Op-ed: Animated Movies and the Adult Critique
“I think I’ve seen it before, but I don’t remember any of it” wasn’t a good enough response to my Atlantis: The Lost Empire reference that my best friend didn’t seem to get.
Film snob is not precisely how I would describe myself because when I learn that a person has never seen a film before, I don’t shame them for it. Instead, I harass them about watching it (usually with me) until they do. Some bullying is good, I suppose.
A three-way video call on Instagram between friends, a makeshift movie theater since the pandemic forced us to turn our living rooms into AMCs and Regals, and one damn-near thirty-year-old watching her other damn-near thirty-year-old friends’ react to her favorite Disney movie that I didn’t think many people had seen. It didn’t take much harassing or guilt-tripping, however, to get them to watch the film. Especially after I showed them many other movies, they never thought to watch before (Rise of the Guardians) and ended up loving or ones their parents refused to let them watch for whatever ungodly reason.
I stole some glances as they watched the scenes unfold like children zombified in front of an episode of Peppa Pig. There was laughter, commentary, and overall satisfaction when the credits rolled. And it made me wonder why there weren’t as many die-hard Atlantis fans as there were for Frozen (don’t come for me, Frozen aficionados). I beg the question, “Was it ever a bad movie, or did adults just tell us it was?”
Around the twentieth anniversary of the Disney animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire, I found my tribe of people who also favored the movie despite it flopping at the box office. In 2021, Atlantis finally had its fanbase. I logged on to a particular bird app to find people tweeting about how spectacular it was and how it makes no sense on Earth to the Lost City itself that people back then didn’t love it as much as we do now. Even the incomparable Cree Summers (the voice of Kida) retweeted my post dedicated to the film’s anniversary. Yes, THEE Cree Summers. The goddess of voice acting herself even commented how this was one of her favorite roles.
So where was all this hype when the movie first came out?
Video essays and think pieces have been written on the matter, but it all tugs at a common thread: adult audiences.
The Disney Renaissance was history. 2001 was a new era for Disney’s animated credits. However, the adults who took their kids to the theaters and the critics expecting cookie-cutter musicals were not yet over underage damsels in distress marrying the first man they met in the woods and talking woodland creatures. They wanted princesses in ballgowns getting swept off their feet by charming princes and animated dance numbers. So when an 8000-year-old princess -excuse me- QUEEN Kidagakash “Kida” Nedakh graced the screens in her tribal garb, moonlit white hair, and air nomad-like tattoos, the Disney moms and dads were clutching their imaginary pearls. I guess the scrawny nerd protagonist, a mineralist that refuses to bathe, a grumpy demolition expert, a backtalking, tomboyish mechanic, a medical doctor of African and Native descent (something very uncommon in Disney movies at the time), and an antagonist more complex and human than the typical Disney villain didn’t help much either.
Don’t believe me? Atlantis sits at a disappointing 49% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 53% audience score. Other Disney movies with rotten or mediocre scores are A Goofy Movie and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Yes, the same Goofy Movie millennials never fail to remind the world that it is one of the best and most underrated Disney animations of all time. We are still waiting on that Powerline world tour.
The past week, I couldn’t get online without seeing some discourse over Space Jam: A New Legacy. You would think it was a film graduate’s dissertation the way the movie was trending. People couldn’t decide if it was a lousy movie or if it was only intended for children. Still, it reminded me how daunting it was to hear growing up that Atlantis and A Goofy Movie weren’t some of Disney’s best projects ever released when most kids played them both religiously, annoying our parents in the process.
Most animation with a PG or G rating is usually created with a younger demographic in mind. The kicker about animated movies, however, is that anyone can and is expected to enjoy them.
It would be one thing if movies like A Goofy Movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis did not hold up after all these years and were, in fact, just as bad as critics in 1995, 1996, and 2001 claimed. Try convincing Powerline stans that the movie isn’t criminally underrated. And yet, they do hold up. They aren’t just movies intended for children. They, among countless others, are films that served the purpose of entertaining us as in our adolescence and still managed to be even better than we remembered them to be when we rewatched them as adults.
The idea of asking a panel of children to review a movie for the masses is not likely. It’s not like critics would listen to them anyway. But perhaps the conversation requires more nuance than we lead on. Children and teens can be the target audience for a film, and it can still tank. With that same thought in mind, a film can be award-worthy but overlooked because a particular audience refuses the lens or gaze needed to appreciate it. Two things can be true.
It is less of an argument of whether adults can enjoy animated movies as much as their younger counterparts. Still, the timing, era, moods, and societal circumstances critics are dealing with at the time of the critique will inevitably affect how a movie is rated, animated or not.
And if you think this is me trying to bully you into watching Atlantis: The Lost Empire in all of its mold-breaking, stunning visuals, cliche-free glory, and hilarity, then yes. Thank me later.