Review: Titan A.E. (2000)

“Who’s your daddy? Gune’s your daddy!”

*This review may contain spoilers*

Titan A.E. is a children’s animated Sci-fi adventure directed by Don Bluth & Gary Goldman (Anastasia, The Land Before Time), starring the voices of Matt Damon, Bill Pullman and Drew Barrymore. The film follows a group of wanderers in post-apocalyptic space, trying to find a long-lost spaceship (The Titan) with the power to save humanity.

I was concerned over reviewing Titan A.E. as I adored this film as a child, which is fitting as it was my brother who recommended I review it. It’s not a widely known movie but in our household, Titan A.E. was like salt and vinegar crisps, everybody loved it. Unfortunately, this is one of those films that, for a more grown up audience, suffers greatly from so many questionable choices.

The movie opens with an epic apocalyptic event that still looks fantastic and holds some fairly touching moments, underpinned by a score that is so great and remains superb for the remainder of the film. Titan A.E.’s animation is a mixture of traditional hand-drawn animation and CGI that generally still holds up in 2020. When compared to the current standard of animation being released by studios such as Disney and DreamWorks, some of the action scenes haven’t aged great, but you cannot take anything away from the overall look and feel of the movie. Our antagonists are the Drej, an alien race made of pure energy that dominates every scene they’re in. These characters look fantastic, have an amazing theme tune and are genuinely intimidating. It is clearly understood by the audience that the Drej are in complete control, they are not the inept bad guys who couldn’t land a dart on the board. Every time these guys are on screen, we know our protagonists have a tough fight on their hands.

There are so many unique and creative ideas in Titan A.E. that make the action scenes so much more enjoyable to watch. Our group visits one planet covered in giant gas balls that combust on touch, with the characters being carried by their shoulders by flying bird-like aliens. Another scene has a quiet spaceship chase surrounded by huge ice boulders crashing into one another, but also creating multiple reflections that make it impossible to pinpoint where the real ship actually is. It is unlikely you have ever seen anything like this before, especially not this beautifully and done with such creativity. There is a lot of ambition poured into the design and creation of the action sequences and it really brings this movie to life.

The easiest way to describe the plot of this movie is Noah’s Ark meets Star Wars. There are endless parallels to A New Hope and a lot of this movie does feel like a cut-and-paste job of various sci-fi pop culture. It’s highly unoriginal, feeling like you have seen a lot of this movie before, but done in a different style. Despite this, the pacing is great and there a couple of layered plot twists that keeps the ball rolling, so an animated rehash of your favorite sci-fi movies doesn’t necessarily take away from the quality of the movie. Titan A.E. also has so many adult moments probably not suitable for younger children. From blood floating out of gunshot wounds to unnecessary scenes of nudity, this film feels like it was initially set to be a 12A rating, but the studio interfered to make it a more commercially viable PG rating. There is a scene where Cale (Damon) is butt naked and they even suggest cutting off his manhood if he doesn’t stay still. Cale also walks in on Akima (Barrymore) fresh out of the shower, for no apparent reason at all. It could be argued that this develops the love-interest side plot, but it really doesn’t. Titan A.E. could have benefited from a 12A rating, so maybe we got this version in an alternate dimension…

Now to the biggest criticism of this film that really grated me down. For the entirety of the first two acts, almost everyone in this movie is a moron. The only character in Titan A.E. that isn’t completely inept is ironically called Gune, and he is the comic relief! Honestly, Gune is the real hero of this movie and does almost all the heavy lifting for the team that is integral to the plot. His jokes always land (aided by the excellent voice casting of John Leguizamo, aka. Sid the Sloth) and he survives a bomb exploding in the palm of his hand. I want to see a movie about Gune and it should be called “Who’s your daddy? Gune’s your daddy!”. Please Hollywood, make it happen. Even the Drej don’t escape the stupidity, as they imprison Cale in an electric box that he escapes from instantly after he is trapped there. Of course, I’m going to explain how he does it to emphasise the point: Cale enters the electric wall using his two index fingers and then brings them closer together, as if he is reducing picture zoom on a smart phone. He escapes this prison by zooming out on an iPhone and it is simply ridiculous. Given that this is designed for children, we should let this slide. Unfortunately, at this point in the movie, I can’t even decide if this is for children anymore.  

If anyone watched this film and liked Cale on a personal level, I need to know why. The guy is an asshole, who hates everyone he comes into contact with (including other humans) and is rude to the entire crew upon first meeting them. The parallels to Luke Skywalker are so apparent: the young, impatient “chosen one” who yearns for adventure among the stars, but he takes the whiny brat persona to another level. Cale doesn’t even understand his own motivations in this story and is clearly against going on this life endangering mission, but suddenly takes a U-turn in his mentality for no obvious reason. Particularly in the first two acts, our lead protagonist has no redeeming qualities besides being voiced by the fantastic Matt Damon. He also builds the millennium falcon out of scrap metal in a matter of hours and manages to beat everyone to the Titan, just because the story demands it.

The film ends on an exciting action sequence that carries a lot of emotion with it, with scenes of betrayal, fist fights, space battles and eventually redemption. We’re left feeling a sense of accomplishment by the end of the movie, if you ignore the unexplained destruction of the Drej death star for no reason at all.

Titan A.E is a really good movie that never quite reaches the greatness it so easily could have. Visually appealing with some exciting and imaginative ideas behind the scenes, Titan A.E. is held back from an abundance of silly oversights that could be the difference in uniting young and older audiences in mutual admiration of the film. I give Titan A.E. a 6/10, but I really wanted to give it a 7…

If you liked this review, please comment or share this post for others. If you have any similar or, even better, conflicting opinions of Titan A.E., please comment to open a healthy debate.

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