director of PRETTY WOMAN," a film that made every little girl in America realize that they, too, could be a whore for Prince Charming), which kept it brief, and after a lens flip from flat to glorious scope, the film began.

Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise have directed Disney features three times now, and each time up, they've managed to make films that are in some way marked by daring. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is their undisputed masterwork, and it stands as the most iconic and enduring of the modern-era animated "classics" from the company. It was as entertaining a musical as I've ever seen, live-action or otherwise, and it featured wonderful performance work by the animators and the voice talent. When they made HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, I think it's more of a grab bag, with some artistic highs that balance some unfortunately obvious decisions as well. There's a musical number in HUNCHBACK about temptation, peformed by the lead villain, that is startlingly adult, and there's some great material in the movie. The three stone gargoyle sidekicks really mar the film, though, and it seems to chicken out at key moments. Still, credit is due for the maturity that shines through in the best moments of their work.

Now, with ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE, Trousdale and Wise have dared to try for a PG-rated adventure film with no songs and no cute talking animals, and they've been successful to a degree. I don't think ATLANTIS is the powerhouse it strains to be, and the more I think about elements of it, the more I see missed opportunities, but what's good about it is very good. In a summer like this one, it stands out and deserves to be embraced by audiences hungry for solid commercial fare.

Tab Murphy gets screenplay credit here, and the only thing I've ever read by him was a version of STAR BLAZERS that was, I thought, generic bad ensemble cast of stereotypes SF goofiness. It should come, then, as no surprise that this screenplay is generic bad ensemble cast of stereotypes SF goofiness. If this were a live-action film, my interest in discussing it would pretty much end with the wafer-thin excuse for a plot in which there is no real threat or urgency or drama of any kind, and I would just give you a cursory run-down on the cast and be finished.

This is a Disney animated film, though, and what that means is visuals, lush and fantastic, and it's on visual strength alone that I would suggest seeing this film on the biggest screen possible with the best sound possible. It's a technical marvel, and there are many sights that are just jaw-dropping, lovely and memorable. The mix of the 2D characters and the 3D models is subtle and utilized well, and it ends up selling the environment in a far more convincing way than TARZAN ever did with its eye-popping-but-ridiculous Deep Canvass work.

Milo Thatch, the plucky lead of the piece (and he is indeed "plucky," with all the cornball attitude that word suggests, just like all Disney heroes seem to be) is given voice by Michael J. Fox and animated by John Pomeroy, who makes his Disney lead debut here after a long career of working with Don Bluth. He was the director of animation on the beloved SECRET OF NIMH, and there's an expressiveness to his work on Milo that is perfectly suited to the familiar sound of Fox's voice. Unfortunately, this movie almost feels like a Don Bluth film in terms of taking its time and showing off instead of sticking to the story, no matter how thin it is. There's an awful lot of shots of characters looking at something, jaws hanging open, amazed. That's our job as the audience, and when characters spend too much time being amazed, the film becomes too passive, which is what happens here.

It didn't help that after we walked out of the theater, we were all herded next door to a special Disney bunker of some sort that has been set up with aquariums and a Touch Tank (tended by a young man who gave off a strong "Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN" vibe) and a Lazer Tag maze complete with glow-in-the-dark paint and a smoke machine that was pumping out something that made my lungs twitch. The entire experience felt more like an EPCOT display than an evening out at the movies. There was a distinctly creepy Scientology vibe to the employees at the Capitan and the display next door, a blank-eyed corporate drone quality to every interaction. I felt like Disney had its hand in my pocket from the moment I got out of the car. Movies are pricey enough right now; this was more like being mugged.

I'd like to commend the design team on this film for the work they did on things like the Leviathan, star of the film's best sequence, and the people who designed the cultural look of Atlantis itself. The film definitely owes a good deal of its inspiration to earlier classics like Miyazaki's NAUSICAA and CASTLE IN THE SKY, but there's something about being set free on this sort of world that seems to have brought out the best in the animators who worked on this. The action sequences are exciting and well-designed, and the final conflict is not just satisfying, but actually involving. ATLANTIS is at its best when it just shuts up and does its job. It's at its worst when it is trying to introduce the unweildy supporting cast including Audrey Ramirez (voiced by Jacqueline Obradors), an annoyingly spunky girl mechanic who almost looks like a TINY TOONS escapee; Vincenzo Santorini (Don Novello in full-on Guido Sarducci mode), the demolitions guy; Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian), the Nordic goddess uber-bitch bodyguard of Commander Lyle T. Rourke (James Garner), the man in charge of getting the team to Atlantis and back. Anyone who saw TITAN A.E. already knows the big "twist" when it comes to Rourke's character, and even if they don't, it's telegraphed early on. It's a shame, too... it's pretty much a direct rehash of the way Clayton became the bad guy in TARZAN... it's just convenient is all.

