Disney’s penultimate animated movie Atlantis is a product which is everything and nothing at the same time. It had so much potential yet it never took off because of an apparent wish to not enter new grounds called grown-up animation. Will Disney try to go new ways with its The Princess and the Frog?
I doubt it.
I don’t know why but despite being a child movies made by Disney never really touched me or entertained me as they were meant to. Surely the animation was top, even I could see that but there was nothing else in me going on that whispered something like “you’ve seen a classic here”. Hence the marketing mumbo-jumbo of calling every single movie a classic or masterpiece was a joke to me whenever I read this claim.
Out of all movies made since the beginning of the so called Disney Renaissance I liked Lion King, Alladin and Lilo & Stitch. Out of the three I’d vote for Lilo & Stitch any time because this was finally a movie in which no bad joke ruined some more serious moments that showed two siblings trying and fighting to survive. The humor on the other side finally felt not that childish or misplaced, in fact I love most of the jokes. I still crack up every time I see Stitch destroying a mini San Francisco he built moments earlier.
Unfortunately there was no such a moment in Atlantis. And even worse, I still feel the same as I felt after watching it some years ago: indifferent. And this is a shame because Atlantis truly felt as a movie with vast potential – if the big animation studio wouldn’t have wasted it.
For example, the beginning not only felt like a rip off from a certain movie called Stargate but also contained way too much exposition for my taste. It was like the writers rammed all information down my throat while not finding a better way to do this. But I won’t blame them. The movie as a whole felt like it was going too fast for its own good (the latest Star Trek comes to mind, too), so most likely it was the only way to go.
Nevertheless I think an additional 20 minutes would have helped tremendously. There was so much going on that nothing really felt important. It more felt like a rollercoaster that wasn’t able to stop.
For example it only took some mere minutes from Milo of having nothing to Milo having a crew with a submarine fighting a big giant mechanical monster that I simple couldn’t relate with this character or his circumstances.
You know besides the speed, the whole story in my eyes has one big narrative problem: the monster. This sequence felt like the ending although it wasn’t one. This was a big fight with a fucking huge mechanical monster. What could top that one? You know, first they fight this fucking huge mechanical monster and then…fireflies? Come on… What happened to the basic of an epic story that gets bigger over time?
Of course there was Atlantis itself and its problems. Yet they never really showed us the society with its problems so we’re able to relate to them. Basically they arrive in the city and minutes later Milo is solving everything. Well, I didn’t really care for the Atlantians or the stones because of this very lack in the script. Hence, the ending didn’t feel like the fight with this fucking huge monster.
Then there’s the character motivations. What would you do if a group of unknown people reach you after thousands of years? What would the implications be in a society that lived on its own for such a long time? You see, this is again something that could have been added to the script – but there simply was no time for something like that.
Moreover Atlantis has a story problem of epic proportions. As this movie shows, Disney tried to go for new demographics. As I would interpret it they tried to go from movies for children to movies for teens, so they tried to enter the world of anime which always focuses on that demographic. You can see the attempt on many occasions. People die in this movie. Many of them. You even see them dying. You see explosions, a big mystery etc etc.
Yet, at the same time Disney, perhaps out of habit, tried to address children. So, while Atlantis doesn’t care showing people dying it has problems with showing serious moments.
Take the beginning as an example. Milo tries to fund an expedition to Atlantis and he needs money for that. Fair enough. Well, after getting ditched via mail by his bosses he searches for them , finds them and wants to confront them. But then the scene goes into a “funny” hide-and-seek moment instead of a serious moment in which the old guys tell him to forget his silly dreams. (This is a problem that became even worse with Treasure Planet. Watch the “funny cops” scene at the beginning and you know what I mean).
Atlantis has some more of those awkward moments, yet none felt that wrong as this one.
Regarding animation quality there’s not much to say. The animation is fluid as always while the characters don’t “act” and pose as they’re in a bad drama – which is good.
On the other hand I could scream in agony because Disney used 3D animation on way too many occasions. I could understand this strategy if this would be some small TV animation project and they needed to cut costs whenever possible. But this was and is Disney for crying out loud.
Why animate the submarine by using a 3D model? Why adding so many useless camera movements that add nothing to the story? Why? I love 2D animation not because of those useless tricks but by the possibilities which are only bound by imagination. In 3D you can’t work with lines or abstract forms as in 2D. 3D is always bound by the underlying form, structure and volume.
Instead of trying to imitate 3D animation, Disney should have fully embraced 2D. A wonderful example of the vast possibilities is Fooly Cooly, a six part animation series I can fully recommend.
Another thing that bothered me to no end is the fact that the animation and especially the background quality nowadays is topped by TV productions. Atlantis might be older, but it’s never a good sign when it only takes some mere years to almost top one of the biggest animation studios.
Now, will Disney be able to regain some ground regarding animation and storytelling? I highly doubt it. In some months Disney will release The Princess and the Frog, an attempt to go back to the roots. Sadly, Disney interpreted this by the letters. The characters will sing, the animals will talk and the animation will most likely look as it did decades ago. There seems to be nothing new whatsoever.
Atlantis was a good step into the right direction. The story had big potential, but the conflicting strategies hurt the script way too much in my eyes.
In a way you could call Atlantis a chicken out of massive proportions. And a movie that was everything and nothing at the same time.