I recently lost a bet with my friend Mark Diba, and now he’s making me watch seven dreadful movies produced by DisneyToon Studios. Follow along with my decent into madness HERE.
Tonight I revisited Atlantis: The Lost Empire for the first time in almost ten years, and was incredibly surprised by just how good it is! It’s a weird, gorgeous, ambitious, and deeply geeky movie that came out just a few years too early to get the appreciation that it deserves, and it’s high time it get a critical reappraisal.
I also watched its direct-to-video sequel and was not at all surprised by its agonizing badness.
Atlantis: Milo’s Return finds the crew of the original film returning to Atlantis to enlist the help of Milo and Kida in combatting weird phenomena cropping up all around the world. They find themselves battling sea monsters, ghost coyotes, and an ancient Norse deity as Kida learns about the surface world and wrestles with her position as the ruler of the Atlantean people.
If it seems like an odd choice for Disney to make a cheapie sequel follow up to one of their most notorious bombs, you’d be right. In fact, this was never intended to be a movie, but rather it’s three episodes from the planned Team Atlantis TV series that was scrapped when The Lost Empire tanked. This is little more than an attempt at minimizing their losses on the episodes of the show they had already produced.
Looking at it through that lens, the premise for the show is actually kind of interesting. A sort of kiddie X-Files show where the characters discover how technology from the ancient Atlantean empire left its impact on the world long after Atlantis itself disappeared beneath the ocean.
The problem, predictably, is that the execution is godawful.
Having Kida roam the world and be forced to confront the fallout of her father’s militaristic rule is a pretty solid idea for a continuation of the story and themes explored in The Lost Empire, but the reality is that it never does anything more than pay lip service to these ideas. Instead, it’s just a series of Milo and friends going on wacky, unrelated supernatural adventures that end up having some kind of tenuous connection to Atlantean technology. Kida, who should ideally be the focus, ends up playing, at best, third fiddle and is mostly just around as an excuse to have an obligatory “LOL, Kida doesn’t understand our culture” gag and an on-the-nose explanation of the moral every episode.
Incidentally, the connective tissue they added to try to backwardly craft this into a complete narrative ends up being the worst part of the whole thing. It all feels so obviously out of place, and the stuff at the beginning in particular is physically painful to watch. The worst offender though, is the end of the movie (spoilers, I guess? Do you really care? You shouldn’t) where after seeing the way Atlantean technology was corrupted and abused by humans who misunderstood it, Kida decides the best thing to do is to raise Atlantis to the surface and share its technology with the world. The ending narration assures us that the world became a better place because of this, but that idea is so clearly at odds with both the original film and the bulk of the sequel.
The thing is, though, that no one making this probably gave a damn whether or not it made sense. While the original film was ambitious and bold and extensively researched, this is nothing more than a half-hearted attempt to salvage the last remnants of a failed franchise.