Flush with confidence (and cash) after renewed success with their animated features in the ‘50s, Disney bet the barn on the hugely ambitious, visually lux, budget-bustin’ SLEEPING BEAUTY/’59 . . . and lost. Jump ahead four decades, and it’s deja vu all over again with Disney doubling down after their rejuvenation in the ‘90s with a pair of largely hand-drawn animated Sci-Fi/action-oriented fare: ATLANTIS/’01 and TREASURE PLANET/’02. The first film’s busy, bewitching look is a wonder, but may have confused some customers. Who was this made for? Too intense for the tykes; ‘kid stuff’ for the Junior High set; and too darn goofy dramatically. The tone works against the Jules Verne-ish story of 1914 hi-tech submarine adventure as a dangerous mission to find the lost underwater civilization of Atlantis goes awry. With a dated checklist of ethnic characters in support (Spanish spitfire; suave Italiano; Polynesian natives discovered & exploited; and a Black/Native-American modeled after Mr. Clean), but three Caucasians to run the show. When did this go thru development hell? 1973? Animation mavens will want to take a look, it’s impressively laid-out. But, along with TREASURE PLANET, the films were so financially disastrous, they pretty much killed off traditional hand-drawn animation for anything but kiddie pics & arty imports. And the film’s directors (Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise) have yet to regroup for another feature.
DOUBLE-BILL: Word is TREASURE PLANET (not seen here), equally strong visually, also has better story & character elements in spite of being an even bigger cash catastrophe. While traditional hand-drawn animation from Disney delighted that year on the lighter, kid-friendly (and much less expensive) LILO & STITCH/’02.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: There’s an AVATAR/’09 vibe to the storyline, no?