It’s Debate Day here on Trope and Dagger! This week we’re topping off our cartoon debates with the best hand animated Disney movie! To read up on Andy’s stupendously incorrect and predictable pick, go here: The Best Disney Movie: Beauty and the Beast. Now, let’s revisit the actual best hand animated Disney movie, Atlantis: The Lost Empire. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go and watch it right now! I believe it’s on Netflix, so you have no excuse! It is thrilling and funny and absolutely gorgeous, go watch it! It’s the best!
Spoilers for Atlantis ahoy!
First off, I want to say that I realize that this is an unorthodox pick. Who in their right mind would pick Atlantis: the Lost Empire when there are so many other classics like The Lion King, Aladdin, Robin Hood, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and so many more? This guy would, that’s who.
I do admit, though, I almost picked a more conventional choice. The Lion King is an amazing and tragic film, Robin Hood is a classic tale of thrill and adventure, The Great Mouse Detective is a fantastic mystery, and Dumbo…well, Dumbo sucks. But the others would all be worthy picks for the best hand animated Disney movie! So why Atlantis?
Well, first off, the animation in this film is downright stunning. This is Disney animation at its pinnacle, having been perfected over almost a century of artistry, and it shows in every aspect. The film is absolutely gorgeous, a treat for the eyes, awash in blues and whites with splashes of brown, yellow, and red. The atmosphere is both mysterious and beautiful and pervasive throughout almost the entire movie. This is Disney artists allowed to really transport you to another world, and immerse you in the alien nature of Atlantis. It’s the first sci-fi Disney animated movie, and the artists clearly have a blast with it.
Additionally, they make a drastic artistic shift here by using the style of Mike Mignola, of Hellboy fame, as the basis for all the design in this movie! You can really tell when you look at the angular structure of the characters, and it really makes the film stand out from the rest of Disney fare. I’m a big fan of Mike Mignola, and whether you like him or not, the Disney animators were bold for choosing such a unique animation style.
Then let’s talk about the talent that they got to voice this feature. Some of the names include: Michael J. Fox, John Mahoney, James Garner, the late great Jim Varney, and the also late, truly missed, Leonard Nimoy.
That is a stellar cast right there, and the other supporting actors did a great job, as well. Each character in this great ensemble felt fully realized and as though they had working as a team for a long time. They are all funny, capable, and crucial to the team, each serving an important role in the mission, and each bringing something else to the table as a character. I love how they interact and bounce off one another, teasing Milo and knowing one another so well. My personal favorite is Vinny, as everyone’s should be.
Then there’s the fact that this is a little more of an adult movie than most Disney fare. There are no songs in the film, which I can appreciate. Not that I have anything against songs in movies, they can add quite a bit to a film, but at the same time, having a song that fully explains a character’s motivations or actions can be a little tiring. I don’t think that this film would have benefited from Milo singing about how he’s off to find Atlantis or Kida singing about losing her mother. Maybe Vinny singing about explosions could be fun, but beyond that, I don’t think that there’d be much to gain from music.
Additionally, this film did not hold back when it came to violence and consequences of said violence. When the crew sets off on the mission to find Atlantis, there are quite a few sailors who accompany them. But things go wrong, the Leviathan attacks, and right off the bat the majority of the crew die and find themselves in a watery grave. Now, there’s been death in Disney before this, but I’m not sure it’s ever been in numbers like this. It doesn’t quite have the emotional impact of Mufasa, as they were all nameless sailors, but they still acknowledge their sacrifice and we see some of them scared before their demise. This film doesn’t treat us like kids, even though many kids would be seeing it.
And one thing that I love about this movie is that any lessons learned aren’t questionable like many Disney movies. For example, the women in the movie are all capable and pro-active, none of them act helpless, abandon their family for a boy, are simply a trophy for the male, or develop stockholme syndrome. Additionally, characters who the audience has become attached to turn out to be not-so-perfect. Heck, most of the cast of quirky and lovable characters turn out to have been bad buys, which isn’t common in Disney movies, but fortunately they redeem themselves.
I love Vinny’s line “We done a lot of things we’re not proud of. Robbing graves, eh, plundering tombs, double parking. But, nobody got hurt. Well, maybe somebody got hurt, but nobody we knew.”
They’re not perfect characters, but they pull through for Milo in the end. Which is good, because I don’t think my heart would ever recover if Vinny turned out to be completely evil.
Also, if you’re looking for excitement, you really have to look no further. From the first explosion that kicks the movie off, to the Leviathan attack, to Rourke’s betrayal and the ensuing battle, this movie is not short on thrills. I love the design of the Leviathan, a giant lobster of death that simply tears through the Ulysses as though it were nothing. Even the torpedoes launched by the mini-subs are useless against this thing. It has to be thousands of years old by this point, but it still trumps the most advanced weaponry that humans can throw at it. It really is a frightening and exciting scene, the first danger that the crew encounters. The movie is worth watching if for no other reason than to see this thing demolish the Ulysses.
And the final battle, trying to get Kida back from Rourke to save Atlantis, is both clever in the design of the combatants, and frightening in the creature that Rourke becomes. Not only in the physical sense, but his willingness to kill and sacrifice even Helga, who stood with him through it all, reveals him to be a monster more than his physical transformation ever did. But still, that transformation was freaky.
So, while this movie isn’t (technically) a love story, it isn’t a musical, and there are no anthropomorphic animals anywhere to be found, I still hold it in the highest regard when it comes to Disney animation. It is gorgeous, it is funny, it is thrilling, and a bold move for Disney. If there’s ever anyone who asks which movie is the best hand animated Disney movie, the answer is obvious.
So, what you do you think? Am I on the money, or is Andy? Or are we both nuts? Sound off in our poll below!