September 20, 2012

Disney Canon #41: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)


ADAM Well. It’s a lot more ambitious than The Fox and the Hound, that’s for sure.

BETH I kept thinking about Ocean’s Eleven, because it featured a ragtag team of quirky experts, as this tried to do, and made ninety minutes so much tighter and more enjoyable.

ADAM You’re saying the quirky crew of characters made this more enjoyable?

BETH No no no no no. Ocean’s Eleven has, like this movie, a ragtag team of experts that aids in an adventure. And it’s a short, fast movie in which you get to know each of those characters and like them and root for them. And there’s also a lot of action. I think this movie wanted to do exactly that and completely failed. I thought it was incredibly obtuse.

ADAM What are you talking about? Audrey was the tough Hispanic heroine who had a chip on her shoulder but secretly, you know, a conscience.

BROOM This movie managed to have not a single thing in it that I found interesting.

ADAM Now come on, that’s not fair. It was riotously full of incident and full of invention, for a ninety-minute-long Disney movie.

BROOM What I mean by “managed” is that despite being full of stuff and visually very accomplished, there was not a single thing that genuinely caught my interest. It was all old and it was all done without feeling or sense.

ADAM I thought some of Vinny’s dialogue was funny.

BROOM Yeah, Don Novello came out okay.

ADAM I also liked some of the scenes with the chain-smoking older woman who ran the switchboard.

BETH She was my favorite. You thought she was a cliche?

BROOM I think she was the same as the waitress from the previous movie. [ed.: No, different actresses.]

ADAM They tried not to make them cliches even though they were all stereotypes. If that makes sense. They were each doing a bit, but the bit was a little different from what you’ve seen before.

BROOM I really felt strongly that there was nothing here that the creators of this movie had come up with on their own.

ADAM Couldn’t that have been comfortingly familiar?


BROOM No, because it was a bullshit blend. It didn’t work. It would have been comfortingly familiar if they had aced it or done it with care. But like Beth said, somehow we didn’t actually care about this ragtag bunch. And I know why we didn’t care about them: because they were not introduced one by one, which is the way you do that, they were introduced in a scene where he arrayed a bunch of headshots and then named them very quickly. Then later, yes, they each had introduction scenes, but those scenes were grudging and forced.

ADAM This was a very short movie.

BROOM It was longer than the last one.

ADAM To put this much plot into.

BROOM I don’t know what the plot was.

BETH I don’t either.

ADAM The plot was… what was that movie?

BROOM Avatar?

ADAM Yeah.

BETH It was sort of like Avatar but it wasn’t nearly as good.

BROOM It had the girl from Avatar in it, and it had the waterfall from Avatar in it, but it did not have a plot.

ADAM It had the “everything we thought was right is wrong!” feel of Avatar.

BROOM Because they’re all mercenaries and then they have to be good guys at the end?

ADAM Except in Avatar he’s the only one who’s a good guy. And his mom. Or, not his mom, but…

BROOM Sigourney Weaver?

ADAM Yeah.

BROOM She’s not his mom, but you got it more or less. You got to the psychological core, there.

ADAM Here, everyone is a good guy except for the two bad guys. I didn’t see coming that Rourke was a bad guy. He had a very mellifluous voice and charming character.

BETH Are you serious?

ADAM Yeah. What?

BROOM Well, if you didn’t see that coming, you probably had more fun with this movie than I did.

ADAM I did have some fun with this movie. I thought Kida’s mom was going to come back at the end, but she didn’t.

BETH I did too. I thought she was being stored in a netherworld and would be released. I cannot imagine what it’s like for a kid to watch this movie, because it was really hard to follow, I thought.

ADAM If this was your first introduction to the ragtag team of caperers movie, what an awesome movie this would be. You’d be like, “how’d they think of all that?”

BROOM I felt like this was tried-and-true crap being dished up again but not right.

ADAM But you’ve never seen this crap as a Disney movie before. I mean, look, would you rather have seen another [singing] “Somewhere out there…” … I know that’s not Disney…

BROOM I would like to have seen this movie, but good. Beth kept saying she thought she was going to love it; that was because she knew what all the elements were, and she thought they were going to be cool.

BETH I thought the tropes would provide. And they really let me down.

BROOM I entirely blame the writing and directing. It’s not because the concept didn’t work.

BETH It’s the script. I think it’s mostly the script’s fault.

ADAM Michael J. Fox did not help.

