It was hailed as the future of animation, a sci-fi epic that would blow away audiences with its dazzling visuals and thrilling story. But Titan A.E., the 2000 film directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, turned out to be a monumental flop that wiped out its studio and destroyed its creators’ reputation.
The film, which starred Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore and Bill Pullman as the voices of a ragtag team of space adventurers, followed a young man named Cale who had to find a spaceship that could rebuild Earth after it was obliterated by alien invaders. Along the way, he faced deadly enemies, exotic aliens and a shocking revelation about his father.
Titan A.E. was a daring attempt to merge traditional 2D animation with cutting-edge 3D computer graphics, creating a stunning visual spectacle that aimed to appeal to older and more sophisticated audiences. It was also a radical departure from the Disney musical formula that ruled the animation industry in the 1990s, offering a darker and more mature story with complex themes and characters.
But the film was plagued by countless problems during its production, including script rewrites, budget overruns, staff layoffs and marketing mishaps. The film cost a staggering $90 million to make, but only made a pitiful $36.8 million worldwide, making it one of the biggest box office disasters in history.
Critics were also merciless in their reviews of the film’s clichéd plot, bland characters and overused sci-fi tropes. Many slammed it as a cheap knock-off or a pale imitation of Star Wars, accusing it of being unoriginal and uninspired. “One of those children’s movies that is made for especially dim or easily fooled children,” sneered Film.com at the time of the release.
The film’s failure had catastrophic consequences for its studio, Fox Animation, which closed its doors just weeks after its release. It also marked the end of Bluth and Goldman’s partnership, which had produced beloved classics such as An American Tail and The Land Before Time in the 1980s.
But despite its commercial and critical disaster, Titan A.E. has gained a cult following over the years, with some fans and critics admiring its artistic risk-taking, its stunning animation and its unique vision. “The directors were making something distinct, a departure from the dominance of Disney fables during the 90s but right before other studios … found success with more satirical storytelling,” wrote Carlos Aguilar in The Guardian.
Some have even argued that Titan A.E. was ahead of its time, anticipating the rise of 3D animation and sci-fi action in the following decade. “It was the first taste of grandiose space adventure for younger audiences,” wrote Petrana Radulovic in Polygon.
Whether you love it or hate it, Titan A.E. remains a fascinating case study of how an ambitious animated film can go horribly wrong or wonderfully right, depending on your perspective.