You might remember this. You might love this movie! Or you might be all “I have skipped that one” or even “That’s a DISNEY movie?!”
Yes, this is a Disney movie. Released in 2001, this is a Disney movie that doesn’t really look like a Disney movie (and, I think, is trying not to feel like one either). I really enjoyed it in the theatre, but looking back, I’ve always been less sure. At this point, 13-14 years later, I could remember a very small handful of things. Michael J. Fox. Kida glowing and enveloped in light. And my personal fave, Don Novello AKA Father Guido Sarducci as Vinnie.
This film is kind of a stylistic meeting between steampunk and anime. It was made right around the time when anime, particularly Hayao Miyazaki films, were really coming up into the limelight in the US. The influence is VERY clear. There is a subculture of steampunk anime, too, so these two styles don’t clash in the least.
What does clash is the animation. You’ve got the acting, which is (in my opinion) mighty fine – and if I may say, an incredible cast! Even the people who are not the “big” celebs like James Garner and Leonard Nimoy turn in really nice performances. Claudia Christian is great. Corey Burton does a rather impressive French-infused Bluebottle impression. (Look it up. Combine with “Peter Sellers” and you’ll get the best results.) Cree Summer doing a serious leading-lady role? Did you know you are listening to a woman whose prime role to that point had been Elmyra on “Tiny Toon Adventures”? But she’s GOOD! And I have already mentioned Vinnie. Anyone who tries to argue with me that Vinnie is NOT the best character in this movie is going to get a kick in the pants. And also, they are wrong.
Ahem. I was saying, what clashes with this is the animation. Disney’s animation studio cannot “do” anime type work. For all of its oft-overexpression and exaggeration of features, anime tends to trade in minimalism of general movements during dialogue, less expressive facial lines during deliveries, etc. Disney is the reverse of this. The voice acting fits the character designs and the whole Non-Disney Feel of the movie, but then you’ve got the actual animation DURING the scenes, where every lip is emphasized, every word comes with a toss of the head and a flip of the hand; in Disney animation, for characters to stop moving is considered “lazy”. The end result is that the film, packed with detail in its locations and costumes and everything else, looks hyperactive and twitchy. The two “tones” don’t mesh.
Putting that aside, how is the movie itself? Well, all together, I feel like it can’t quite decide if it wants to be a Disney movie, or not. They clearly want to move into new territory and so this movie has an incredibly high body count. Not just only offscreen, like Mulan’s encountering the remains of the village massacred by the Huns; instead one of the first major scenes is when a crew of 200 is decimated to maybe 30-40 people. Yikes. And those are just the first ones to die. There’s plenty more where that comes from. Yes, Disney kills their villains a lot (often by falling, you’ll notice!), and yes they kill parents, but… innocent bystanders are usually spared.
More non-Disney stuff: Helga Sinclair, easily the toughest and most badass character in the film; I think she’s a bit of a trailblazer for female Disney characters. (Even moreso b/c look at her in her earliest scenes… she’s a bit of a sexpot!) We’ve got a “surprise” villain, which means Frozen isn’t quite as original as it seems in that department, and we’ve got a group of people who we come to like, ready to walk away from the undeniable and ADMITTED genocide of an entire civilization.
But in the end they weren’t quite sure where they were going with it, so we finalize on a change of heart, a couple of bloodless deaths of the bad guys, and what is ultimately a rather confusing plot device in the whole “Heart of Atlantis” business. (It IS possible I missed portions of this but I came out of it feeling that I still don’t really fully understand just what happened to Kida’s mother. I mean, I do… but, to what purpose? Then again, as I said, I may have just missed something.)
I can say, I loved the originality of the story, and the animation… my goodness, it’s beautiful. They spared nothing on their background designs, they are amazing. Would I recommend this? Yes, I think it’s heads above a few other films that get lauded as “classics” while this one is ignored. Would I call it a classic? Heavens no. This is good for a day when you’ve watched all the actual classics several times over, and you’re browsing through Netflix and thinking “I want an animated movie to watch and I don’t really care what it is so long as it’s pretty.” Then you’re going to enjoy yourself. 🙂