Boy...we're all thrilled about this one, aren't we? ;)
Saw it today, and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected I would. The visuals were fabulous. In previous D*sney efforts like Tarzan the excessive CGI stuck out like a sore thumb (ouch!). Here, while it's not perfect, it's *MUCH* more convincing. And the lighting and colors did a lot to set the mood. Usually, it's the action scenes that get the really awesome effects, and the more talky dialogue scenes are just the characters standing in front of a background. Here, even the simplest scenes are dazzling (i.e., the scene early on, with Milo and...uh...the old guy talking in a dark room, illuminated by a dimly glowing tank. Very nifty).
I also found the characters much less bland than the usual D*sney stuff these days. Milo isn't a larger-than-life character who must teach a painfully obvious lesson to a bunch of dense, biased clods, a la Pocahontas or Mulan. He's not a larger-than-life social misfit who must find his place in a cold, superficial world, a la Hunchback or Tarzan. He's just an average nerd trying to continue his grampa's dream. Much more believable, much more likable, imho. Michael J. Fox's voicing is a great aid--the way his voice cracks and fades off at the end of a sentence sometimes gives Milo a very down-to-earth feel that is *VERY* rare in animation (usually actors doing animation voiceovers try to be as exaggerated and overblown as possible). And some of his facial expressions were priceless--the expressions on all the characters, in fact, were much more rubbery and flexible than the typical D*sney fare. Good--you're using a medium with infinite possibilities, why not take advantage of them?
Rourke has been called in various places a rip-off of the bad guy from Tarzan. And when I first saw Tarzan, I criticized *THAT* villain of being a totally unoriginal, uninteresting character. I'll be honest here--I liked Rourke simply because I love Jim Garner. The character wasn't that well-written, but Garner did a great job. Especially loved the last scene, where he's attacking Milo on the blimp-thing, and finally goes over the edge. The transition from that usual Garner calm drawl to a screaming lunatic made the scene for me, even though the dialogue was as hackneyed as could be.
The rest of the guys on the mission were great too--a larger-than-usual key cast for a D*sney film, and they pulled it off splendidly. One of my favorite scenes in the film was the bedtime "what's your story?" scene. It was a great balance of drama and comedy--it managed to nicely create sympathy for many of the characters, but at the same time it was obviously intended as a loving jab at all those films that have a totally gratuitous "let's talk about our pasts around a campfire" scene.
Jim Varney's Cookie character is reminiscent of the babbling drunk in Blazing Saddles, and gets some solid laughs. Vinny is also a lot of fun. Sweet and Audrey border on being rather trite characters, but they're fine. Mole the dirtmonger had the potential to be an obnoxious "sidekick" type, there just to amuse the kiddies with stupid behavior--but thankfully, that potential is not realized, and he is, most of the time, an amusing feller. Helga seemed a pretty one-dimensional character, but she made for nice eye-candy. The Lunchlady Doris-esque operator delivered some of the best laughs of the film.
I think the thing that really differentiated this film from stuff like Hunchback or Tarzan in my mind is that the comedy is integrated with the drama so much better, giving the whole film a much more natural feel. The other films had a rather self-important style, with all that heavy drama, and then the humor was just tacked on. It seemed too blatant--every joke seemed to be, "HEY! This is funny! FUNNY! Get it? LAUGH! Okay, now we're being serious again--stop laughing." Here, it worked with the scene. It flowed naturally. This may be a bad thing, if movie audiences have become too used to the other style, though. The whole film hardly got a laugh out of anyone in the theater besides me and my sister. There were some great comic moments that just totally blew over everyone's heads because they caught them unawares. Oh well. Guess they've been desensitized in this age of laughtracks.
The writing as a whole was pretty sharp. There were a few scenes that seemed rather hokey, but all in all the dialogue was pretty tight. My only major complaint is the plot. It starts out promising, with the "bunch of people on a quest to find a lost treasure" premise. What will happen to these people? Will they grow as a group? Will they have all sorts of adventures and confrontations with wild, unpredictable creatures of the deep? But the "adventure" theme is lost about halfway through, once they find Atlantis, and it descends into a rather predictable D*sney plot. Not nearly as predictable as most of the current-day D*sney films I incessantly whine about. But still, all the elements are here--when the Princess is leading Milo through the beautiful new world heís just discovered, I was half anticipating her breaking into ďColors of the Wind.Ē And when Rourke swipes the life-force and dooms the civilization, and all the others decide to side with Milo after some internal debate, and then Milo is ready to give up, and then Sweet delivers that ultra-sweet monologue winding up with a quote from Miloís grandfather, and then Milo suddenly becoming determined to do the right thing...something inside me was groaning, "Ooooh, spare me."
But the inevitable cliches inside, I thought it was a pretty good film. Not all that groundbreaking, but itís the most Iíve enjoyed a "serious" D*sney venture in years. I think Iíd recommend it, but donít expect *TOO* much from it.
Also saw the trailer for Monsters, Inc. Looks to be another winner from the Pixar folk...I canít wait!