Atlantis: The Lost Empire (PG)
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Caution: potential spoilers.
This came out in 2001, and I have wanted very much to see it ever since then, but I didn't get it on DVD until 2020. It didn't make as much money as Disney would have liked, and it got mixed reviews, but I must say I wasn't at all disappointed by it. Quite the opposite, it was probably even better than I expected, so I'm really glad I've finally seen it.
The movie begins with a tidal wave submerging the continent of Atlantis under the ocean, though a small part of it is saved by some kind of energy shield. Over 8000 years later, in 1914, a cartographer and linguist named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) has a theory about a book called "The Shepherd's Journal," which supposedly reveals the location of the now-mythical lost city of Atlantis. It was previously believed that this book, if it existed, was somewhere in Ireland, but Milo believes that was a mistranslation, and the book is actually in Iceland. He tries to convince the board of directors at the museum where he works to finance an expedition to find the journal, but none of them believe Atlantis ever really existed at all.
When he goes home that night, he finds a mysterious German woman named Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian from Babylon 5) waiting for him. She takes him to meet her employer, a wealthy man named Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney from Frasier), who had been friends with Milo's late grandfather, who had also wanted to find Atlantis. Whitmore gives Milo a gift his grandfather had left for him, in Whitmore's care. It turns out to be The Shepherd's Journal, and Milo uses his skills to translate the long-dead Atlantean language. Whitmore also funds an expedition aboard a giant submarine called the Ulysses, to find Atlantis. The commander of expedition is Lyle Rourke (James Garner), who has his own reasons for wanting to find Atlantis. The Ulysses has a crew of 200, but the main team includes Rourke's lieutenant, Helga; a half African-American, half Native American doctor named Joshua Strongbear Sweet (Phil Morris); an Italian demolitions expert named Vinny Santorini (Don Novello), a French geologist and mining expert named Gaetan "Mole" Molière (Corey Burton, reminding me here of a deranged Peter Lorre); a teenage Puerto Rican mechanic named Audrey Ramirez (Jacqueline Obradors), a cook named Jebidiah "Cookie" Farnsworth (Jim Varney, playing him like a old-time prospector or something); and a radio operator named Wilhelmina Packard (Florence Stanley).
When they get close to finding the entrance to an underwater tunnel that would lead to Atlantis, the sub is attacked by an enormous monster, a Leviathan that dwarfs the Ulysses, though the monster turns out to be a machine. The explorers put up a good fight, but the sub is destroyed, with most of the crew being killed. (I do like the Rourke later takes a moment to remember them before continuing with the mission.) Anyway, a sort of escape pod and a larger submersible get away from the Leviathan and enter the tunnel, which leads to a cave with dry land. From there it will still take some time to reach Atlantis itself, and Milo begins to get to know the team better. Once they do finally find Atlantis, Milo meets a woman named Kida (Cree Summer), and tries to communicate in Atlantean, though it's soon revealed that the people of Atlantis are fluent in several other languages, including English. However, Kida's elderly father, Kashekim Nedakh (Leonard Nimoy), the king of Atlantis, wants the explorers to leave. Rourke convinces him to let them stay for just one night. Meanwhile, Milo and Kida get better acquainted, as he wants to learn more about Atlantis, and she wants... well, also to learn more about Atlantis. It turns out she doesn't know how to read her own people's language; probably no one left alive except the king does. While she takes him to read an inscription that would help learn more about the past, Rourke and his team take the other Atlanteans hostage. He wants to find the "heart of Atlantis," an incredible power source that could make him and his team incredibly rich.
Beyond that, I don't want to spoil any more details. But I do think it's an incredibly cool movie, with great animation (including a bit of CGI), great action, a good story (which is darker and more adult than most Disney movies), and decent characters and humor. Oh, and the Atlantean language was created by Marc Okrand, a name that was known to me as the creator of Star Trek's Klingon language (since I've got a couple of Klingon dictionaries). And one of the production designers was comic book artist Mike Mignola. And... I don't know what else to say, except I don't think there's anything not to like about the movie.
Oh, right I learned on Wikipedia that there were allegations of plagiarizing some story ideas from an anime series called "Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water." But since I haven't seen that, I can't comment. (I do hope to watch it someday, though.)
There's also a direct-to-video sequel called "Atlantis: Milo's Return," which I didn't like well enough to bother reviewing. I can only describe it as being like three bad Scooby-Doo movies crammed together.