Cartoonish, but not in a bad way

Movie: Titan A.E.

Titan A.E.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Release Date: 2000-06-16
Cast: Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Nathan Lane, Jim Breuer
Director: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Screenwriter: Ben Edlund, John August & Joss Whedon (screenplay), Randall McCormick and Hans Bauer (story)
Music Score: Graeme Revell
WorkNameSort: Titan A.E.
Our Rating: 3.50

"The Human race needs you," 20-year-old Earthling Cale (the voice of Matt Damon) is told by tough interstellar trader Korso (Bill Pullman) not long into "Titan A.E.," the latest and most-impressive animated feature from "Anastasia" creators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. So far, so much like typical summer fare: The planet's fate rests in the hands of a brawny, handsome young hero, initially reluctant but eventually more than willing to serve mankind.

There are a couple of big differences, though, between this action-adventure spectacle and the likes of "Independence Day" and its kin. In "Titan A.E.," Mother Earth already has been blown up by its native species' enemies. Back in 3028 A.D., the evil Drej did the job. And instead of cartoonish live-action science fiction -- take the execrable "Battlefield Earth," for instance -- we get a cartoon.

That classification, though, doesn't quite do justice to the artistry and creativity Bluth and Goldman bring to this $64 million effort, variously influenced by Disney, Japanese anime and the Star Wars movies. Several sequences, including the annihilation of Earth, a chase atop "hydrogen trees" and a voyage through the highly reflective Ice Rings of Tigrin, are packed with surprisingly sophisticated special effects.

Cale is bored by his humdrum life working with various aliens and humans aboard a salvage station, suffering through a cafeteria menu (bad event in the future) consisting of squishy, stringy, squirming food, pining for a day when he might be reunited with his father (Ron Perlman). The two parted 15 years earlier, when dad blasted into space aboard the giant Titan ship just in the nick of time.

So it doesn't take much convincing to get the kid to join Korso, particularly when the latter's crew includes beautiful Akima (Drew Barrymore). A loyal, sarcastic co-pilot Preed (Nathan Lane), a talky cook (Jim Breuer), navigator Gune (John Leguizamo) and weapons expert Stith (Janeane Garofalo) are also on board the Valkerie.

Cale, courtesy of the map genetically encoded into his hand, helps lead his new cohorts on a voyage through the heavens to the Titan ship to create a new home for the surviving bands of humans. But not without complications.

The comic-book dialogue and plot maneuvers combined with a noisy alt-rock soundtrack may spell success by drawing animation devotees along with teen-age boys and the sci-fi crowd.