Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Review: Disney's Atlantis

ATLANTIS: The Lost Empire. A lot has been made of how this movie borrows material and character designs from Gainax/Anno's Nadia, The Secret of Blue Water, Milo's and Kida's character designs in particular. Disney has denied this, but Nadia and Kida are so similar it's hard to believe that the Disney artists were unfamiliar with Nadia. However, the movie freely borrows material from a lot of other places as well, both from Western media and anime. Helga's character design and personality are heavily borrowed from Lara Croft and maybe Carmen Sandiego; the rotund and licentious French geologist looks and acts suspiciously like the Mole Man character from Escaflowne, those huge winged insects from Nausicaa seem to be flying around the city of Atlantis, and the guardian leviathan strongly resembles the giant sea beasts in The Phantom Menace. The guardian humanoid giants may also have a debt to the caretaker robots in Laputa and the God Soldiers from Nausicaa.. Disney even borrows from itself: Kida's character design looks a lot like a recycled Pocahontas.

The animation is marvelous. The light effects are especially impressive: when Milo and Preston Whitmore stand in front of a huge aquarium, the rippling light from the tank illuminates their faces in a beautiful and mysterious manner, appropriate to the 'Shadow of the Past' and 'Assignment of Mission' narrative of the scene. When Milo opens the hatch of an escape sub and rises out, the orange light from inside plays up over his body. The action scenes are well conceived and choreographed.

I was enjoying watching this thing and wondering why it hadn't been more popular than it is, until I got to the last 20 minutes, when everything gets turned upside down, the film turns into a post-modernist, vaguely leftist deconstruction of the whole Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider genre (with perhaps a Chomsky-esque subtext about American capitalism destroying Third World peoples), and then a veritable pantheon of dei ex machina show up and Fix Everything. The End. Owowowowowow!

What went wrong? Well, a lighthearted caper flick got turned into a violent (two deaths in the final minutes) political tract, with no preparation of the viewer that this was going to happen. 'Good' characters turn into 'Evil' characters, then turn back again, within a matter of a couple of minutes. Huh? The final deus ex machina sequence wasn't foreshadowed in any way.

There is an old maxim of playwriting, that says that if you show a gun in a drawer in Act I, it's got to be used by Act III. But the opposite is true, too: if your character pulls the gun from the drawer in Act III, your viewers are going to be annoyed if you didn't let them know it was there earlier. That's the problem with Atlantis, a drastic change in tone in the last few minutes, with no forewarning to the viewer. I certainly wish Disney would create more characters who are complex, troubled, ethical conundrums; but these aren't them. A racially and ethnically diverse cast isn't a substitute, especially when that diversity is just used for color (no pun intended), and the characters have no real depth. Each of them has a backstory (which is told around the campfire at one point), but none of the backstories have any influence on the characters' current actions: they're just window dressing.

Disney animation is really superb, and is getting better and better. But Disney has got to learn that animation doesn't make a movie, you've got to have interesting, complex characters, and plot. This may be an example of a larger current problem in American moviemaking, that of special effects taking precedence over all other values.

meaning: room
kyoushitsu == classroom
shitsunai == indoors
Top radical is 'roof', bottom radical is 'arrive'. Henshall suggests remembering this kanji as 'Arrive at roofed room'.


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