BROOM There was twice as much dialogue as there should have been, so everyone was talking really fast the whole time. It was directed really fast. There were no moments that were real; there was no time that you got to feel that you were really somewhere.

BETH Except in the camp. At night, when they were camping out, that was the one time that I felt briefly, like, “okay, I can do this, this is like a real moment here.” For two minutes. I was okay with that.

BROOM Even that scene, maybe I was just in a sour mood, but I felt like, “oh, sure, they each have to have a backstory.” And again it was handled like that array of faces: “okay, what’s your backstory? okay what’s your backstory? okay we love you all, good night.”

BETH Because the director didn’t know how to do it. Or the writers. Someone.

ADAM Um, everyone: Audrey was a tough-talking Hispanic mechanic.

BROOM She is the worst-animated character…

BETH …in any Disney movie we’ve seen.

ADAM She had a sarcastic catchphrase that became a touching catchphrase when she parted from him! Hel-lo?

BROOM “Two for flinching”?

BETH Her face was not consistent.

BROOM She had no expressions in her face. She didn’t look right. Whenever she was given emotion to convey, she couldn’t do it. I felt embarrassed for her lead animator the first time I saw it, and this time I felt confirmed. Yes. Horrible.

ADAM “Who told you that?” “A man by the name of Thaddeus Thatch.”

BROOM Why didn’t the grandfather…

ADAM Why didn’t he come back, like Frodo?

BROOM No, why didn’t Rourke reveal that he had killed the grandfather?

ADAM You think that happened?

BETH It would have added.

BROOM That’s a standard part of the shit they were doing!

ADAM I thought it was gonna be like when Frodo comes out of the shadows in Rivendell, and he’s been there the whole time.

BROOM Bilbo! Bilbo. Please.

ADAM That’s what I meant to say. Correct that in the transcript.

BROOM Yeah. I won’t subject you to the humiliation. [ed.: untrue]

ADAM Once I’ve seen the three-part movie of The Hobbit, I’ll remember.

BETH It just seems like the script was fixable and workable, and no one stepped up.

BROOM I have a tip for screenwriters: never have your screenplay revolve around a magic crystal. Never. That is the lowest He-Man choice. “What is the power source? What makes everything work?” It could have been anything they wanted. A magic crystal is so lame. And then the whole second act of the movie is about the magic crystal, and what is it going to do? It can do whatever it wants; it’s that magical. And what does it ultimately do? It makes robots clap their hands and make a shield.

BETH It made some cars go. Can we talk about the illustration style? It’s pretty different from everything else we’ve seen. You liked it, Broom, you thought it was good? You said “accomplished” before.

BROOM Well, I often talk about whether it seems like the animators cared about what they were doing. I thought this movie was horseshit and yet I also thought they did seem to care. They seemed excited about the way it looked and the stuff they were doing visually.

ADAM It had a lot of crescendo animations. The city was a little disappointing, but things like the columns, and the volcano, and even Washington D.C. in 1914, I thought, looked kind of cool.

BETH Yeah, but didn’t you think the characters looked a little Adult Swim-y? From the early 2000s?

BROOM I think they wanted to, I think they were going for “comic book edginess.” The Netflix envelope says something about it being a “rare foray into PG animation.” I’m not sure that corresponds so much to the content as it does to the attitude.

BETH Yeah, the attitude. The evil woman’s face had a very grown-up animation look.

ADAM Like, the Nazi? Helga?

BROOM But it doesn’t add up to anything. She just has a smirk. It’s just like a comic book, it’s like a terrible comic book.

BETH She had no nose. Her face was mostly white space with a very little squiggle for her nose, which is so not Disney. And I was impressed with that.

ADAM And all the blue glowing looked really blue. And glowing.

BROOM It was a showcase for the special effects team, and I thought it all looked good. But the guy turns into a crystal monster at the end, and then blows up? Come come!

BETH I thought it sucked. I was so disappointed. I really really thought I would like it based on the trailer.

ADAM I liked it better than you guys did, obviously.

BROOM If I were a kid and I didn’t know this stuff, as Adam just said, if this was my first time to it all, I think I would be able to have an experience that I’m not able to have with this movie. I would be able to imagine being under the earth, thinking about how crazy that would be. But some of it would also be genuinely scary. When she gets drawn into the crystal and it turns into her? That’s incredibly creepy, and it reminds me of the 80s, like I said about The Black Cauldron: this stuff just got into the water and became standard, and I’m not sure the effect on kids is healthy. The crystal person is creepy. And that the guy turns into a crystal because he gets a cut?

BETH That is creepy.