Cree Summer is Princess Kida, and her father is played by Leonard Nimoy, and they both do exactly what they're supposed to. It's actually kind of hard to make anything of roles like these that are all exposition. All the "personality" of the film seems to be poured into a few comic relief characters that barely work, if at all, and it's the three talking gargoyles all over again: if the film had been bold enough to lose the cheap gags and focus on the story at hand, chances are it would have been stronger and more entertaining. Instead, "The Mole" (voiced by Corey Burton) and "Cookie" (Jim Varney) are drawn as "wacky," constant joke-a-minute wallpaper that contributes nothing and actually defuses a few really good moments at just the wrong time. It's missteps like this that prove Disney incapable of real change. They are slaves to formula, and I wonder what their films would look like if they actually trusted their filmmakers to follow their instincts.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • June 13, 2001, 11:49 p.m. CST

    Good review...

    by crimsonrage favorite Disney film is still "Pinnochio" (spelling?). That donkey scene is just so damn scary!

  • June 14, 2001, 12:09 a.m. CST

    Disney will be Disney

    by RandomName

    They'll keep cranking out the merchandise, and the movies will keep on falling short of mediocre.

  • June 14, 2001, 12:20 a.m. CST


    by Irie

    Great review. I'm going to see the film, but not with the same enthusiasm I'm looking forward to with Monsters, Inc. Saw the "making of" book today, and wasn't impressed at all. But I'll see the film, and have a feeling I'll be surprised. I also agree with you on "Hunchback." A noble failure. The "chickening out" marred the film to the point of no return, but the dramatic moments are outstanding, as are the songs--easily the most mature of the Disney musicals. Not as fun or necessarily witty, they hit a home run nonetheless. As far as Milo looking like a Bluth character, he was animated by Don's sidekick for many years, John Pomeroy. Skilled draftsman (but poor actor) who did one or two nice things with Bluth early on, but began relying on formulas to a fault, including poor rotoscope (especially awful upon his return to Disney animating John Smith in "Pocahontas." SUCH bad roto...makes Bakshi look like Milt Kahl!). He needs to have the "bluth" beat out of him, although the clips I've seen of Milo make it look like someone's pulling his reins a bit (a good thing).

  • June 14, 2001, 12:29 a.m. CST

    So, what's the verdict?

    by mastronikolas

    This is a review. Please end it by actually saying if it was good/bad/whatever. So, there were shortcomings, but did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it? That's the whole point of posting a review!

  • June 14, 2001, 12:49 a.m. CST

    El Capitan

    by astrodog

    they do have some cool ideas. the premiere season they held this may was awesome (and 7 bucks for Rear Window, i can accept). but the whole block is disney now. Maybe Universal should buy out disney, to give Ripley's the JP look it rightly deserves.

  • June 14, 2001, 1:18 a.m. CST

    How does it stack up in the long view?

    by LiquidNitrate

    Granted, we're all thankful that Eisner has permitted a slight derivation from the established Disney formula (songs and animals, 1.85 ratio), but is this latest Atlantis movie the type that kids will grow up on, regarding it as a mesmerizing classic, or is it merely an underwater Stargate, an animated Centropolis mishmash? ... From Mermaid on up, Disney's been milking the archetypal formulas for calculated emotional reactions, and it's worked, establishing a worthy niche footnote for cinema historians... and the animation has seemed to get savvier, building from Mermaid to Beauty to Aladdin, then climaxing with Lion King, then backsliding post-Katzenberg with Pocahontas-Hunchback-Hercules-Mulan (each of which was experimental in style and IMHO often too bland/ugly), then reemerging for a second climax with Tarzan which blended classical style with bold new 3D, then backsliding yet again with the experimental Emperor. My main concern so far with the Atlantis ads has been that the animation and character designs look "cheap," a low-tech chunky-blocky old-fashioned art style that seems to go backwards rather than continue Disney's heretofore "usual" forward momentum ala Aladdin and Tarzan. Sure, Disney's animation epics are always leaps of quality above the competition (Quest for Camelot), but it seems to me that in an age when comic books like Fathom explore the oceans in such breathtaking glory, the megabudget studios in Burbank could deliver a more impressive style of Atlantis than what the hohum trailers have shown so far. Yeah, I'm talking expensive, but c'mon, the trailers for Tarzan were a heckuvalot more amazing and "new" in energy than the rather old-fashioned ads for Atlantis.

