This fun family animated film has action, humour, explosions, and flying cars, as well as decent number of female characters who do more than sit around waiting to be rescued. There's even a cameo by Leonard Nimoy. There's a little something for everybody, making it a good one to sit and watch with your children.
In 1914 the naive, likeable Milo (voiced by Michael J. Fox) is a linguist and cartographer working at the Smithsonian Institute. He finds and begins to decode his grandfather's journal which purports to tell where to find the lost city of Atlantis. He joins an expedition to find the city with a team made of experts in various fields (a mechanic, a demolitions expert, a doctor and so on), led by Commander Rourke (James Garner) with his team of mercenaries.
The crew travel by submarine into to the entrance of a huge network of caves beneath the ocean. There they encounter the surviving people of Atlantis, including the princess Kida (Summer Cree) and the king (Leonard Nimoy), who have been hiding down there for thousands of years since the destruction of their city. Atlantean culture has decayed to the point that the people no longer no how to read their own writing or operate much of the machinery created by their forbears.
Roarke then reveals that the real purpose of their mission has been to find and steal the giant glowing crystal that is the power source of Atlantis. The crew betray Milo, who is horrified and fights to protect Kida and the Atlantian way of life.
Refreshingly there are quite a few female characters in the movie who get to demonstrate their abilities in various fields. Princess Kida is a bit of a cliché, but there are also Audrey, the young female mechanic, the beautiful, devious Helga, Rourke's second in command, and Mrs Packard, the cynical, dry humoured radio operator.
Atlantis is different from most Disney cartoons in that it has no songs, and is PG rated, with slightly more grown up themes to it. There is some violence and quite a few characters die, though mainly off screen and without gore. The film is very pretty look at, especially in the scenes showing the city in all its glory. The visual design has a fun steampunk look to it. There are chases involving dirigibles and vehicles shaped like giant fish and a very cool looking giant sea monster.
The plot is has some with similarities with other films. The character of Milo is reminiscent of Daniel Jackson from the movie Stargate (1994) and subsequent television series. More glaringly, the plight of the Atlantians at the hands of unscrupulous white people coming to steal their power source and destroy their home echoes that of the Na'avi in James Cameron's Avatar (2009), though Atlantis came first. It's also very similar to Dances With Wolves (1990). Some critics have argued that Avatar is racist and the same arguments could be made about Atlantis The Lost Empire. If you watch it with your children you could use it as a starting point for discussion about themes of feminism, racial identity, imperialism, colonialism, environmentalism- you name it. Or you could just cheer at the explosions, boo the villains and enjoy the pretty scenery.
Atlantis the Lost Empire is not groundbreakingly original, and the story is not perfect but it is a fun adventure movie which would be a good way to while away a rainy afternoon or watch for a family movie night.