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Design wonderful, script pedestrian

Review: 'Atlantis' a place that's nothing special

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- Blending digital with traditional hand-drawn effects, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" is an action-filled adventure flick that will undoubtedly appeal to younger audiences. However, it doesn't ascend to the lofty heights achieved by other Disney classics, where the film enchants adults as much as it does children.

"Atlantis" certainly has a pedigree. It was created by the team of producer Don Hahn and directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, who made "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1996). The cast of voices is also terrific, including those of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Leonard Nimoy, David Ogden Stiers, John Mahoney, the late actor and comedian Jim Varney, and veteran voice-over actress Cree Summer.

But even with all that, "Atlantis" never soars.

Angry lobsters and healing crystals


CNN's Paul Clinton says Walt Disney's 'Atlantis' doesn't reach the high levels set by 'The Lion King' (June 14)

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Michael J. Fox and Cree Summer star in Walt Disney Pictures' 'Atlantis: The Lost Empire' (June 12)

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The story was inspired by the legend of the lost continent of Atlantis. The time is 1914. At the center of the story is a bespectacled naive museum cartographer/linguistics expert, Milo Thatch (Fox). He's convinced, based on stories from his eccentric grandfather, that Atlantis actually existed, and he is determined to prove it. With the help of a reclusive billionaire (Mahoney), Thatch embarks on his search in the company of Commander Rourke (Garner) and his band of mercurial misfits.

Traveling in Ulysses, a state-of-the-art -- for the time -- submarine, Thatch is armed with a long-lost journal that gives clues to the location of the fabled place. Along the way, Thatch and his gang battle a gigantic mechanical lobster -- yes, a lobster -- before finally reaching their goal.

But instead of discovering empty ancient ruins, Thatch and company find a lost city where the inhabitants have stayed alive for centuries surviving with the help of powerful (and healing) crystals. Of course, in this city there is a princess (Summer). And of course, Thatch falls in love with her.

But suddenly, Rourke and his men turn on Thatch and attempt to steal the powerful crystals -- and the princess. Yadda, yadda, yadda -- the battle between good and evil begins.

Disney-ing detail

"Atlantis" is the first pairing of Disney with animator Mike Mignola ("Hellboy," "Bram Stoker's Dracula"). His flat graphic style, blended with Disney's traditional animation, is being called "Dis-nola" by the studio. Mignola likes bold designs and works well with shadows and silhouettes, and all his characters have very angular faces. Everything in the film has a vaguely Southeast Asian feel to it, from the city to the costumes to the landscape. The animators really have created a whole new world.

Even a language was designed for the people of Atlantis. Linguistics expert Marc Okland, who also made up the Vulcan language for "Star Trek," came up with the Atlantean vocabulary and a corresponding 29-letter alphabet.

The studio calls the blending of Mike Mignola's flat graphic style with Disney's tradional animation "Dis-nola"  

Yes, Disney's attention to detail continues to be amazing. But the script by Tab Murphy ("Tarzan," 1999) is predictable and pedestrian, with only occasionally witty dialogue sprinkled here and there.

"Atlantis" is good, and kids will love it, but it doesn't achieve greatness. It's beginning to look like the exit of Jeffrey Katzenberg -- who left Disney to form DreamWorks with Steven Speilberg and David Geffen -- was the loss of more then just a mere "suit." DreamWorks' latest animated film, "Shrek" -- Katzenberg's baby -- contains the type of imaginative material that allows a movie to become magic for the whole family. "Atlantis" doesn't.

"Atlantis: The Lost Empire" opens nationwide Friday and is rated PG.

• Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Official Homepage

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