- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

Too many influences and a couple of misguided command decisions appear to sow confusion and thwart the happy-go-lucky entertainment potential in the new Disney animated feature "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." Something self-defeating definitely begins to gum up the works after a promising getaway. The plaintive question of a weary youngster overheard at a press screening may haunt the filmmakers: "Can we go home now?"

The title dictates the ultimate mythical destination for a group of explorers who set out in 1914, financed by a secretive tycoon, Preston B. Whitmore (voiced by John Mahoney). They are handsomely supplied with a wonder vessel, a prodigiously futuristic submarine called Ulysses. Whitmore has been privy to the speculation of a young dreamer named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), a neglected brainiac employed in the boiler room of the Smithsonian Institution. Ridiculed by its board of governors, Milo hopes to realize his late, beloved grandpa´s dream of discovering Atlantis, guided by a log called the Shepherd´s Journal.

One´s initial gander of the Ulysses is eye-popping. It makes Capt. Nemo´s Nautilus in the 1955 Disney adaptation of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" look like the low-priced compact of fanciful submarines. Initial introductions to the crew members are humorously auspicious. This is especially true with a molelike tunneling expert of French extraction named Gaetan Moliere (Corey Burton) and a communications "officer" named Mrs. Packard (Florence Stanley), who operates from a switchboard, sustaining an endless conversation with a crony while a cigarette perpetually dangles from the side of her cynical mouth.

It sounds reassuring to hear James Garner as the voice of the skipper, Cmdr. Rourke, surely a fond allusion to Cmdr. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. It seems logical to think of the Ulysses as a super-duper Starfish Enterprise even more so when Leonard Nimoy is heard as the voice of a venerable king of Atlantis, reputedly 25,000 years old by surface calendars.

Alas, it proves impossible for the king to take a voyage on the majestic Ulysses, quickly demoted to the expendable Ulysses. Major doubts started to cloud my appreciation when the Ulysses was scuttled on such short acquaintance, the loser in an ill-timed showdown with a giant mechanical squid called Leviathan.

Here´s this seemingly awesome ship, and the filmmakers don´t even show enough consideration to let us look around and savor its dimensions, fixtures and innovations for a reel or so. In the spirit of "Titanic," I suppose, it´s everybody overboard, and the quicker the better.

The Leviathan encounter also appears to cost the lives of numerous crew members, blithely sacrificed in the interests of traveling light during the next phase of the screenplay, credited to Tab Murphy, a suspicious name for a writer. Anyway, the surviving explorers find themselves under the South Atlantic, traversing "Journey to the Center of the Earth" terrain while bound for Atlantis, which duly emerges as a subterranean Eden of preposterous curiosity value.

Sort of "Brigadoon" without ameliorating songs and dances, Atlantis is hostage to oodles of New Age spiritualism and idealized Indian ethnic piety (shades of the Disney "Pocahontas" here).

The architectural heritage suggests Mormon monumentalism although without an actual cathedral to enter and maybe unify the populace in exalted aspirations.

Milo becomes sweet on the resident princess, granddaughter to Mr. Nimoy´s cranky old monarch. Named Kida and dubbed by Cree Summer, this divine cupcake is a risible eyeful, a trimly racked cartoon goddess who can make crystals do wondrous things. The crystals evidently are a supernatural power source on Atlantis, though insufficient to elevate it anew.

I much prefer the title improvised by one of my granddaughters: "Atlantis: The City That Drownded." This emphasis might enhance the spectacular nature of Kida´s climactic transformation from prospective to self-evident goddess when she walks on water and levitates in jet-stream spirals.

An abundance of illustrative skill and adequate reserves of incidental humor argue for some forgiveness as the movie malfunctions in strategic and human-interest respects.

With "Shrek" already firmly established as a comedy favorite in the summer market, Disney may have to resign itself to also-ran status with "Atlantis," the undersea spectacle imprudently contrived to sink itself.

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