ADAM Why were the Atlanteans Polynesian? Was this supposed to be in the Pacific somewhere? Or was this just some weird misplaced Orientalism?

BETH I think it was that. They didn’t know what to do so they just made them look kind of exotic.

ADAM Just ooga-booga.

BROOM Something borrowed, something blue. The whole thing was just stuff. And the music was so over-the-top.

BETH And yet there were no songs, which was refreshing.

BROOM Thank god. That would have been unbearable. But they kept breaking the mood with the jokes, which were totally scattershot, had nothing in common with each other or with the mood of the story.

BETH Really inconsistent, yeah.

BROOM “Oh my god, this incredible portal is opening up!…” [vaudeville sting] “wah-wah-wah!” It had no agenda to be anything in particular to us.

BETH What are we supposed to feel at the end?

ADAM It’s supposed to feel like the end of Swiss Family Robinson, where they all go back to the world but he stays behind. It’s supposed to feel poignant, but at the same time so right. You didn’t want him to go back to the boiler!

BROOM He had nothing. His books are in storage.

ADAM His cat…

BROOM I don’t know what happened to the cat! I hope the cat was visible in that scene where the old man was by the fire, at the end.

BETH I don’t think it was.

BROOM Another missed opportunity!

ADAM The cat may have been killed in the shipwreck. [ed: confirmed that the cat is present at the fireside in the final scene]

BETH All right.

ADAM I mean, whatever, guys, whatever. Aren’t you at least glad they tried something different?

BETH Yes, I am.

BROOM I am, but this is still the kind of thing that depresses me, because it feels like the urge to create a movie is no longer quite based on having anything to say. It’s just “let’s do the routine,” and the routine is not even something they have any particular access to.

ADAM When we went to see the Madonna concert last week, I described it to Mike afterwards as being a “frantic pastiche,” which I’ll tell you about offline. But this had that element. There were at least ten movies that this reminded me of.

BETH Yeah.

BROOM Yes. And ten episodes of Duck Tales.

BETH The sad thing is, I thought this was terrible, and I think very much worse things are to come. Right? It’s gonna get worse.

ADAM I don’t know.

BROOM I can’t imagine feeling less connected to what’s going on than I did during this. I might feel that something is really wrong, though. Yes, there might be worse things.

ADAM Do you guys remember The Rescuers Down Under? Apparently not.

BETH But there was a charm…

BROOM It wasn’t very good. But it had that scene where the guy kept moving the eggs around and his lizard was trying to eat them. That was pretty good. You guys don’t remember nothin’.

BETH I don’t remember. Okay, I think we’re done.

ADAM All right. Yeah. Does anyone want to talk about what this has to do with September 11th?

BETH Obviously nothing. I thought we might be able to tie it in; we can’t.

BROOM We’re going to do the thing we always do.

BETH Read the review.

[we read it]

BROOM You felt vindicated by that? You thought it was as good as he thought it was?

ADAM Yeah. I am pleased to note that Vinny was played by the guy who plays Father Guido Sarducci. Of whose letters I had a book when I was a kid.

BROOM Well, he wrote that book of letters but it’s not in the character of Father Guido Sarducci. It’s as Lazlo Toth.

ADAM I know. Which I loved as a kid, by the way.

BROOM I didn’t discover those until late. It was too political for me as a little kid.

BETH Not for Adam.

ADAM No. Although it was all about Richard Nixon.

BROOM Although there was a sequel where he wrote to George Bush.

ADAM “Citizen Lazlo.” I had that also.

BETH So you liked it; that’s okay, that’s fine!

ADAM I mean, whatever, you won’t remember it, but… I don’t know, as I was watching it I was like, “well, that went down easy.”

BETH I agree with that. It went faster than I expected. Well, no. It didn’t go faster than I expected, but it went fast once I realized how much I thought it sucked.

BROOM Once you knew what to expect!

ADAM It was not in the top half, or even in the top two-thirds, but it was not in the bottom ten.

BROOM This was quite low for me, because I felt unable to root for it, because it was so content with what it was trying for and what it wasn’t going to try for at all.

ADAM Well, fine!

BETH How many have we seen?

BROOM This was forty-one.

BETH It might be in my bottom ten.

ADAM You guys will get all the character-driven homeliness you desire in the next one.

BROOM You think these characters were especially attractive?

ADAM I don’t mean physical homeliness, but the plot of the next one is a lot more “Dear Mr. Henshaw” and a lot less… I don’t know…

BROOM “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.”


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