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In 3028, humans create the Titan, a spaceship representing the pinnacle of human achievement. Threatened by humanity's potential, the Drej, a race of energy beings, attack and destroy Earth. The Titan manages to launch and escape, but it disappears in the aftermath, along with its primary creator Sam Tucker. The humans who survive the destruction of their planet become the homeless of the galaxy, living as laborers for alien species or on cobbled-together drifter colonies. Fifteen years later, Sam Tucker's son Cale is recruited into a Ragtag Band of Misfits who set out to find the lost Titan and restore hope to humanity, all the while hunted by the Drej.
Titan A.E. was quite well received by critics, but unfortunately it was a commercial disaster, leading to the closure of Fox Animation Studios, and pretty much ending Bluth's career. In a case of Dueling Movies, the superficially similar Treasure Planet released around the same time also flopped badly, taking funding for traditional Western Animation along with it. A variety of explanations for the film's failure have been suggested:
- Its development was protracted, with Bluth being the second director to have worked on it. The race to release before Treasure Planet certainly didn't help.
- Five writers were credited for the story, primarily Ben Edlund, Joss Whedon and John August, but also Hans Bauer and Randall McCormick. A case perhaps of Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup, or just Executive Meddling.
- Above all, the film suffers from deep uncertainty about its audience. Was it supposed to be a cartoon film for children, or was it aimed at an older science-fiction audience? Unsurprisingly its marketing was equally uncertain.
The movie eventually managed to find an audience, and has become something of a Cult Classic. It is worth watching for its impressive visuals, cheerful willingness to embrace and lampshade sci-fi tropes, and the wittier parts of the script.
Titan A.E. provides examples of:
- Absent-Minded Professor: Gune.
Gune: Does this look familiar? Do you know what it is? Neither do I. I made it last night in my sleep. Apparently I used Gindrogac--highly unstable. I put a button on it, yes. I wish to press it, but I'm not sure what will happen if I do...
- Action Girl: Akima. She flies, she shoots, she scores! And Stith is a kickass screaming Amazon with not only a great big gun, but a freakin' weapons turret in a spaceship.
- Air Vent Passageway: Lampshaded:
Korso: Follow ugly.
- The Alcatraz: The energy-cell brig on the Drej mothership, from which Cale escapes by opening a hole in the wall with his fingers! Oops! Could be a Justified Trope Weaksauce Weakness, since they probably aren't accustomed to taking prisoners, especially not human prisoners. The book even explains that he was smart enough to figure out the patterns in the wall were actually a sort of circuitry he could manipulate.
- Alien Blood: When the Drej kills the alien cook, there is gore depicted as green goop splattered all over.
- Alien Lunch: Since the Earth blew up in the prologue, humans have to settle for alien food, which is pretty unappetizing.
Cale: I'd just like them to kill my food before they serve it to me. Is that too much to ask?
- Later he learns that his lunch had been laced with feces before it was served to him.
Gune: [licks Cale's hand] Spaghetti derivative, meatballs - sort of, anyway - and... Caldoch droppings. Who ate it before you did?
- All There in the Manual: The novels, apparently.
- And Now for Something Completely Different: Mainly applies if you're familiar with Don Bluth's other films. This one's considerably less whimsical and is dark even for him.
- Nevermind the complete and total Genre Shift into Science Fiction.
- Anime Hair: Akima definitely, and Cale to a lesser extent.
- Anti-Hero: Korso.
- Some would argue he's more Anti-Villain. To elaborate: this is a guy who was willing to sell the Drej, the guys responsible for blowing up Earth, the last hope for humanity. From what we can gather from the few hints dropped in the movie Korso might have just lost all hope of being able to beat the Drej and decided to take what he could get. Watching them destroy his planet and allow the human race to slowly die out within fifteen years might explain his actions along with some other possible reasons that happened off screen between the prologue and the start of the movie. He does make a Heel Face Turn during the climax of the film. Whether its out of remorse, because he had nothing left to lose or both, he did help save humanity even if he was willing to sell out to the Drej.
- Anything That Moves: Aside from drooling all over Akima, Preed really gives off this vibe.
- Apocalypse How: Class X, thanks to the Earthshattering Kaboom.
- Apocalypse Wow: The film's Action Prologue.
- Asteroid Thicket: The ice-field. Combined with a Hall of Mirrors.
- Big Bad: The Drej Queen.
- Big Sleep: See Disney Death.
- Bowdlerise: For the home video release, Cale had the gun in his hand taken out and redrawn with his hand outstretched showing the map. This was due to a shooting incident around the time.
- Break the Cutie: Cale seems to have undergone some of this between the ages of 6 and 21. But, as he says-"having your planet blown up will do that to you." As will being considered a third-class race by most of the galaxy.