  • June 14, 2001, 1:33 a.m. CST

    Can't wait for the Saturday Morning Cartoon.....

    by CrapHole

    I can already see it...*sigh*

  • June 14, 2001, 3:03 a.m. CST

    Hurry in to McDonalds now for your very own Mclantis cheeseburge

    by NightNdaze

    Complete with toy submarine to illustrate the plummeting Disney stock... When I heard how the animation team was being treated at Disney it made me physically Ill...see since The Lion King has just been a 1 1/2 hour commercial to sell toy shit...

  • June 14, 2001, 6:08 a.m. CST

    Slaves to formula...

    by Christopher_atUC

    I thought that this was a very well written review. I

  • June 14, 2001, 6:25 a.m. CST

    Gee, does this mean DUMBO 2 will suck?

    by geekzapoppin

    Disney is never going to reach the hights of artistic output they did during the classic years as long as they keep holding their creative people back in favor of formula and safety. Eye candy gets boring after a while.

  • Here's the discussion Here's a side-by-side comparison of key plot points.

  • June 14, 2001, 7:58 a.m. CST

    Thank you...

    by Mako

    Moriaty, for being the most insightful, honest, non-biased and intellectual reviwer on this site. Cheers.

  • June 14, 2001, 8:57 a.m. CST

    The Disney Line:

    by General Idea

    My opinion: Disney resists making a more "adult-friendly" animated feature, for this reason. If you peer into the video collection of any family with children, you'll eventually come to numerous brightly colored Disney animated movie boxes. Sleeping Beauty, Dumbo, Aladdin, Lion King, and so on... I'll bet that Disney assumes that leaving out the "silly comic sidekick dialogue" will keep the video from being bought for thousands of kids. Not to mention that if it's not seen as being billed towards kids, it won't do well in the theaters. What they haven't gotten yet is that some of the kids would be replaced by older fans. Maybe not in equal numbers, but nevertheless. Maybe the lackluster showing of the past few Disney duds will help convince them. Atlantis looks like a step in the right direction, if only a small one. Good review Mori, I'm there.

  • June 14, 2001, 10 a.m. CST

    Our boy Joss Whedon has a hand in this

    by Terry_1978

    I didn't know he was one of the writers of the script until I read the credits recently. Here's to hoping that it shows in the final product.

  • June 14, 2001, 11:26 a.m. CST

    Hey Moriarty! Screw that $8.00 parking crap! Just park on the si

    by superhero

    Disney won't be gettin' anymore of my cash than the regular or matinee price for any of their movies! Oh, and am I the only one that thinks that Beauty and the Beast sucked and that the computer stuff sticks out like a SORE THUMB! Beauty and the Beast was OVERRATED! I hated the ending! What's that say to people when the beast turns into a FAR better looking version of what the villain was? Can anyone say Fabio? Hey people just stick with your ugly guy/girl and maybe you can CHANGE them into something better looking instead of just accepting them for being beautiful on the inside and loving them for what they are! SHREK was so much better with a far more beautiful "message". Oh, and as far as Disney films go ALADDIN and HERCULES are my favorites. And YES I liked TARZAN despite Rosie O'Donnel talking gorilla and that Seinfeld postman talking elephant guy. Possibly because they're a bit more male oriented. Looks like I'm gonna be liking Atlantis too!

  • June 14, 2001, 1:19 p.m. CST

    No formula here

    by ay474

    In my opinion... Atlantis is about as far as Disney's ever gotten AWAY from its classic formula. How many other Disney features have actually KILLED major characters? The style is unique. I don't care for Mignola that much, but anything away from the cutsey, cuddly sidekicks is a good thing. I think the voice work was really good on this. There's no escaping Fox's personality, which can be annoying. The best blend yet of CGI and traditional animation I've seen so far. John Pomeroy still relies too much on rotoscoping for Milo. Cookie and Audrey are pretty grating, but they are not on-screen enough to hurt much. Packard, the old lady, is there only for comic one-liners, but still funny. The ethnic diversity IS too obvious, but we'll probably have to put up with such things until this oh-so-PC era is over. As for being a rip-off of Nadia... I do tend to think it was because they referred to the same source material. Don't believe that? Ok, call it a "homage"! Atlantis may not be as un-Disney as some may like, but it's a real good step in the right direction.

