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Atlantis

Starring Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer and Leonard Nimoy
Screenplay by Tab Murphy; story by Wise & Trousdale, Joss Whedon, Bryce Zabel & Jackie Zabel, Tab Murphy
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
website: www.disney.com/atlantis

IN SHORT: A Verne-tastic visual spectacular with, we think, a nod to King Kirby. [Rated PG. 100 minutes]

It used to be that just the thought of a great adventure, mixed with intimations of danger and thrills, was enough to make a great adventure. That you could make grander and/or scarier images in your own head was one of the reasons that great adventure writers like Jules Verne succeeded. They laid out the path and your brain filled in the pictures. Big screen movies have been trying to match that ever since and, the bigger the computers get, the bigger the live action effects get.

Why all that when we're writing about an animated film? It's because pictures is pictures and the animation produced for this flick is among the best looking 'toons we've seen come out of the Disney starting blocks. That shouldn't have surprised us. Atlantis is helmed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, who last launched The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Like Hunchback, there's an annoying supporting character that exists for the kidlets. Nothing that gets in the way of enjoying the movie.

We're stuck in a quandary here, folks. Telling you all the really good stuff would spoil the thrill of the adventure ... and the only thing that didn't work well for us is going to make it sound like we didn't like Atlantis, which is not the case. To be concise, Atlantis is about as family friendly as you can get, without being impossible for the adults to sit through or too cerebral for the kidlets.

As we all "know," the continent of Atlantis was an island that lay, before the Great Flood, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Men have searched for its ruins for years and now -- now being 1914 -- the bold adventurer Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is determined to pick up where his grandfather left off. That is, if his superiors at the museum where he works as an expert in dead languages will finance his plans. His superiors would prefer that he stick to his work and continue to fix the boiler, when it breaks.

Enter gazillionaire Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney), who traveled with Milo's grandfather and provides the key -- an ancient book called the Shepherd's Journal -- and the financing to begin the search. Commander Rourke (James Garner) is the military man in charge and the intrepid crew includes his right hand enforcer Helga (Claudia Christian), munitions man Vinny Santorini (Don Novello), medical whiz Dr. Sweet (Phil Morris), Cookie the Cook (Jim Varney), excavator extraordinaire Gaetan "Mole" Moliere (Corey Burton), and chief mechanic Audrey Ramirez (Jacqueline Obradors). Their ship carries of hundreds of extra workers and tons of heavy duty drilling and truck-type equipment, all perfectly disposable when it comes to facing the terrors and hazards of the deep. All, for the most part, kept offscreen so you won't have to explain what happened to them to any kids you'll bring. You'll know. One for the grownups. It's a perfectly good balancing act. One which is hard to do when you need to balance adult viewing expectations with the need to keep the kidlets happy.

That story moves quickly along as our explorers track the trail to what they expect to be the ruins of Atlantis. We'll leave out the obstacles they face on that journey just to note that when the ruins are found, they are not ruins at all. There's a living, cloistered society that hasn't had "human" contact in several millennia still alive, led by a King (Leonard Nimoy) who would prefer to see his visitors killed on the spot. Saving their lives is the Princess Kida (Cree Summer), for reasons of her own. As for the plot twist that comes next, again one for the adults, that is something you may have to explain to the bigger kidlets. Said twist passes quickly amidst a barrage of artistic special effects. That's the problem with trying to create in pictures something that is beyond the scope of imagination, in this case the technology of a civilization that was thousands of years advanced when it vanished from the face of the earth. Atlantis goes heavy on the pictures which will keep the tots enthralled. Heck, we love animation. We loved looking at the pictures but the grownup brain didn't get snagged by what should have been the wonder of it all.

That didn't stop us from going back to watch it again.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Atlantis, he would have paid . . .

$7.00

On that second view, in an ending we won't give away, we thought to ourselves how much the visuals looked liked something Jack Kirby did at about the time he was creating his "Fourth World". It's a strictly visual impression and one which means nothing if you don't know the world of comics and toons. We don't know if the nod is deliberate or not, but the pix look Kirby-esque enough to make us think it is so.

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