It's been at least 10 years since I saw this, but I remember really liking it when I saw it. then again, I liked a lot of stuff when I was 13, quite a lot of it revealed as I grew up to be total crap. Besides, the last time I watched a movie from Twentieth Century Fox's brief animation phase, "Quest for Camelot" in this case, I discovered it to be pretty much total garbage. So I was both excited and anxious to see if this movie lived up to my memories of it.
As it turns out, "Titan A.E." indeed has been diminished from my memory of it, but I still felt it to be a worthy experience. The animation is dated, and uncomfortably inhabits the uncanny valley between cartoonyness and realism, and the story was underdeveloped in certain parts, but I found myself entertained, and I would watch this movie again.
The film concerns a future in which humanity's technological prowess brings it to the attention of an alien race of energy beings known as the Drej. The Drej, not being a race to do things at half measures, blow up the Earth, with only a few thousand or so humans who were able to get to escape rockets surviving. Also managing to escape was a gigantic extremely advanced ship, the Titan, which very well may have been what the Drej were trying to destroy.
Cut to 15 years later and humans have become the bums of the universe, homeless and widely disrespected by the other species in the galaxy. We are also introduced to our main character, Cale, (Matt Damon) a young human with a huge chip on his shoulder who doesn't want to be associated with his fellow humans who he considers pathetic losers.
This all changes when he is discovered by Korso, (Bill Pullman), a human ship captain and a colleague of Cale's father, who was the one to develop and pilot the Titan away after the Drej attack. Korso is now looking for Cale because the latter's genes can unlock a map that will lead them to the Titan and hopefully to the salvation of humanity. But the Drej are looking for Cale as well, and the crew of Korso's ship may not be all that they seem...
First the bad bits. The animation is rather dated and sits uncomfortably between being too realistic and too cartoony, making the humans especially seem kind of awkward looking. There is a lot of CGI, some of which is well-used to enhance the atmosphere, but a lot of which sticks out like a sore thumb, especially anything to to do with the Drej.
The Drej in general are rather underdeveloped as villains, and we learn very little about them. The novels based on the movie supposedly get deeper into their story, but as is they're just weird blue creatures that are evil essentially because they're paranoid.
Finally, while most of the cast is fine (with good performances by the likes of Nathan Lane, Drew Barrymore and John Leguizamo as members of Korso's crew), Janene Garafalo as Korso's weapons expert Stith is grossly badly cast. Garafalo's voice is simply not rough and gruff enough to seem plausible coming out of Stith's giant kangaroo-like body.
The other voice actors are better suited to their characters. Damon as Cale was able to give his character a somewhat hard and sarcastic edge, which softens as the film goes on. Drew Barrymore's Akima, a human crewmate of Korso's, balances out Cale's cynicism and contempt for his fellow humans with a sense of hope and belief in humanity's potential. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention Nathan Lane's Preed and John Leguizamo's Gune as alien members of the crew: Preed being a slimy sarcastic first mate and Gune being a cloudcuckoolander scientist/navigator. Both steal the show when they appear onscreen.
Despite what I said about the animation of the characters not being quite right, there is some quite beautiful animation in the film. Of particular note are a flight through a gas cloud, surrounded by "wake angels," alien beings who feed on the energy put out by the ship, and a tense pursuit through an ice ring, where the two ships are endlessly reflected all around each other. Both of these scenes are well worth the price of admissions.
All in all, this film is worth watching. The animation looks a little strange, but the characters are interesting and some of the visuals are truly striking. While not the best film, it is a good one.