| **1/2 Stars
(US 2000) Rated PG
(voices) Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Janeane Garofalo, John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane
Directed by Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Writing Credits: Randall McCormick, Hans Bauer
20th Century Fox *94 minutes
Ordinarily, I am not fond of science fiction. Call me an idiot, but I always have problems with the strange names and phenomena to which I can't relate. However, I am a long-time fan of truly fine animation, and the trailers for TITAN AE made it look like a "don't miss" for animation buffs.
Full-length animation has always presented a dilemma for filmmakers who want to produce high-quality animation-as-art that is not necessarily targeted to children. Ralph Bakshi, for example, has done some fine work that no one saw because "cartoons are for kids." Stephen Spielberg very nearly changed all that with WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (a concept to be tried again in the upcoming ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE), but since then, most animated features have been of the Disney model: a moral, uplifting story involving a hero, two funny sidekicks, and people (or animals) bursting into sappy song for no discernable reason. This model has been successful, and sometimes the craftsmanship (as in the case of Disney's 1999 TARZAN), borders on brilliant. However, for those of us who can't stand the songs of Elton John and Tim Rice, the full-length feature animation pickings have been rather lean.
Don Bluth, who is Disney-trained, has a body of fine animation artwork behind him that also falls into the category of "too cute for adults, too dark for kids." His films always have a problem finding an audience, and I fear the same will be true for TITAN AE, the troubled film formerly known as PLANET ICE. Opening a mere week before the much-anticipated CHICKEN RUN, and competing against SHAFT for the coveted teen-boy audience, TITAN AE offers spectacular animation art, but little else.
Like most Bluth efforts, this one means well. It attempts to include a compelling story with an identifiably human hero amidst the ink-and-paint pyrotechnics. It is after 3000 A.D., and the dreaded Drej have destroyed the earth, turning its denizens into refugees. The young man Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) has a ring, given him by his father, that activates a map imprinted into his palm a map containing directions to the Titan Project. This refers to a ship built by Cale's father, containing the DNA for all species on earth and therefore the seeds for re-creating life on earth as we know it, only someplace else. Cale is recruited by the oh-so-macho Captain Korso (Bill Pullman) as man's last hope. Korso's crew includes the lithe and lissome Akima (Drew Barrymore), a punked-out Asian woman; Preed (Nathan Lane channeling Jeremy Irons), who looks like the love child of Jar Jar Binks and the evil Uncle in THE LION KING; mapreader Gune (John Leguizamo), who is clearly a Yoda/E.T. ripoff by way of Jiminy Cricket and designed to provide the "cute and cuddly factor"; and Prith (Janeane Garofalo), a trash-talking female weapons inspector of some indeterminate species that bears a slight resemblance to a kangaroo and legs that, well, I think perhaps we don't want to know how they got that way.
Some of these are traitors to the cause mercenaries only in it for the bucks. Who are the traitors? Will our hero and his lovely consort become Adam and Eve for a new age? And does anyone care?
The first half of TITAN AE is cracklingly lively. Cale is an appropriately cynical and jaded hero, in pain over his father's seeming abandonment (the parental abandonment theme clearly borrowed from Disney). He cuts in line during his lunch break from doing some sort of construction work on the space station Tau 14. He makes cracks about the bad food ("I just wish they'd kill my food before serving it to me.") He lives an aimless, feckless life; until Captain Korso breaks through his cynicism and uses the spectre of his father to recruit him in the cause to find the Titan Project. Bluth even manages to give these toons some sexual chemistry, in the growing relationship between Cale and Akima.
Curiously, though, the Big Buildup to the Final Confrontation that constitutes the second half of the film falls completely flat. I rarely doze off when viewing a film, particularly one with the kind of magical visuals this one boasts, and yet I couldn't keep my eyes open during the film's last half-hour. Only Gune's wondering remark about finding "the ice fields of Tegrin" jolted me awake, as I asked my spouse, "Are they on the Dandruff Shampoo planet?"
TITAN AE rips off so many other films, it's almost as much fun to spot the ripoffs here as it is in SHANGHAI NOON; except that the latter at least did it for fun. This film seems merely to be a cobbling together of other science fiction movies, from the Star Wars trilogy to THE MATRIX. These are not tributes, they are plagiarism, and I found them very distracting.
The film combines computer-generated animation with hand-drawn characters, and like much of today's animated output, most of the money is spent on the backgrounds, with the highly-stylized characters. TITAN AE shares with Disney's TARZAN a wide range of expressions in highly angular, flat-plane faces that demonstrate a strong Japanese animé influence. In some shots, the figures are done as CGI, in others, they are hand-drawn, and some of the transitions are awkward and abrupt. The contrast in skill and effort between the backgrounds and the figures is sometimes jarring, detracting from the overall artistic integrity of the picture.
In the end, TITAN AE is merely another well-meaning Don Bluth effort meticulously crafted, but too tied up in its own earnestness to be truly entertaining.
TITAN AE official site
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