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Released in 2001, when CG animation was starting to rival 2D in a big way, Atlantis: The Lost Empire was Disney's science-fiction love letter to Jules Verne and, while it was successful at the box-office, the film got mixed reviews so it remains a cult favourite.

This wasn't your typical Disney musical aimed at a very young audience, Atlantis is a song-free action adventure with a proper sci-fi plot and it feels more like a big-budget Spielberg epic or a Star Wars movie set underground than anything else. The plot sees nerdy linguist and cartographer Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox) lead an expedition to Atlantis after his research piques the interest of an eccentric millionaire. He is joined by a team of loveable misfits, mysterious femme-fatale Helga Sinclair and stern Commander Lyle Rourke. After a surprisingly deadly run-in with an unusual creature under the ocean, the gang finally reach Atlantis where Milo meets Princess Kida (Cree Summer) and they both start to learn about the lost city's origins. Just as the film starts to feel familiar with Kida being a princess wanting more from life like Ariel or Jasmine, unexpected twists and turns are thrown in and we get a thrilling conclusion to the sci-fi epic we were introduced to. The voice cast, which includes Leonard Nimoy, James Garner and Jim Varney, is excellent, as is James Newton Howard's roller-coaster ride of a score.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is not only one of Disney's most imaginative and daring films (a lot of people die on and off-screen) but also one of the most visually striking. The animation is top-notch, Atlantis' design including its culture and technology is appropriately alien yet convincingly so plus CGI is used to emphasise the beauty of the 2D animation rather than being there just for the heck of it. The action sequences are exciting, the characters are fun and the story is simple enough for anyone to follow, even though the youngest viewers might lose interest in-between the more light-hearted slapstick moments. The Atlantis theme is one that has been tackled by cartoons time and time again, DuckTales as recently as this year gave it a shot, but that story has rarely been told quite as well as it was in this movie. You can tell that Disney made a genuine effort to do something very different by focusing on a more grown-up adventure without ever getting distracted and losing interest halfway through, something they would ironically do only a year later with Treasure Planet.

Critics who didn't like this movie back in the day might not have expected something this bold, especially after a goofy llama movie, so the initial reluctance to make this the hit it deserved to be is understandable. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is not only a great movie but also one of the most underrated modern sci-fi epics and it deserves more recognition, a 3D re-release at the very least.


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