- Chekhov's Gun: Korso's rant about how trying to defeat the Drej is futile because they're pure energy. At the end, when Kale is trying to start up the Titan (whose fuel cells have long since run dry) he recalls Korso's speech and figures out that he can use the Drej's own energy to power the ship.
- Chickification: Refreshingly averted. Stith kicks energy-being ass all the way through, and Akima shows no signs, even after being shot by Preed.
- The Chosen One: Cale is the only one able to operate the ultimate Treasure Map to humanity's salvation.
- The Chosen Zero: Cale, at least as far as Akima and Preed are concerned at the beginning:
- Conspicuous CG: There's a rather jarring contrast between the computer-generated and traditional hand animation. Though this may be intentional in order to drive home how alien the Drej are.
- Contemptible Cover: Some promotional material for the film showed Akima in a breast-baring Stripperiffic outfit which appears nowhere in the film.
- Cool Starship: The Valkyrie, the Drej mothership and fighters, the Titan, and perhaps the Phoenix as well.
- Creating Life Is Awesome: Mankind triumphs by creating an entire planet for itself, complete with a fully populated biosphere.
- Dark Is Not Evil: The Gaoul are creepy part-bat part-pterosaur aliens... who happen to be quite helpful in finding the Titan and escaping the Drej.
- Deadpan Snarker: All of the crew, especially Stith and Preed, have their moments, expect perhaps Gune.
- Disney Death: Hangs a Lampshade on it and the Big Sleep.
Gune: I've finished my nap!
- Distressed Damsel: Subverted. Akima is kidnapped, but by the time the the rest of her crew shows up to rescue her, she's sitting on a pile of unconscious prison Mooks, not distressed in the least.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Korso, of course.
- Dueling Movies: One of the most destructive duels ever, in its race to be released prior to the long-delayed Treasure Planet. Both animation teams were constantly looking over their shoulder at each other, according to Word of God:
- Fatherless boy tries to solve his daddy issues by going on a space voyage in search of a long-lost treasure, hidden on a Big Dumb Object, with a less-than-stellar crew of galactic Petting Zoo People, one of whom is a Parental Substitute, but proves to be The Mole, using a starmap only he can read. The villain redeems himself in a Take My Hand moment while trying to activate/deactivate the Forgotten Phlebotinum Doomsday Device. Both films were deliberately marketed to single-parent Gen-X kids, with an uplifting Grunge soundtrack. One is about Pirates in a Steampunk Alternate Universe, based on a classic novel. The other is about Space Pirates After the End, inspired by Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Both films got an Earthshattering Kaboom.
- The sad part is neither film won, despite both of them being very good; in fact both ended up tanking their respective studios. Bluth has yet to produce a new movie in 11 years, and Disney almost decided to completely abandon traditional animation.
- Dutch Angle
- Earthshattering Kaboom: In the first five minutes of the movie, the Drej don't just blow up Earth, they make the planet spin so fast that centrifugal forces blow it up.
- Earth-That-Was: Earth gets blown up, forcing humanity to eke out an existence in drifting, jumbled composites of spacecraft
- Eldritch Abomination: The Drej as a whole, arguably.
- Energy Absorption: Which conveniently deals with the big, bad Drej at the same time.
- The novel explains that the reason the Drej destroyed Earth was that the energy-to-matter technology of the Titan was the same as that which created their species. The Drej queen actually considers using the tech to repair their energy source before deciding it's too dangerous.
- Energy Beings: The Drej, sort of. What the Drej really are is far more complex: The novel seems to indicate that the Drej have mastered the transfer of matter to energy and can easily reverse the process.
- Everything's Better with Bob: Planet Bob.
- Executive Meddling: Fox Animation Studios is blamed by the directors in the DVD commentary for starving the movie of both time and money, forcing them to produce a product they were not happy with; as a result the film is unfinished at best.
- Explosive Decompression: Averted for once. The original script for the scene in question had Korso and Cale inhaling. They found out later that this would actually increase the likelyhood of death and rewrote that scene to have Korso tell Cale to exhale (to a bit of vocal protest from Cale). If you look closely, you can see that he animation was made before the change with Cale inhaling.
- Expy: Both Cale's character design and Deadpan Snarker attitude (along with his animation as well, for that matter) are virtually dead-ringers for Dimitri from Anastasia, a previous Don Bluth/Gary Goldman movie.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: In scenes that are very dark, even for Don Bluth, Preed has his neck broken by Korso, who in turn is electrocuted. Also Gune's body thumping against the wall after shielding an explosion.
