There's this weird period of Disney's history where they were still outputting films, but very few people I know where actively engaging with them. It was the era when CGI really began taking off, but wasn't quite good enough for the standards that Disney needed. Right in the middle of that time, Atlantis: The Lost Empire came out and I completely missed it happen. Which is a little weird, because, on the face of it, Atlantis was the perfect movie for me. It launched in 2001, right when I was nearing the height of my love of mysteries, cryptozoology, and even the tangentially related Stargate SG1. In many ways, I was their ideal audience, but it's taken me almost 20 years to get around to watching it.
So was it worth the wait? Sort of. Atlantis is a beautifully animated film with some incredible world and creature design, excellent voice acting (what else would you expect from a cast that includes Leonard Nimoy and Michael J. Fox?), and interesting characters. Unfortunately, it's all wrapped around a fairly by-the-numbers plot: eccentric but loveable loner proves the world wrong with a great scientific discovery, instantly gets betrayed for additional profit, and has to save a peaceful, indigenous culture from the ravishings of white capitalism. During that process, he falls in love with a beautiful, powerful woman, who ultimately helps him save the day by turning out to be some kind of "chosen one". The whole thing is wrapped up in a touch of mysticism and a whole heap of destiny, throw in a host of humourous stereotypes as side characters, and splash a hefty dose of action over the top via a natural disaster, and you've got a fairly typical adventure film.
On top of which, Atlantis borrows heavily from Jules Verne. For the most part this adds to the film, giving it both it's unique steampunk aesthetic and it's core premise of discovery through fringe science, but it also fails to really capitalise on the wonder of that. The film doesn't give itself enough time to really explore the culture or world of the Atlanteans, instead preferring hand-wavey narrative winks to explain away their advanced technology and extreme lifespans. I do like the debunking of the ancient alien teases/red herring, but I'm not sure replacing it with crystalline energy really helps to make any of what happens truly believable. I'm also unconvinced that the pterosaurs really make much sense for a civilisation that still only started in the last 10,000 years or so.
Minor criticisms aside, though, I did enjoy Atlantis and feel it succeeded in at least being a fun ride with some decent morals and a good cast of characters. I'd also recommend it to anyone interested in fantasy or sci-fi design as a solid attempt at creating something otherworldly yet recognisable.