Sunday, April 24, 2016

Titan A.E.

  Murder? Greed? Betrayal? The extinction of humanity? Not exactly light viewing for a kid's flick, yet who says kids movies had to be light viewing? Titan A.E. might be almost 16 years old now, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hold up. It's still a sprawling space epic with all the gusto of a Star Wars movie, but the grunge and energy of something like The Matrix. It plays around with very, very familiar themes and tropes- like the reluctant, young, white, male, hero with emotional baggage over the death of a single parent. No, I'm not talking about Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy, I'm talking about Cale Tucker in this movie.

   There's also the ragtag group of galactic misfits (Still not Guardians of the Galaxy) which features a tech savvy weirdo, a coarse but mentor-esque captain, a gun nut, and an alien that talks in a fancy English accent. Swap out a few details and you have the crew from any popular Sci-Fi space opera (or western) from the past few decades. Titan A.E. hits all the right notes that a big space faring adventure should, and it barely gets any love. Not fair. It's characters are familiar enough that you don't need elaborate backstories for them, but they're unique enough to be fun and enjoyable.

   The whole movie seems to be assembled from the spare parts of a hundred other higher profile Sci-Fi flicks, but it's done so with great affection. Titan A.E. also manages to carve out it's own personality in the midst of everything. It's hip, energetic, and a big ball of fun. It doesn't ride on any kind of yesteryear nostalgia like Guardians of the Galaxy does (and does well) and it doesn't ride on any grandiose fairytale structure like Star Wars. It's a self contained story that seems content to concern itself only with the survival of one species instead of doing the cliche thing an putting the entire galaxy at risk.

   These characters can only handle so much, man. Sure, it's implied that if they fail, it might have bigger repercussions, but if Titan A.E. has any immediate message it's to appreciate and focus on what's right in front of you. In Cale's case, he just found someplace he might fit in. It's not so easy then when things get complicated, as always. Allegiances shift, betrayal abounds, and maybe even a romantic subplot? I also gotta give the movie props for that. The romantic subplot feels as natural as you could possibly get in a genre flick.

   The characters seem to genuinely interact with each other, not just trading witticisms but having actual conversations where they're saying stuff that has weight and emotion behind it. Like, woah. Why didn't this movie catch on with more people? This was quality filmmaking here. Sure it's a kid's movie, but it's not going to insult anyone's intelligence- of any age. Trying my best to watch it without my personal nostalgia goggles on, I still found the movie to be a slick and smart ride with richly written characters. Even other similar animated efforts like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet succumb to silly comic relief or painfully obvious cliches.

   While Titan A.E. isn't entirely immune to either of those drawbacks, they're much less obvious here. The humor, dialog, and tone feels like a regular movie- not one made specifically for an audience that's still struggling to reach most height requirements at a theme park. People don't really consider Star Wars a kids movie, no more than people still call science fiction "juvenile nonsense", but it is a movie that kids can and do absolutely enjoy. Titan A.E. is the same. It's animated- and well animated at that, but it doesn't need or deserve to be pigeonholed as a "kid's movie".

   The villains might be rather standard, and the story is pretty predictable, but the strength of the movie is definitely in the characters, the action scenes, the dialog, the style, the visuals and the animation. So what if it's a little cliche here and there? It's well crafted entertainment with a great A-list cast and a fun soundtrack. A lot of the themes and concepts in the movie will probably fly right over most kids' heads, but they'll still enjoy the shootouts, spaceships, daring escapes, swashbuckling adventure and the eye-catchingly vibrant visuals. And, shoot... who wouldn't?

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