- Fan Service: Both Cale and Akima get scenes of brief nudity in the film.
- Fantastic Racism: Humans are regarded as the homeless of space, and despised accordingly.
- Force Field Door
- Genesis Effect: When they finally turn the Titan on, resulting in Planet Bob.
- Genre Savvy: See also The Guards Must Be Crazy and Air Vent Passageway.
- Going Commando: Akima and Cale both skip the underwear when putting clothes on.
- The Great Repair: How Cale and Akima got off the derelict settlement.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: Subverted heavily (and awesomely) in a line written by Joss Whedon to foil the Trojan Prisoner ploy, left in uncut.
Guard: You're lying! He's not a slave and you're not traders. He doesn't carry himself like a slave! Look at the way he stands... probably ex-military. Akrennian traders always threaten before they ask a favor, it's tradition. [to Stith] And your robes are made out of bedspreads.
- Hall of Mirrors: The ice-field surrounding the Titan.
- Happily Ever After
- Hard Work Montage: Of Akima, Cale and the citizens of drifter colony New Bangkok making Phoenix spaceworthy.
- Heel Face Revolving Door: Korso worked for humanity, than the Drej, then came back to the side of humanity, and was killed in a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Herald: Korso brings the Call to Adventure.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Korso. Maybe Cale's father too.
- The Hero's Journey: The marks of Joseph Campbell's cookie-cutter are all over this film.
- Hit So Hard the Calendar Felt It: The movie begins in the year 3028 A.D. and ends fifteen years later, in the year 15 A.E. (After Earth).
- Humans Are Special: So special, that the Drej blow up the Earth because they feel threatened by humanity.
- Improbable Piloting Skills:
- Akima "If you can fix it, I can fly it!". Could be Justified Trope: in her own novel, Akima's Story, she trains as an Ace Pilot in ships designed for Bizarre Alien Biology. It was probably a relief to fly one purpose-built for her anatomy for a change. The basics would have been the same in the Phoenix (roll, pitch, yaw), with computer systems and controls in a language she could understand.
- Cale too, when he steals an energy-construct Drej fighter to escape from the mothership. There is a shakier justification in Cale's Story. He is depicted as having an almost magical touch with any technology. Also note, while he's flying it, the ship is bobbing around sloppily, and he hits the walls several times just getting out of the Drej ship. He's managing to fly it, sure, but just barely.
- Karmic Death: After the Drej destroy Earth, how does humanity end up building a new homeworld? Why, harvesting the energy Drej are made of in an inversion of Human Resources to power the device to make a new, viable replacement world!
- Kick the Dog: Shown when the alien cook at the salvage yard is reduced to goo despite offering to help the Drej, showing that the Drej don't exclusively kill Humans, but pretty much anyone they find even mildly annoying.
Cook: No no! Down there! He went down there! Down-- [BAM!] Ohh... Bulls-eye...
- Laser Blade: Cale uses something like a laser chainsaw on the job in the beginning, to cut up space junk for salvage. How does the blade stop? It doesn't, that thing was huge.
- Lantern Jaw of Justice: Cale.
- Magic Bullets: Averted when the Drej come for Cale; despite Korso's efforts, an overturned cafeteria table doesn't offer much protection at all from Drej weapons.
- The Millennium Age of Animation
- Million-to-One Chance: Invoked almost to the letter by Cale when he takes the express route to lunch.
Human Salvage Worker: Go through the docks and you'll get yourself killed!
- Missing Mom: Cale's mom is never mentioned. Not once.
- Mix-and-Match Critters: And they get pretty bizarre with this too. Stith, for example, is a four-kneed critter that looks to be part Kangaroo, part Velociraptor, and all Impossible To Stage Scenes Around.
- The Mole: Korso (who gets better) and Preed (who aids Korso, then betrays him).
- The Mothership: the Drej's.
- Neck Snap: Korso does this to Preed, proving that betraying someone and then letting them get behind you is a massively stupid idea.
- New Eden: New Earth a.k.a. Planet Bob.
- Noodle Artifact: Gune built a device out of a highly unstable material while he was asleep. He knows he gave it a button, but he doesn't want to push it because he has no idea what it actually does.
- Novelization: There is a book of the film, which attempts to patch some of the film's plot holes. There are also two prequel novels, covering the early years of Akima and Cale, titled Akima's Story and Cale's Story respectively. Little attention seems to have been given to continuity between the books.
- No OSHA Compliance: The salvage yard.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Play for laughs with Gune's device. Played straight with the Titan to drive the plot.
- Justified with the Titan. There might have been plans to make a backup Titan, but then the Earth kinda got blown up. After that, where exactly were they going to get dolphin DNA?
