Our review of Atlantis: The Lost Empire / Milo's Return (Blu-ray), published June 13th, 2013, is also available.
The fearless explorers from Disney's hit animated movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire are back!
Milo my boy, you should have stayed at home.
Facts of the Case
When last we saw intrepid young archeologist Milo Thatch (voiced by James Taylor—no, not the singer-songwriter who used to be married to Carly Simon—replacing Michael J. Fox), he had saved the legendary undersea city of Atlantis, won the heart of its princess, the fetching Kida (veteran voice actress Cree Summer reprises her role from the original film here), and taken up a permanent place as scholar-in-residence. Some indeterminate period of time later, Kida is now Atlantis' queen and Milo her consort. This time, it is the surface world that faces disaster—disaster for which the Atlanteans may somehow be unwittingly responsible.
To the rescue come the members of Milo's previous expedition: demolition expert Vinny Santorini (Don Novello, better known as Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live), physician Dr. Joshua Sweet (Phil Morris, TV's Wanda at Large), mechanic Audrey Ramirez (Jacqueline Obradors, A Man Apart, NYPD Blue), geologist Gaetan "the Mole" Moliere (Corey Burton), radio operator Mrs. Packard (Florence Stanley, forever remembered as Barney Miller's Mrs. Fish), and short order specialist Cookie (Steven Barr standing in for the late Jim Varney). With the old gang comes Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney, Frasier), Milo's benefactor and mentor.
The team ventures to the surface on three separate missions—missions that carry the explorers to a quaint European fishing village threatened by a giant squidlike sea monster called the Kraken; to the American Southwest, where ghostly coyotes made of sand terrorize a desert town; and to Iceland, to stave off a world-ending cataclysm ignited by a madman who apparently spent way too many childhood hours reading Mighty Thor comics.
You've heard the old adage, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch," right? Apparently that little principle was news to the folks at the Mouse Factory. Before Disney's release of the theatrical spectacular Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Mickey and Company greenlighted an animated television series called Team Atlantis, reprising several characters from the film. The show would air on both the Disney Channel cable network and as part of the Disney package of Saturday morning cartoons on ABC-TV. The only problem was that Atlantis the movie sank at the box office like cement overshoes, leaving no viable market for the dozen or so episodes (of a planned 39) of Team Atlantis that had already been cranked out. Oops.
Never a corporation big on letting inventory molder in cold storage (except for Song of the South, a political Pandora's box even Lara Croft would hesitate to open, and those scads of Lilo and Stitch: Special Edition DVDs that inexplicably got back-burnered at the last minute), Disney took a handful of episodes from the abortive Team Atlantis concept, intercut them with some new interlocutory footage, and came up with Atlantis: Milo's Return. It's every bit as awful as its convoluted history would lead you to believe. Imagine an overlong montage of Scooby-Doo mysteries—from that noxious, creatively bankrupt period when Scooby and the gang kept running into Don Knotts and the Harlem Globetrotters everywhere they went—patchworked together into an incoherent jumble, with twice as many annoying supporting characters to shoehorn into the rambling storyline, and you've pretty well envisioned this tedious (boy, does it ever feel longer than 80 minutes) debacle.
None of the three primary stories (three-and-a-half, if you count the "rise-of-Atlantis" mumbo-jumbo that brackets the narrative) makes a scintilla of sense. The pieces of the puzzle are strung together in such a cockeyed fashion that it's tough to determine whether they would have played better in their original incarnation or not. Characters appear and disappear with little or no explanation as to where they've been or what they've been doing since last seen. The Team Atlantis structure apparently didn't allow for using all of the cast in every episode, to (1) make things easy for the animators, (2) simplify the stories for a pre-adolescent audience, or (3) save money on voice actors—take your pick. So without a scorecard, it's virtually impossible to keep track of who's participating in which phases of the action. To add insult to injury, the dialogue is dumb, clunky, and pretentious. The producers also found it necessary to insert that wearisome kidvid standby, the cute animal mascot (this time, it's a salamander-like rock-eating dog named Obby), to amuse the toddlers.
The animation quality is what you'd expect from Disney's hackwork made-for-the idiot-box fare—stiff, awkward, and cheap-looking. Which is a shame, because one of the few positives of Atlantis: The Lost Empire was its stellar art design. The characters and backgrounds in Atlantis: Milo's Return are sketchy caricatures of those in the original film. Fortunately, we have most of the movie's voice cast back for another paycheck. (Among the missing are Michael J. Fox, who's been replaced on Milo duty by the nondescript James Taylor; Jim Varney, who died before Atlantis: The Lost Empire was released; and James Garner and Claudia Christian, whose villainous characters were bumped off during the first movie, for which their agents are grateful.) The returnees all contribute decent performances, but they're given nothing interesting to say, nor any compelling drama with which to work.
For those who must indulge, Atlantis: Milo's Return arrives in an anamorphic no-wider-than-it-has-to-be 1:66 transfer that offers vivid colors, crisp contrasts, and clean, clear video and audio, but precious little entertainment value. Edge halos crop up occasionally, but you'll find no other defects to distract from the viewing experience. Rather than invest in genuine artwork and scripts, Disney decided to blow a chunk of change on a DTS soundtrack option (on a low-tech kiddie cartoon? when there's already a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track included?) that doesn't add a great deal of new dimension. Dialogue is well-recorded and strongly focused, but the surround effect mix is minimal and the dynamic range overall seems fairly compressed.
Supplement seekers will be disappointed with the sparse choices here. We get one deleted scene (actually an extended ending to the Kraken episode that's more clever and amusing than anything else in the program). A repetitive set-top game called Search for the Spear of Destiny requires a beginner's level of dexterity, and delivers trivial lost-civilization factoids as reward cookies for successful play. As with every Disney release these days, the disc opens with a near-endless gauntlet of previews, teasers, and trailers—The Lion King: Special Edition, The Haunted Mansion, Jungle Book 2, Stitch: The Movie, Bionicle: Mask of Light (which does not, despite its title, appear to be a Thomas Kinkade biopic), and the Disney TV show Kim Possible. Masochists can call up all of the above (plus a promo for the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea two-disc set) for repeat viewing via a Sneak Peeks menu screen.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As one of the infinitesimal minority who found Atlantis: The Lost Empire somewhat worthwhile (see my Verdict on the Collector's Edition DVD for details), I'm sorry to see how lackluster and pointless this direct-to-video follow-up turned out. More than that, I'm wondering why Disney didn't simply package a few episodes of the stillborn Team Atlantis in their original format, rather than perpetrate the charade of presenting these three as a feature-length sequel. As discrete segments, the stories might have had slightly more impact that they do as loosely linked, ill-fitting pieces of a noncohesive whole. In the pseudo-anthology structure employed in Atlantis: Milo's Return, the viewer is simply left confounded. Next time, Mouseketeers, don't try to transform lemons into lemonade. Just serve up the lemons, and we'll let you know how sour they are.
Nothing here the kidlets can't improve upon by channel-surfing any weekday afternoon. On the other hand, no actual lava dogs, sand coyotes, or humongous cephalopods were harmed during the making of this uninvolving exercise in budget-conscious animation. Save the rental fee for a rainy day.
The Mouse Factory is found guilty of blatant product recycling. All parties are sentenced to a weekend cataloging the Judge's back issues of Sub-Mariner. We're adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Set-Top Game: Search for the Spear of Destiny
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