  • June 14, 2001, 1:45 p.m. CST

    Nadia vs. Atlantis -- it's all 'spin'

    by droosan

    Actually, John Pomeroy has been back with the Walt Disney feature animation studio for a few years now, and technically he's already had a 'lead' character animation debut (the Forest Sprite in FANTASIA/2000's "Firebird" sequence) ... On another note, I must say I feel the 'NADIA vs. ATLANTIS' comparison chart sites which many talkbackers are pointing to are extremely flawed; they are deliberately biased toward the view that Disney is trying to "get away" with "ripping off" NADIA, and thus exaggerate the similarities while completely ignoring the many differences between the two (and also conveniently leaving out the fact that NADIA borrows many of its own character designs and plot points from at least a dozen classic anime films & TV shows) ... these claims are being blindly accepted and perpetuated by people who have never seen the show (or even the Disney film, yet). I have seen them, and take it from me, both are well-worth your time (Although at 20 hours, NADIA is much more of an investment, but the reward is perhaps the most awesome set of climax episodes ever created). The only good I can see coming from this is that perhaps someone will finally release the complete NADIA tv series in the U.S., and maybe even get it on the air. At least then people can make an informed decision about whether there's fire to go with this smokescreen.

  • June 14, 2001, 2:59 p.m. CST

    Why can't disney think of anything original anymore?

    by Dirty_Bird

    Think about all the cartoon movies theyve had come out the last few years. Tarzan, Hercules, Mulan and now Atlantis. Can't they think of anything new like they used to? Or does everything have to be a one word title that is a rehash of a myth or old story. I guess if they WERE more than one word long little kids couldnt memorize it to say, "Mommy, mommy! Take us to Atlantis!" I hate disney.

  • June 14, 2001, 3:56 p.m. CST

    Ah, a voice of reason ...

    by droosan

    In the interest of 'equal time' in the NADIA vs. ATLANTIS debate, I'd like to point to a 'comparison' page which is a bit more impartial and informative, written by one of the foremost 'authorities' on the NADIA tv series, Marc Hairston ... ... you can also jump from here to his information-packed NADIA site, and even a similar 'informed comparison' page on the KIMBA vs. LION KING debate.

  • June 14, 2001, 6:03 p.m. CST

    that jim varney is one talented fellow

    by gah rides again

    being dead and all, and still contributing his voice to thise really shows his talent... Of course I assume his stuff was recorded before his unfortunate passing... right? Please someone tell me I'm right...

  • June 14, 2001, 6:30 p.m. CST


    by dexter cornell

    Their animated movies get more and more repetitive every freaking year, piss on them. I'll sit through Tomb Raider or Shrek again before I give the mouse machine one more of my prized dollars. Their cartoons just aren't good anymore, no better than the ton of cartoons on Saturday morning. I refuse to even rent this piece of shit. When it hits USA at 3 AM, right after Problem Child 14, then I'll sit through it. Otherwise, bring on Lara Croft, I don't care what any dumb ass critic has to say about it.

  • June 14, 2001, 6:49 p.m. CST

    Disney's problem...

    by cesspoolinferno

    Disney's problem with animation is the split between doing more adventurous mature fare, while at the same time offering it's typical Disney kiddie fare. The answer to this problem seems fairly obvious to me: divide the animation studios into two divisions: one for the kids and one for a more serious animation market. As stated in this review, the problems with THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME stem from the fact that Disney was trying to play to two different audiences at the same time, and unfortunately, they failed to please either. The lusty love triangle was not appropiate for younger viewers and the gargoyles were too silly and childish for adult tastes. TARZAN had similiar problems. So why contine to try to walk this creative tightrope when it would be much more simpler for Disney to produce different animated features for different targeted audiences. I'd like to see Disney tackle something like MOBY DICK or FRANKENSTEIN in a serious way. And the kids could still have their fairy tales. And Dreamworks could still make fun of Disney...

  • June 14, 2001, 8:15 p.m. CST

    Good Review, Disney's thievery

    by Solaris

    I was really impressed by the review, though (and this is but a personal preference) might have done without all the banter about where you saw the film. The thing I liked most about your review was that you obviously did some homework before you saw it. Changing the subject, it seems once again Disney has borrowed a bit heavily from Japanese animation. For me, this would be OK if one, Disney would openly acknowledge it, two, if Disney paid royalties to the people they borrowed their ideas from, and three, if Japanese animation got a fair distribution shake in the US. Sadly, none of the three are happening, or going to happen anytime too soon. After the whole Lion King episode, most Japanese I know just kind of laughed--copying or appropriating things around here is part of the culture. Still, I kind of wonder if Japanese animators ripped off Disney these days, then foisted there films on the American public at the expense of American films, if Disney would be as high-minded and noble as Osamu Tezuka's studios were. I highly doubt it.

  • ... I have to say its not a bad theater. It's in a sleezy section of town however. And just a note, Chinese is not across the street. It's a way down the street, closer to the Galixy then to El Capitain.. Good review I suppose. Dash101 out.