- Not So Different: The novelization reveals this of the Drej compared to post-Earth humanity; much like the surviving humans fighting to survive without a home, the Drej are on the brink due to their technology breaking down in ways they don't know how to fix.
- One-Scene Wonder: The guard. It helps that his dialogue was written by Joss Whedon.
- Parental Abandonment: Par for the course, being a Don Bluth film. The surviving Earthlings have even lost their mother planet, so some critics have dubbed it "The Ultimate Don Bluth Film".
- Petting Zoo People: Most of the alien designs are like this, so they rather come off as typical children's cartoon talking animals, until they start shooting people, getting their necks broken, and so on. It's all part of the film's split personality.
- Puny Earthlings: Earthlings.
- Pure Energy: The Drej, according to Korso, but the truth is a little more complex. See Energy Beings above.
- Racial Remnant: Humans are this after the Scary Dogmatic Aliens Energy Beings decide to blow up Earth in order to prevent humanity becoming a threat to them.
- Redemption Equals Death: Korso.
- Red Herring: Gune's mysterious device, which serves no useful purpose except for distracting him from the approaching Drej fighters.
- Refusal of the Call: Initally Cale blows Korso off, but then the Drej turn up and try to kill him.
- Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Drej.
- Scavenger World: The human colonies.
- Scenery Porn: The highlight of the film. Pick a scene, any scene...
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Many examples.
- In general stellar objects are insanely miniaturized. Nebulas appear to be a few ship lengths tall, distanced between stars and moons are covered in a matter of days or hours with sub-light speed propulsion systems.
- Akima, when jettisoned from the Drej ship in the middle of a nebula but is picked up by slavers in matter of hours.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: From the novelization; the Drej believe that if humans are allowed to replicate their technology, they'll eventually destroy the Drej with it, thus leading to the destruction of Earth. This fear is so deep-seated that when the Drej have the chance to later salvage the Titan and use it to repair their nearly dead mothership, they decide to destroy it anyway and hope they can solve their problems without it. The Drej firing on the Titan to destroy it is exactly what lets Cale steal their energy to power it.
- She's Got Legs: Stith, the ship's kangaroo-like alien mechanic.
- Sight Gag: When they first enter the Phoenix, the warning sign over the door appropriately depicts "No Drej".
- Smug Snake: Preed.
- Space Friction
- Space Is Cold: A very rare aversion. According to the commentary, a line that got deleted from the final cut mentioned Cale's blood being frozen due to exposure. If that one simple line hadn't been cut, this trope wouldn't have been averted.
- Space Is Noisy: Zoom! Wizz! Crunch! Ka-boom! Zap! Crunch!
- Space Whale: The Wake Angels.
- Spared by the Adaptation:
- In the movie, the cook is killed very early on by the Drej. In the novelization, he merely disappears and his fate is unknown.
- Another, albeit-more-subtle example, in the film, Cale's father is clearly mentioned as having died and the characters never question this. In the novel, they merely say that the character is "probably" dead.
- Stealth Pun: After Cale gets back, Korso tells him that Gune needs a hand. Literally, Gune needs Cale's hand.
- Storyboard Body: There is a story behind the tattoo on Cale's right arm, but the only place it is explained is in the Cale's Story novel. Paradoxically, the story behind the tattoo was probably invented after the fact for the novel, since the experience that earned him that mark should have made him far less cynical.
- Techno Wizard: Cale. Or Gune.
- Treacherous Advisor: Captain Korso, who is being paid by the Drej to find the Titan, so they can blow it up. He is betrayed in turn by HIS right hand man, Preed.
- Treasure Map: The ring keyed to Cale's father's DNA projects a visible map onto Cale's hand, showing the location of the Titan.
- Trojan Prisoner: Doesn't exactly work. See above.
- Used Future: The human refugees have to make do with what they have.
- War Was Beginning: It didn't last long.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Used weirdly throughout. In the world of the film, the phrase would more accurately be "What Measure is a Human?", because Earthlings are the Butt Monkey minorities after the destruction of Earth. That said, the human characters get away more or less unscathed when the action gets hot — but it's okay to have the alien characters get fried, get their necks snapped, and get turned into chunky salsa.
- Of course, nearly the entire human race was eradicated... and we do see one human get pretty graphically electrocuted.
- What Kept You?: By the time the crew comes to rescue Akima from the slave market, she's already beaten up everyone there.
- The World Is Just Awesome: From a cliff overlooking Planet Bob.
- Wrench Wench:
- Stith thoroughly averts this in that she is not the typical human (or alien) cutie and she hates doing repairs, though she is rather handy with weapons.
Stith: I am educated and well-read, I am not a mechanic! I have my pride!