Taking the lead from its blockbuster-crafting partners over at Pixar Studios, the Disney animation team has been trying to broaden its range. Tarzan and The Emperor's New Groove proved that they can do it if they try, with the ditching of stalwart Mouse standbys such as overly cute animal sidekicks and characters breaking into sick-triggering song. Disney really is trying to stretch its genres - and this season, children, they'll mostly be attempting an action movie.
Of course, this is still Uncle Walt territory, so don't go expecting any parent-infuriating language or bloodthirsty limb severing. But, despite the impressive trailers and visual hype, you won't find much in the way of groundbreaking dialogue or awe-inspiring spectacle here either.
The one encouraging sign is the decision to take a mature track with the film's villains - in addition to the usual colourful palate, they've added shades of grey to most of the characters. Everyone here has their own agenda, instead of wearing "Good" and "Evil" flags on their arms, and much of that is thanks to the voice performances. Of special note are James Garner, who imbues Rourke with natural authority, and Florence Stanley, who makes every appearance of the grouchy communications officer Mrs Packard a laugh-generator. As the speccy lead Milo, Michael J Fox has the majority of the dialogue, and while he's mostly saddled with the factory-standard character arc of self-conscious nerd to righteous herowith attitude, he at least makes Milo's transformation believable.
Yet all this vocal dexterity isn't enough to make up for the uninspired plotting. The journey is the most basic, cookie-cutter quest, offering very little in the way of surprising revelations or narrative tricks. Yes, it is a kid's movie, but that's no defence for insulting the average viewer's intelligence.
However, it's the lack of "wow" vistas in Atlantis that really disappoints. Though the Mousers have been expanding their toolbox to include CG and The New Trick We Just Invented For This OneTM (like Tarzan's Deep Canvas), nothing in Atlantis will even trouble the average audience member's socks, let alone knock them off. There's nothing to rival, say, the ballroom scene from Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin's cave-escape sequence, or even some of the work in DreamWorks flop The Road To El Dorado. After all the build-up to finding it, the sunken metropolis just doesn't come off as impressive or epic. And in a film promising the wonders of the lost city, that's an unforgivable crime.
Visually, Atlantis feels like a sinking ship, though the dialogue and vocals throw it a lifeline it desperately needs. While adults may find themselves, if not feeling it's a complete wash-out, then at least twiddling their thumbs, it'll keep the kids entertained well enough.