Opinion: Disney’s Atlantis: the Lost Empire – Good or Trash?

Note: this blog contains spoilers. I implore you to watch the film first before reading.

All images © Disney

I thought Atlantis: the Lost Empire was a great movie.

You’re thinking either one of two things right now. 1. “You liked Atlantis? That crappy Disney flick? How could you even remotely like that? 2. “That isn’t an unpopular opinion! Everyone likes that movie!” Please, let me explain.

To answer the first question: Yeah, well, that’s just, like, my opinion, man. I believe that any opinion has validity as long as one can back it up well. To answer the second question: Not exactly. Critics were pretty divided on this one. Atlantis holds a 52% approval rating on Metacritic, and a 49% on Rottentomatoes. Moreover, audiences are pretty split on this film. Most individuals I personally know either love this movie or dislike it. In fact, the above two questions are actual responses I received.

Now, the obvious question is, why such a split opinion?

There are a few reasons for this, but first let’s look at the film’s history. At the time of this film’s release, Disney was just coming out of the Disney Renaissance. Not knowing where to go next, it seems that Disney wanted to forego their usual musical format and attempt to connect with older audiences.

However, since it was simultaneously an adult-oriented film and a Disney film, individuals were confused over who exactly this film was being marketed to. Disney’s plan obviously failed, and the film was a critical and commercial disappointment.

So, why do many individuals have a low opinion of this film?

Well, the plot is a little contrived. See if this sounds familiar: Group wishes to destroy a civilization for their own personal gain. In the film, Rourke wishes to steal the crystal, Atlantis’ life source, and make money off of it. This would kill the citizens of Atlantis as a result.  The main character, who is a part of this group, breaks his affiliation with the group to help save the civilization. In the film, Milo betrays the team that he discovered Atlantis with to help save the civilization. If you read this and thought, “Gee, this sounds like Dances with WolvesFernGully: the Last Rainforest, and/or Avatar!” you would be correct. The film’s story line isn’t exactly groundbreaking or original.

And for many individuals, a weak plot = a bad movie.

Moreover, some of the characters are one-dimensional, especially the main villain, Rourke. The only reason he wants the crystal, is to make some big bucks. Money, in all honesty, is a very unoriginal and boring motive for a villain.

Now, after reading this, you might be wondering how I could possibly think this film is great. For me, though plot is very important, it isn’t everything. Though this film lacks a strong, original plot, it makes up for it’s weak plot in other areas. Atlantis, in my opinion is creative, has great pacing, great visuals, good action, and fun characters.

Atlantis Milo and Kida

With regard to characters, most are extremely memorable, entertaining and likable. In fact, Vinny is one of my favorite Disney characters. Every time he is on the screen he’s fun to watch. And almost all of his lines are hilarious:

Moreover, the world that the film creates is fully realized, extremely engrossing and intriguing. The subterranean ruins, as well as Atlantis itself are fully fleshed-out and endearing. Also, the size and scope of these locations is massive.  Each of these elements makes me want to explore these locations myself.

Here are a few stills of these locations:

Atlantis Subterranean

atlantis subterranean 2

Atlantis panorama 2

The atmosphere is also great. The film has a mysterious mood throughout, especially in the subterranean exploration sequences.  I also really enjoy the animation, which is very fluid and unique. The characters are very stylized, possessing jagged features. At the same time, the characters feel like real people, due to their realistic facial expressions and gestures.  As a whole, the animation very reminiscent of anime, which, as you may know, I’m a big fan of.

Still on the fence about this film? Watch this scene and tell me it isn’t awesome.

Despite these flaws, I think the good in this film vastly outweighs the bad. This film isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it’s fun, intriguing, and definitely worth a watch.

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Frozen Still Has a Ridiculous Amount of Hype

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As you may know, Frozen, Disney’s latest animated film, just became the highest grossing animated film of all time, as well as the 10th highest grossing film of all time. Let me begin by saying that I love this movie. The film has good characters, good songs, great animation, and a solid story. It also deconstructs and parodies a lot of the old Disney tropes, such as instantly falling in love and the “a true love’s kiss will break the spell” plot device.

However, the amount of people who are absolutely crazy about this film is ridiculous. Numerous people I know, as well as commenters I’ve seen on the internet, still gush over how great this movie is, sing its musical numbers, and quote it. If I hear one more person sing “Let it Go”, I’ll probably get an aneurysm. Yes, it’s a solid film, but people act like it’s the second coming of Christ. In my opinion, the film is nowhere near the quality of many of the Disney Renaissance films. Beauty and the Beast, as well as The Lion King, blow Frozen out of the water.

The hype, as a consequence, is actually affecting the opinions of many individuals who go to see the film. A few of my friends saw Frozen recently, but hated it as the film did not live up to the immense amount hype that surrounds it. Despite all this, the hype goes on, and on, and on…

Please guys, just let it go.

…I’ll see myself out.

Opinion: Is Animation Strictly a Children’s Medium?

Toy Story 3. © Disney and Pixar

Toy Story 3. © Disney and Pixar.

I’ve spoken to a surprising number of people who deride animation, deeming it “kid’s stuff.” Many individuals scoff at the idea that animation can be anything more than a way to keep their hyperactive children occupied for a certain period of time.

Are they right? Is animation only for kids? As popular as this opinion is, it could not be any more wrong.

Animated films can be just as emotional, mature and thought-provoking as live-action films. (Shameless plug: if you’d like to see a few examples of this, see my article, “Three Animated Films that Treat Kids Like Adults”)

Quality is not limited to the realm of live action. In fact, Walt Disney, founder of one of the most well-known and successful animation studios in the world, holds the record for the most Academy Awards won by any living or dead individual. Many of these awards are for his animated films and film shorts. And for many individuals, Oscars are the go to source for judging a film’s quality.

walt-disney

Walt Disney, a man who possesses 32 Oscars.

