Watching these Disney films in order of release has afforded me a rather unique opportunity: I’m able to pick up patterns in film-making and storytelling styles throughout the years that I may have otherwise overlooked. After watching films like Atlantis, Dinosuar, and The Emperor’s New Groove back to back, I’ve started to notice that the early 2000s seem to be a period in Disney’s history when they were making animated films that just didn’t feel like Disney movies. Now, I’m willing to admit that this could entirely be a matter of opinion, as I was hitting an age where Disney was considered a bit beneath me and had lost much of the magic it held in my younger years. It’s entirely possible that Disney’s film style didn’t change all that much, but merely that I changed. Still, I can’t help but feel that the films of this era don’t quite have that particular spark that was found in many of Disney’s earlier endeavors. The films aren’t bad, they’re just different.
Take Atlantis for example. Atlantis is set in the early 1900s and focuses on Milo, a young historian who has spent his life studying artifacts that may lead him to the fabled city of Atlantis. Funded by an elderly and very rich old friend of his grandfather (because honestly, who else ever funds these types of missions?) Milo and an assembled crew embark on a mission to prove that Atlantis was real. Along the way much of their crew is lost, and once they reach their destination they realize that Atlantis is not as ancient as they once believed. No, its people are still alive and inhabiting the hidden city. What follows is Milo’s attempt to save these people and their secret way of life from the exploitative nature of his crewmates.
For some unknown reason, this movie never really grabbed me. It didn’t as a kid, and I’ll even admit, it didn’t fare much better after rewatching. I was a history major in college and an avid reader of historical tomes, and love a good myth brought to life, and yet somehow Atlantis doesn’t grab me that way I might expect. It’s a fine film, and one I certainly respect more as an adult than I think I did as a child, but it’s still not one that i would consider my absolute favorites. Perhaps it’s because portions of the story, particularly those that focus on the lore surrounding the island of Atlantis itself, are left somewhat murky and vague within the movie. I wanted a richly detailed and developed story exploring the inner workings of this fantastical secret civilization, and what I got was a glossed over version with a hazy backstory not a lot of focus on the actual people of the city. Truth be told, only two of the city’s residents are ever even named: the king and his daughter, who just so happens to become the love interest of our hero Milo (because again, of course). The rest of the population remains nameless and, for the most part, faceless. More attention is given to Milo’s crewmates, who each have their own unique personality and are far more memorable than any of the citizens of Atlantis.
This may be my biggest complaint about the film. For a movie titled Atlantis, there just wasn’t enough about the actual city included. There’s a lengthy lead-up to the team even reaching the city, and once there the film attempts to cram an entire civilization’s history into approximately five minutes of backstory. While I love the exploratory element to the story, I think I might have preferred if the film was just set in Atlantis’s heyday, and maybe explained why and how the city sank beneath the sea. The story Disney told was still decent, it just wasn’t as fascinating as I wanted it to be.
All of that aside, I do still think Atlantis is a decent film. It may not be groundbreaking or deep, but it’s still enjoyable to watch. As I said before though, it’s missing that certain spark of magic that was so prevalent in earlier Disney films. As with the other animated Disney movies made at this time, I tend to forget that this movie is a Disney production at all. Perhaps the studio was trying something new, or trying to compete with the other animation studios cropping up at the time. While Disney’s films from this period aren’t bad, I’m glad they would eventually return to the style of film-making they do best. That touch of heart and sincerity is sorely lacking in these movies, and is a facet of the films I’m finding myself anxious to see return.