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Atlantis: The Lost Empire/Atlantis: Milo's Return (2001/2003)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/11/2013

All Ratings out of

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Atlantis: Milo's Return
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/18/2013

In my recent reviews for The Emperor's New Groove and Lilo & Stitch, I wrote about how the 2000s represented a sense of change for Walt Disney's animation studios. Following the decades of fairy-tale laden movie, the Mouse turned to more original stories which focused on unique stories and characters. However, sandwiched in between those two releases came a movie which represented somewhat of a step backwards for the animation giant. Atlantis: The Lost Empire traded in the company's new found quirkiness for an action-adventure motif which may not have been the best idea.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire opens with the ancient city of Atlantis being swallowed by the ocean. The scene then shifts to Washington, D.C. in the year 1914. Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox) is a cartographer who is obsessed with finding Atlantis, but his peers won't take him seriously. Milo is contacted by eccentric millionaire Preston Whitmore (voiced by John Mahoney), who was a friend of Milo's grandfather. Whitmore has discovered a key to the location of Atlantis, and he's willing to fund an expedition to find the mythical place. Milo jumps at this chance, and soon the motley crew, which includes Audrey (voiced by Jacqueline Obradors), Vinny (voiced by Don "Guido Sarducci" Novello), Mole (voiced by Corey Burton), Cookie (voiced by Jim Varney), and Rourke (voiced by James Garner), is assembled. They make the dangerous expedition to Atlantis, where they are met by Kida (voiced by Cree Summer), a princess. Milo learns that Atlantis is dying, but wants no interference from the outside world. Despite this, he strikes up a friendship with Kida and realizes that he may be able to help her and the city, if he can overcome a series of obstacles.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an "original" story in the sense that it's not based on a previously existing story. However, it is clearly mining Jules Verne territory with its central premise. Not unlike things like Journey to the Center of the Earth, we have a group of explorers following an ancient map and facing an array of challenges in order to find a lost civilization. We've also get a dash of Raiders of the Lost Ark thrown in for good measure. Milo may be more of a nerd than Indiana Jones, but they have a similar "academic turned hero feel". The makeup of the group feels like the sort of mis-matched crews we've seen in other movies, although few from the past would have had two females, as seen here.

The result is a movie which isn't bad, but it's never captivating, as a Disney animated film should be. For an action/sci-fi animated film to work, it has to be hitting on all cylinders, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire feels as if it's holding back at times, which keeps it from truly being exciting. (Although, I must say, the number of implied deaths in the first act is surprising.) Thus, we are left with the story of Milo and Kida and this isn't very interesting, despite solid voice acting from Fox. The most intriguing aspect of the film is the animation of Milo's team. Perhaps as a way to visually identify them as a group of misfits, each character is drawn in a different style. Audrey borders on having an anime look, while Helga looks like a pin-up girl.

Despite the fact that it's over a decade old, this was my first time seeing Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I have to admit, it simply didn't look appealing. While I was impressed with the animation and the production design of the vehicles and Atlantis itself, the story left much to be desired and I expect more from the directors of Beauty and the Beast. Again, coming between The Emperors New Groove and Lilo & Stitch, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a disappointment.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire gets all wet on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, most notably the glowing blue, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is very detailed, but it reveals no faults in the animation and the depth is just right. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a muscular track which provides detailed stereo and surround effects. During the finale, we feel as if we are in the middle of the action, as sounds move from side-to-side and front-to-back and the subwoofer emphasizes the explosions.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire provides an assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Producer Don Hahn and Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. "The Making of Atlantis" is a 2-hour documentary which is broken into 11 chapters. This focuses on many aspects of the film's planning process and production and contains comments from the filmmakers and cast, as well as concept art and ideas. Marc Okrand, the developer of the language heard in the film, gives us a quick lesson in "How to Speak Atlantean" (2 minutes). "Disneypedia -- Atlantis: Fact or Fiction?" explores this myth and offers some possible explanations for it. We get three TRAILERS for the film. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 17 minutes. The alternate opening if fully animated, but the other three are presented in storyboard form.

I don't know if it's written down somewhere, but apparently it's a law that we must get a direct-to-video sequel to Disney animated theatrical releases. Thus, Atlantis: Milo's Return appeared in 2003. The story takes place an indeterminate amount of time after the first film. Milo (now voiced by James Arnold Taylor) is helping Kida rebuild Atlantis. He's surprised when he gets a visit from his old friends. A sea monster has been attacking ships and they need Milo and Kida to come to the surface world and verify if the creature is from Atlantis. After that mystery has been tackled, they travel to the American southwest to investigate shadow coyotes. They then go to Iceland to stop a man who thinks that he's Odin.

Huh? As they've become the norm, I guess I can swallow yet another Disney sequel, but what's up with this. First of all, the inclusion of three unrelated stories makes this feel like pilot for a "Milo & Kida" TV show. Secondly, when did Atlantis become Scooby-Doo? Because that's exactly what these stories feel like. The group visits a location where something mysterious has been happening, gather clues, confront the villain, and solve the case. I don't think I've ever seen a movie and it's sequel which were simply light years apart of terms of tone and story. Atlantis: Milo's Return attempts to end in a fashion which links it more with Atlantis: The Lost Empire, but by that point, it's already far too late. Even if you can get in line with the fact that this is almost nothing like the first film, it's still a failure, as the stories are trite and predicable and the animation is sub Saturday-morning standards. (It looks as if the crew was given $17.50 and some pizza coupons and asked to hammer this thing out.) Disney isn't perfect, but it's rare for them to have mis-step like this.

Atlantis: Milo's Return has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source materials. The colors look good, although they are dull when compared to the first film. The brightness of the image remains stable throughout. The level of detail is good, but it only shows us the lack of detail in the animation. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The effects here are good and the mix works well, but the track has no power. We can detect stereo and surround effects, but they aren't very detailed and don't pack much of a punch.

Atlantis: Milo's Return offers one extra. We get one DELETED SCENE which runs at 32 seconds, and offers a twist which everyone was expecting from the first story, but never occurred.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.