Aliens and "Atlantis" Headline Disney's Latest Blu-rays Review

After an incredible string of almost annual theatrical animated feature successes in the form of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules,Mulan, and ending with 1999's Tarzan, Disney started to cool off. Their films started to receive lukewarm responses as the new millennium kicked off, and it remained that way until Disney finally bought Pixar in 2006 in a move that seemed to revitalize their creative juices. In that seven year window however, Disney produced some offbeat but not necessarily bad animated features. While we've already reviewed one of the most enduring entries from that period, The Emperor's New Groove, as well as the shaky Sci-Fi adaptation of Treasure Island into Treasure Planet, Disney has recently released two other titles of that group onto Blu-ray combo packs: Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Lilo & Stitch and their respective direct-to-DVD sequels.

Of Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Lilo & Stitch, it's impossible to deny which one wins out when it comes to emotional impact, overall animation quality, and snappy writing. Lilo & Stitch starts as one of Disney's more out-there stories with a galactic judicial system declaring a mad scientist insane and consigning his abomination of a progeny to death. Things don't go as planned though and that progeny hijacks a ship and escapes to Earth where it crash lands in Hawaii and soon finds itself adopted by the imaginative but rebellious girl Lilo (Daveigh Chase) who promptly names it "Stitch" (Chris Sanders). The new addition to the family comes at a rough time, however, as Lilo's sister Nani (Tia Carrere) has to prove to child services Agent Bubbles (Ving Rhames) that she can provide for Lilo and offer her a stable atmosphere in the wake of their parents' death. Exacerbating an already tense situation are the convicted mad scientist and a galactic agent sent to retrieve Stitch who taunts them and fights them every step of the way, often to the detriment of Lilo and Nani.

The themes of family, belonging, and choosing to be someone besides who you're told you have to be run strong throughout the film and build to some poignant moments. It's always nice when a Disney film manages to tug at the heartstrings, but above all else Lilo & Stitch is a comedy that serves up a nice variety of laughs that'll elicit a chuckle if only because the movie throws so many jokes at the wall that some are bound to stick. For me, the film's selling point is the ever squeaky Kevin McDonald as the alien agent reluctant and somewhat terrified to be tasked with bringing Stitch back into custody. The character embodies the neuroticism that McDonald does best and his constant shouts of confusion, hysteria, terror, or exasperation help to bring the film back to levity when it starts to get too heavy.

Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch has a Glitch might be one of the better direct-to-DVD Disney sequels but it still doesn't quite match its predecessor, but it does manage to bring back the majority of the voice cast (like Carrere and McDonald) that made the original so good.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire might seem like a Jules Verne-ian tale of exploration in the deep blue sea, and it certainly has a lot of elements that make it a comparable adventure story, but it also falls flat in a way Verne's stories never did.  Maybe it's the betrayal from certain characters we see coming from the very second they're introduced that kills any climax the film aspires to, or maybe it's that the story doesn't go anywhere that interesting to begin with, but in the end the journey to the lost city of Atlantis offers very little in terms of wonder or awe. We're on a voyage to discover a land forgotten by time and relegated to myths, and yet the experience once we get there is so banal and ordinary that it renders any fascination moot and just moves its focus back to the cast of modern explorers who, while cheeky and amusing, don't differentiate themselves from the endless barrage of amusing side characters that are so common in animated features like these.

Atlantis has an excellent voice cast led by Michael J. Fox and the plot to discover the fabled lost city should easily have had the fuel needed to entertain, but it sputters and dies and never regains its momentum. At least the original film had momentum to begin with though, whereas the direct-to-DVD "movie" is nothing more than the pilot episodes of the failed spin-off cartoon edited into an incoherent movie with severely reduced animation values and a voice cast sorely lacking Michael J. Fox.

An interesting sidenote: Atlantis: The Lost Empire has the curious distinction as what was supposed to be the launch of a new princess to the ever-growing Disney collection, only it didn't perform well enough and so she remains the one princess Disney still hesitates to include in its princess press materials. While the ultimate reason is most likely 90% the poor performance of the film and lack of resonance with kids, I'd be hard-pressed to believe it's not 10% because the princess here dresses far more scandalously than pretty much all the rest save for maybe Jasmine, but even then this one's a bit more, erm, stacked?

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Disappointingly, Lilo & Stitch is lacking any extras whereas Atlantis has a production featurette, deleted scenes, and a fluff piece on the movie's Atlantean language. In both cases, the offerings are subpar for Disney Blu-ray releases.

"Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Lilo & Stitch" is on sale June 11, 2013 and is rated PG. Action, Adventure, Animation, Children & Family, Comedy. Directed by Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise. Written by Chris Sanders, Tab Murphy, Kirk Wise. Starring Chris Sanders, Corey Burton, Daveigh Chase, James Garner, Kevin Mcdonald, Michael J Fox, Tia Carrere.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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