Following years of accusations that it sticks too close to tested formulas, Disney has spent the past couple of years trying to expand its boundaries. This admirable urge paid off especially well in last winter's terrifically funny The Emperor's New Groove, which, in an extremely un-Disney move, imported the high-energy cartoonishness of classic Warner Brothers shorts. Atlantis looks to a different model. On screen, the full title reads Atlantis: The Lost Empire, but a better subtitle might have been My First Action Movie. Atlantis stretches the Disney look over a standard action-movie mold, but little aside from the animation sets it apart from competing summer fare. Boasting an easily summarized concept, a spectrum-spanning cast of one-note characters, scores of disposable extras, bright glowing lights, overly expository dialogue, gunplay, explosion upon explosion, and a plot that moves in double-time, Atlantis needs only snappy one-liners and human flesh to fit right in with the rest of the pack. Instead, it sports an animated WWI-era nerd (voiced by Michael J. Fox) whose late grandfather bequeathed him insatiable curiosity and an obsession with the lost city of Atlantis. After his quest for funding once again reaches a dead end, Fox is swiftly recruited by an eccentric billionaire who teams him with ace explorers headed by a shifty-looking soldier (James Garner). Together they search for and, naturally, find Atlantis. The directing team of Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale couldn't have created a less wonder-inducing lost world if they'd aspired to the task. Though their kingdom looks impressive, the white-haired inhabitants of Atlantis seem to spend all their time scavenging for food while wearing vaguely African-looking masks. Their limited resources might explain why only one, a shapely princess (Cree Summer), has been allotted a personality. If not for the stately palaces, Fox and friends might just as easily have stumbled across an abandoned summer camp. The character and production design owe debts to anime (an obvious influence even without the controversy over Atlantis' resemblance to a popular Japanese series) and to comics creator Mike Mignola (Hellboy), who worked on the project. They add a pleasingly off-the-norm feel to the film, but it's in service of a plot driven entirely by pyrotechnic set-pieces, which quickly become as wearying as those of Atlantis' live-action counterparts. Though not a disaster in any sense, the fast-moving, good-looking, instantly forgettable film plays like an attempt to indoctrinate young viewers into a lifetime of mild diversion, one in which so much flash and distraction kills any need for magic.
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