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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/30/02

Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Collector's Edition - 2001 (2002) - Disney

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Collector's Edition Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/B+/A+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A-

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
96 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with producer Don Hahn and directors Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise), visual commentary with producer and directors, DisneyPedia - Atlantis: Fact or Fiction? educational clips, film-themed menu screens, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Materials
Whitmore Industries Industrial Film introduction to the menus, film-themed tri-option menu system (featuring Explore mode, Tour mode and Files mode), behind-the-scenes featurettes on: the history of the movie (The Journey Begins, Creating Mythology, The Shepherd's Journal and How to Speak Atlantean), story and editorial content (Finding the Story, 4 deleted scenes and Original Treatment), art direction (Designing Atlantis, The Explorer's World Gallery, Atlantis Design Gallery, Mike Mignola Design Gallery and Style Guide), animation production (Setting the Scene, Layouts and Backgrounds, The Voices of Atlantis, Creating the Characters and Character Designs and Animation Tests), digital production (Digital Production Tests, Vehicles, Vehicle Size Comparison and Digital Characters), music and sound & publicity

"You are a scholar are you not? Judging by your diminished physique and large forehead you are suited for nothing else!"

If you grew up in the past fifty years, you grew up with Disney films. And Disney films are, to most of us, animated musicals. Think Snow White, or Cinderella. More recently, there have been classics like Beauty and the Beast, and all of them have one thing in common - musical productions. Oh yes, and they're animated.

As it turns out, however, Disney has a whole other tradition, which I'd forgotten about, truth be told. This tradition is embodied in flicks like the 1954 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (starring the much younger Kirk Douglas). Oddly enough, this tradition of grand adventures, sans musical productions, never got mixed in with the animated tradition Disney is most famous for. That is, they never got mixed in until a year ago with the release of Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

This is the kind of epic adventure best envisioned by the science-fiction writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jules Verne would be proud to see this intersection of the aforementioned considerable number of leagues under aforementioned sea with Journey to the Center of the Earth. Throw in the lost civilization of Atlantis for good measure, and you're just a few hundred animators away from one hell of a good time. The story runs something like this.

In 1914, Milo Thatch, a unfairly slighted linguist, believes an ancient book called "The Shepherd's Journal" is hidden somewhere in Iceland and that it contains the route to the lost city of Atlantis, hidden somewhere beneath the Earth's crust at the bottom of the ocean. The only problem is nobody believes him, with the exception of one old man who was buddies with Milo's beloved grandpa. The good news is that this old fellow, Preston B. Whitmore, is filthy rich and has already retrieved the Shepherd's Journal. He commissions an expert team of explorers and sends Milo on his way. In short order, they find Atlantis, though not until after they've destroyed one beautiful submarine. In no time at all, things go south and Milo has to fight for Atlantis' very survival, and quite possibly protect the world from a repeat of the cataclysm that sank Atlantis in the first place.

The wonderful thing about this film is they created a live-action adventure in animated form. You could easily take this out and turn it into the next Indiana Jones flick with merely a tweak or two. At the same time, it manages to retain that magical quality that Disney animation has always possessed, rendering a classic adventure tale perfectly transitioned into the 21st century. It's not perfect, but the weaknesses are minor. The voice acting from Michael J. Fox to the late Jim Varney (see if you can figure out the one line he didn't voice in the film) is spot on. The special effects are pretty seamless with the traditional animation, though you can easily notice their distinctive beauty. It should be noted that the special effects, though subtle, are really stunning. Listen to the audio commentary to get a sense of just how many of them are in here. Of course there's also the heart of it all, the story that is memorable and well executed. It isn't exactly innovative, but it doesn't have to be.

Now this little gem is available on DVD, and the question remains. Does it retain its magical quality? As it turns out, yes it does. There's actually plenty of areas where the video could fall flat. Animation has its own challenges, and the myriad special effects present another layer to consider. Some animated DVDs, think Titan A.E., have actually made the delineation between traditional and computer animation so sharp as to detract from the viewing experience. That is not the case here. Everything fleshes together relatively nicely, and the colors come out rich and well balanced. The darks are pretty abundant in the various sceneries, and they hold up well with sufficiently deep blacks.

The audio is also robust, with a strong dialogue presence over the powerful action effects. Everything from flying Atlantean vessels to an entire city being submerged come through. Explosions abound here and they come through crisply with ample oomph. The only minor quibble would be a request for a bit more bass in the action sequences. It's minor, and I'm a stickler for rumbles in my adventures, so your mileage may vary here.

But for this two-disc set the discussion should really focus on the extras, because there are a whopping many of them. The first disc, containing the film, actually has a couple notables. The standard audio commentary with the two co-directors and producer is chock full of info, as these guys keep spinning the yarn behind the making of the film from beginning to end. Animated feature-length films are often more involved than standard live-action flicks, and the stories that roll out of their making are an entertaining and usually diverse bunch. That's true here. But the truly interesting commentary is the visual one. Yes, you can listen to the guys do their thing, but if you switch on the visual option they'll stop at various points in the film to show you lengthy behind-the-scene footage. When they're done, they'll drop you back into the film right where you left off. It doesn't terribly extend the length of the film, so it's easy to sit down and really enjoy this option, which I'd like to see more of - hint, hint.

A set of brief clips with educational material targeted at young children rounds out the first disc, and then we move onto the second disc. Voluminous would be a word for this, and luckily Disney has tossed you some options to get through it all. When you pop in the supplements disc, an industrial film with Preston Whitmore will guide you through these options, of which there are three. You could use the standard drill-down menu exploration or you could run through a full, sequential index. Either is good for getting to what you want, but if what you want is everything on the disc you could (and should) choose the tour mode. In this way, you can grab a drink and watch two hours of bonus features playing continuously. It's a very nice way to get through all the material, more or less, and it happens to run longer than the film itself.

What will you actually see? Tons of featurettes, for one thing, will show you how they decided to make this film, how they created an enormously extensive mythology for their version of Atlantis, how to speak Atlantean, etc. etc. A nice bit on the Shepherd's Journal will allow you to really dive into their mythology before you move onto the story itself. Here you'll find deleted scenes (four of 'em), the original treatment, and a featurette entitled Finding the Story, which helps outline how they fleshed out this epic plotline in an animation environment. That, as it turns out, is a nice segue into the various design and art direction elements. Here you'll find galleries aplenty along with various featurettes on the design in the film. Add in a section on the characters, their development, the voice acting, the vehicles in the film, the digital production tests, featurettes on the music, and plenty of publicity material, etc. etc.

The bottom line is that we should all be clapping for Disney this time. Considering this was a film with children as the core audience, and in a world where plenty of kid films that should've gotten rich supplemental treatment got short changed (think Harry Potter), Disney should be commended for making this a film we adult film buffs can proudly display on our shelves. This really is a must have for animation fans, adventure film fans, Disney fans, and on and on. Hooray for the mouse!

Brad Pilcher
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