Though it certainly isn’t as beloved as the stone-cold Disney animated classics, 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire delivers an exciting, extremely well-produced adventure story. Lacking the sentimental heart of the more enduringly popular Disney features, The Lost Empire performed quite poorly at the box office (at least by Disney standards). Focused on the young male adventurer Milo (voiced by Michael J. Fox), the film probably lost some of the all-important young female demographic. This isn’t a princess-driven fairy tale, by any means. As Milo and company search for the legendary, long-lost city of Atlantis, Empire is dominated by sci-fi and fantasy action sequences.
For my money, it’s one of the most entertaining and visually dazzling features the studio has ever crafted. There are no songs. There is very little sappy, corny humor. The voice acting is sincere and generally understated (though Fox can get a little too golly-gee earnest in his delivery). The story is relatively mature and involving. Once Milo and his crew, including their double-crossing leader Commander Rourke (James Garner), find Atlantis and its survivors, a struggle arises surrounding the preservation of the Atlantean culture and its secrets. Rourke and his hired guns want to steal the powerful Atlantean crystals that provide great power.
Milo, on the other hand, must courageously protect the secret society. The romance that develops between he and Kida (Cree Summer), the Princess of Atlantis, is actually believably subtle. That probably didn’t help its kid appeal either, given that Kida is an atypically action-oriented, tomboyish princess. Her father is Kashekim Nedakh, reigning King of Atlantis. The king is voiced by Leonard Nimoy, who brought a great deal of regal gravity to the pivotal role. The destruction of Milo’s ship, the Ulysses, and the erupting-volcano climax are stunningly designed set pieces that keep The Lost Empire geared toward older audiences in a way that most Disney animated features are not.
Though official billed as a double feature, it’s easier to view Milo’s Return as this release’s most extravagant supplement rather than a standalone feature. Atlantis: Milo’s Return isn’t even a sequel, per se. It is three episodes of an aborted television series, Team Atlantis, strung together. Released direct-to-video in 2003, the return of some of the original’s primary cast (including John Mahoney and Cree Summer, but not Michael J. Fox) does little to improve this cheap knock-off.
To my eyes, this 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer of Atlantis: The Lost Empire looks quite good. The cool, moody color scheme, unusual as far as Disney goes, is well represented. This is a dark film, for the most part, with the underwater setting casting an aqua tint over most everything. The transfer handles it all very well. As for Milo’s Return, its bargain basement, made-for-TV roots are apparent in the animation. The transfer itself is okay, but hard to be impressed by given the cheap, shoddy look of the film itself.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix for Empire offers an easily satisfying experience. Action sequences provide good usage of the rear speakers. The LFE channel isn’t overly taxed, but collisions of various types are reasonably resonant. James Newton Howard’s score is integrated perfectly with the upfront dialogue. Return gets the lossless treatment as well with its own DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, not that this particular movie really needed it. Everything sounds fine, however, with an emphasis on crisp dialogue.
The supplements include a commentary (on Empire) by producer Don Hahn and co-directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. “The Making of Atlantis” is a comprehensive, hour-long piece that really covers the bases well. Fifteen minutes of deleted scenes are included for Empire and one short scene for Return (the sequel’s only feature). A couple very minor pieces (a jokey bit about speaking Atlantean and a “Fact or Fiction?” piece about the legend of Atlantis) round things out. The three-disc set also includes each film on its own standard DVD.
Despite being a tough sell a dozen years ago in theaters, Atlantis: The Lost Empire has survived as a richly entertaining, comic book-style action-adventure. As for the so-called “sequel,” better to have it included than not, but Atlantis: Milo’s Return is strictly kidvid material.