If there is a Disney animated film from its 80+ years of history that is most underrated, under-watched, and under-appreciated, it is “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” A distinctly different direction for Disney following its decade of fairy tales and family-oriented films in the ’90s, 2001’s “Atlantis” takes animation away from flying carpets and talking animals into an action-oriented undersea adventure that rivals comparable live action films. And now on Blu-ray, the movie is grander than ever.
Starring Michael J. Fox in the lead role of geeky Milo Thatch, viewers are taken on an adventure that should have become a ride in a Disney theme park, had the film done better at the box office. Leading off with a literal bang amidst a war featuring glowing fish-like aircraft firing electrical blasts in what appears to be some kind of alien world, it’s immediately clear “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” is unlike any animated Disney film that came before it. And who doesn’t love a movie that prominently features a massive submarine, a leading Disney princess from another world like no other, and a character voiced by the late Jim Varney?
But “Atlantis” isn’t all about flash and bang, as the main characters, while rather overtly stereotypical, are enjoyable to watch across a movie that never has a dull moment. Once the lost title city is found, the film takes a shift in tone from one of adventure and exploration to that of rescue, self preservation, and morality. And mixed in throughout are plenty of interesting and unique visuals that translate perfect to the new HD release.
On Blu-ray, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” looks and sounds fantastic, with its wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio revealing full glorious landscapes across an interesting mix of cell-shaded CG and hand-drawn 2D animation. And while James Newton Howard’s musical soundtrack could be more engaging, the film’s sound editing and effects take full advantage of surround channels during action sequences with realism beyond the animated visuals.
Unfortunately while the film itself belongs in any Disney fan’s collection, its included direct-to-video sequel is simply an embarrassment. Dubbed “Atlantis: Milo’s Return,” this sequel is actually three animated shorts pieced together, originally created as episodes of a TV series that was never picked up. The animation is subpar and completely laughable, even for a Saturday morning cartoon, looking more like early animatics rather than a finished product. Mouths don’t move when characters talk, objects float across the screen with little to no actual animation, and soundalike actors offer terrible imitations of the originals. Simply, this film should have been forgotten (forever) and left off this release.
The Blu-ray’s bonus features aren’t much better, all recycled from previous DVD releases of “Atlantis.” The main “Making Of” featurette is entertaining and informative, but dated and presented only in standard definition. The other bonus features are throwaways, with the only enjoyable ones being the deleted scenes, though it would have been nice to have them offered in HD as well.
But the star of this Blu-ray is easily “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” itself, a film that didn’t perform as well as Disney hoped in theaters and has since been unnecessarily pushed aside. From opening titles to closing credits, it’s simply a fun movie that may not have as much emotion and heart as prior Disney classics, but makes up for it with a great sense of adventure.
“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” on Blu-ray is available now at Amazon and other major retailers.