Many animated films are written just as much for adults as they are for children. This is where most Pixar films, Don Bluth films, and the Disney Renaissance films shine. These films are written for all ages, possessing storylines, humor and characters that are equally accessible for both children and adults.

Moreover, some children’s animated films possess content and plotlines that seem more suitable for adults than for kids. For example, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm contains a dark, violent, and mature plot that focuses on a murder mystery, along with Bruce Wayne’s romantic relationship with a woman. Another animated film, Shrek, contains numerous innuendos and adult references throughout.

Not only are there children’s animated films written with adults in mind, but there is another category of animated film that is aimed solely at adults. Princess Mononoke is one of the prime examples of what I am talking about. This film involves a complex storyline, complex themes involving industry vs. nature, as well as a considerable of violence and gore. Other adult-oriented animated films include Ghost in the Shell, Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf.

Princess Mononoke. © Studio Ghibli

Princess Mononoke. © Studio Ghibli.

This begs the question: why do people stereotype animation as a children’s medium? First, let’s look at the historical side of this mentality. In the 1920’s through WWII, theatrical cartoons were created for a general theatrical audience, which primarily consisted of adults. Popeye, Betty Boop, and even Looney Tunes were initially aimed at adults, containing humor and material that kids simply would not get. However, somewhere along the line, American filmmakers transitioned the emphasis of animation from adults to kids.

Why? Money was most likely the culprit. Filmmakers realized that they could generate a larger profit if they aimed their animated films at children rather than adults.

We can see this in today’s society as well. Frozen and The Lego Movie, generating 1 billion and 390 million respectively, blow the adult-oriented Beowulf’s 190 million out of the water. Moreover, studios are aware that they can sell much more merchandise when aiming their animated films at children rather than adults.

Consequently, the presence of commercials, toys, and other products – all aimed at children – perpetuate the mentality that animation is solely a children’s medium.

Sadly, this mentality will continue to be the predominant one. It’s best to ignore the naysayers and continue to enjoy the fantastic realm of animation. Have a friend who thinks animation is only for kids? Take my advice and show him or her Princess Mononoke.

Hand-Drawn Animation: Why is it Being Phased Out?

Poster for Frozen, Disney's newest CG-animated film. Copyright Disney

Frozen, Disney’s newest CG-animated film. © Disney.

If you have been paying attention to American movie releases within the past few years, you may have noticed a stark lack of hand-drawn films. Recently, the market has been flooded with computer-generated animation, abbreviated as “CG”. Where have the hand-drawn films gone? How did something that was so popular twenty years ago become almost non-existent today? Was it simply a fad like Pogs, Pokémon cards, and Harlem Shake?

In a word: no. Though I am disappointed in myself for digging Harlem Shake out of its much-deserved grave, but I digress. Let’s take a look at the historical side of these two animation pillars.

Once upon a time (namely the early 90’s), CG-animated films were completely unheard of. CG animation at that point was essentially the Wild West. The animation technique was only beginning to become popular and realistic in live-action films, such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Jurassic Park (See Empire Online’s “A History of CGI in the Movies” for a more in-depth look into CG in film). Hand-drawn films dominated the industry, many of which, such as The Rescuers Down Under, incorporated CG into their films. For both live action and animation at the time, CG was only used as an addition, almost solely for special effects.

Then along came Toy Story, the first completely CG-animated film. This film essentially affirmed the use of CG as a legitimate story-telling medium, a medium not solely for special effects. The success of this film piqued the interest of every major studio. Each wanted to cash-in on this new animation technique. And from there, the popularity of CG animation skyrocketed.

Poster for Toy Story. © Disney and Pixar.

Hand-drawn animation continued until the mid-2000s, where interest and profitability in hand-drawn animation gradually declined in favor of CG. What seemed to be the final nail in the coffin arrived last year, when Disney laid off its entire hand-drawn animation staff. At present, CG films are everywhere, while western hand-drawn animation is all but nonexistent.

So why is Hand-drawn animation so unpopular and unprofitable today?

First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Hand-drawn animation has only become unpopular in the West, whereas in Europe and Japan, hand-drawn animation flourishes. So, we could assume the popularity of hand-drawn animation is cultural.

But culture is only partially the case. Economically, CG animation is much quicker to produce than hand-drawn, and uses fewer resources.

Remember, these studios are businesses, which obviously function because of money. They green light and release their films in hopes of making a profit, hopefully a large one. Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and Disney each shut their hand-drawn animation doors because of the unprofitability of their 2D-animated releases. Ever heard of The Iron Giant, Titan A.E. or Home on the Range? If you haven’t, there’s a reason as to why (Except for Iron Giant. If you haven’t seen that masterpiece, shame on you). These were each complete financial disasters for each of these studios. If these films were financially successful, we would more than likely still have an abundance of hand-drawn films.

Occasionally, a studio will take a risk, like Disney did with their recent hand-drawn film The Princess and the Frog. Though moderately successful, the film’s $267 million gross does not hold a candle to the grosses of their CG films. Case in point, Tangled grossed &591 million, while Frozen grossed $980 million.

American studios simply want to play it safe.  For most of the reasons listed, hand-drawn animation is a financial risk, while CG is where the money is at. CG animation is thus the safer option.

CG animation obviously won’t be going away any time soon, if ever. It’s best to just embrace it. There are numerous fantastic CG films from the likes of Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks. But if you’re too much of a purist, hand-drawn animation has found a reemergence though a very cool hybrid technique with CG, shown in the Academy-Award winning short, Paperman. Or you could go the foreign animation route and watch anime films. Just remember, good films can come in any form.

What is your opinion regarding CG vs. hand-drawn animation? Sound off in the comments below!