The Lost Empire
Animated, with voices by Michael J. Fox, James Garner
In much the same way that training wheels ease kids into bike riding, so Atlantis: The Lost Empire introduces youngsters to the questionable motors-and-munitions appeal of action-adventure movies. Although the level of gunplay and violence is toned down considerably in Atlantis, this animated Disney feature is only marginally more of a cartoon than, say, The Mummy Returns or Battlefield Earth.
Atlantis's bespectacled hero, whose resemblance to Harry Potter can't be entirely accidental, is Milo Thatch (appealingly voiced by Fox), a linguist who in 1914 dreams of finding the fabled lost underwater continent. He joins forces with a ragtag group of explorers led by the hulking Commander Rourke (Garner) and heads deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean in an early-model submarine, one of many cool-looking imaginative vehicles featured here. After battling a giant mechanical lobster and overcoming other headaches, the group discovers Atlantis, where Milo befriends a native princess (Cree Summer) and learns that Rourke's intentions toward the deep-sea kingdom are far from benevolent. The movie then takes a New Age-ish turn, with everyone wearing crystals and talking about the collective spirits of ancestors. One almost expects Deepak Chopra to paddle by.
With all the battles and touchy-feely babble, character development and plausible plot sink without a trace. Scrawny Milo is such a preppy milquetoast, you almost expect him to don whites and ask, "Tennis, anyone?" Vocal honors for the movie are awarded to Don Novello (Saturday Night Live's Father Guido Sarducci), who brings a droll languor to his role as a bang-happy demolition expert, and to gravel-voiced Florence Stanley as the ship's radio operator, who keeps muttering, "We're all gonna die." (PG)