For the third time in a row, Disney departs from its traditional animation release formula with this non-musical, intense-action adventure (rated PG for violence) about the search for the legendary city that mysteriously disappeared in ancient times.
Michael J. Fox appealingly provides the voice of Milo Thatch, a scholar and linguist who dreams of realizing his late grandfather’s quest to find Atlantis. He works at Washington’s Smithsonian Institution, where he is relegated to the boiler room. A wealthy and eccentric friend of his grandfather’s offers to fund an expedition, and Milo finds himself on a submarine led by Commander Lyle T. Rourke (James Garner). The crew includes hundreds of sailors led by Helga, a sultry mercenary (Claudia Christian); Sweet, a genial half-black, half-Native American doctor (Phil Morris); Audrey, a teenaged Latina mechanic (Jacqueline Obradors); Vinnie, a demolitions expert (Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello); Mrs. Packard, an unflappable, chain-smoking communications officer (gravel-voiced Florence Stanley); and the Mole, a geologist who loves dirt (Corey Burton).
They set off on a journey reminiscent of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” culminating in a ferocious battle with the Leviathan, a mechanical sea monster that destroys the ship and kills most of the crew. Those who are left struggle through every obstacle imaginable but finally make it to Atlantis, where they meet Kida, a Pocahantas-style princess (Cree Summer) who speaks every language and is thousands of years old. She wants to make friends with the strangers, but her father wants them killed, so no one else will ever find them. Milo helps Princess Kida uncover the secret source of her country’s power but another threat appears – it turns out that Rourke and the others are only there to loot Atlantis. Milo has to find a way to save the place that has become his real home.
Parents should know that this movie is more intense and scary than the usual Disney release, with lots of (highly anachronistic) dive-bombing planes, lots of guns, a huge robot monster, fire, and the death of hundreds of anonymous sailors. Characters are mean to each other and some betray each other. Major characters are in peril and some are killed. One character is a chain-smoker, and there is a joke about whiskey, one about sleeping in the nude, and a whoopee-cushion gag. Milo becomes seasick. The movie does a good job of showing an inter-racial cast working well together, and there are both male and female good guys and bad guys.
Families should talk about the rise and fall of cultures over time, and how the study of history is essential in keeping a culture alive. Kids might want to learn more about the legends of Atlantis and read about the Greek Island of Santorini, which may be the source for some of them. Families might also want to talk about some of the anachronisms and plot holes in the movie. A key element of the plot involves a reference in an ancient document to Iceland, not Ireland, which, of course, had different names and were spelled with different alphabets thousands of years ago. The technology is also inaccurate – we are willing to suspend belief for Jules Verne-style science fiction machinery, but this features airplanes and trucks as commonplace items.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Thief and the Cobbler” – the character of the thief (voice of Jonathan Winters) may have inspired this movie’s Mole.