Titan A.E. is a 2000 post-apocalyptic animated science fiction adventure film from Fox Animation Studios and 20th Century Fox. The title refers to the fictional spacecraft that is central to the plot, with A.E. meaning "After Earth."
The film's animation technique combines traditional hand-drawn animation and extensive use of computer generated imagery. The film is rated PG for "action violence, mild sensuality, and brief language" by the MPAA. Its working title was Planet Ice. It has since become a cult film.
On the outskirts of Pierce, Colorado, young Cale Tucker is testing his new invention at a brook when the brook turns violent, breaking Cale's invention and almost causing him to lose it. Sam Tucker, Cale's father, rescues the invention and tells Cale that now is not the time to fix it, because the Drej, having found out about the secret Titan ship, are attacking Earth, in response to which the Earth's President has ordered an immediate evacuation of the planet.
While Sam and Cale wait for transport, Cale spots a fleet of V/STOL aircraft heading towards the Spaceport and a squadron of space fighters being deployed to counterattack the Drej. A hovering jeep, driven by Joseph Korso and Sam's alien friend Tek, takes the Tuckers to the Spaceport, where streams of refugees are boarding spaceships. The jeep stops near a spaceship reserved for relatives of the scientists involved in Project Titan. To Cale's horror, Sam chooses to stay behind, giving Cale a ring just as Korso reveals that the Drej have succeeded in breaching the GDS. Tek takes Cale aboard the ship, while Sam takes the hover jeep to the Titan's secret underground hangar (cleverly concealed by a 20th century barn) and boards the Titan just as the giant hangar doors open.
Earth, meanwhile, is being attacked by the Drej. Their mothership sends a squadron of smaller "stingers" to attack Earth's GDS, the squadrons of space fighters, and some of the evacuees' ships as hundreds of space vehicles are fleeing with mankind aboard. The fighter ships return to the mothership just as the Drej Queen orders the immediate destruction of Earth. The Drej mothership then fires a powerful energy beam toward the North Pole, while the Titan is launched from its secret hangar and disappears into space. The energy beam causes the Earth's spin to increase until the resulting centrifugal force blows the planet to pieces. Magma and chunks of the tectonic plates fly out into space, blowing up the Moon and destroying many escape ships. The debris then gives way to the main title.
Fifteen years later, in 3043, Cale, having been raised and protected by Tek, works on a salvage station built into an asteroid, Tau 14, living a rough life and resenting his father for having disappeared aboard the Titan. Without a true home planet and no colonies of their own, surviving humans have been reduced to space drifters and are constantly bullied by other space-faring races. Cale experiences this when the aliens working at Tau 14 stop him from entering the express line, forcing him to use the docking port, in which the spaceship Valkyrie comes. Cale catches a glimpse of Akima, the ship's pilot, and tries to hide his affections for her by pretending to wash the canopy roof.
Inside, the ship's cockroach-like cook will only serve Cale unappealing alien food. Tek's advice fails to comfort Cale, who is later beaten by two bullies. Korso intervenes and later explains that he is seeking Cale because in the DNA-encrypted ring Sam gave to Cale is a map by which they may find the Titan and unite all of mankind.
During the conversation, three Drej soldiers enter the salvage station. Korso explains to Cale the Drej wish to destroy him in order to conceal the map. The Drej then start firing at Cale and Korso, but the pair manage to stall their attackers by damaging the gravity generator. Although Cale asks Tek to join them, he insists on staying. Cale and Korso flee towards the kitchen and out the air vents. In the process of hotwiring an escape pod, more Drej units infiltrate the station, and Cale is wounded in the arm and leg. Korso manages to pilot the pod up through a glass roof and flies toward the docking port.
During the flight, the pod suffers considerable damage, including a cracked glass canopy. Korso orders Cale to exhale and kicks through the cracking glass. Using a fire extinguisher to propel themselves through the vacuum of space, the pair manage to enter the Valkyrie's cargo bay, which then makes a leap into hyperspace before the Drej fighter ships can attack.
With Akima's help, Cale has his blast wounds healed and thus begins his race across the Universe with Korso and his ship and crew, including first mate Preed, a wisecracking, English-accented, bat-like humanoid (an Akrennian); Gune, an eccentric, green-skinned scientist (a Grapoan); and Stith, a tough, female weapons expert who resembles a kangaroo with oversized legs (a Sogowan).
The map first leads them to a seemingly dead planet, Sesharrim, which is littered with explosive Hydrogen Trees. Cale, Akima, Korso, and Stith travel to a temple by boat, leaving Gune and Preed to guard the ship and watch for the Drej. At the temple, the search party meets with the planet's inhabitants, a bat/bird-like race called the Gaol. The Gaol are hostile towards the intruders until Cale explains that he and his friends are on Sesharrim to look for the Titan. The Gaol leader looks at Cale's hand and instructs him to hold his hand up to the planet's broken moon. Korso and Akima then notice that the map is pointing toward a nebula.
Meanwhile, Preed is distracted from his watchman's task (He was trying to kill a cricket with a Death ray). Gune, paying more attention to the radar, sees Drej fighter ships and immediately alerts Korso. The Gaol facilitate the group's escape after the Drej blow up their boat. Drej shoot down some of the Gaol; during the attack, Akima notices that the Drej are not shooting at Cale, suggesting that they want him alive and not dead as originally thought. Preed and Gune shoot down the many of the remaining Drej ships, but one manages to kidnap Cale and Akima and take them to the Drej mothership. En route, Cale asks Akima why the Drej want to destroy mankind and what mankind did to the Drej that would deserve the loss of Earth. She responds that humanity did nothing to the Drej, but adds that the Drej are afraid of what humanity might become, and narrates her own life's history.
On the mothership, the Drej Queen uses the map to locate the Titan. She orders Cale imprisoned and Akima to be jettisoned into space in a crystal pod. She ends up on the 'Trade Ship Soros'. Upon her arrival there, Korso, Preed, and Stith appear at the station. Preed tries and fails to sneak Korso inside. Akima, meanwhile, is being inspected by the guards who brought her; after they open the pod, she beats them and meets her rescuers.
Meanwhile, Cale remains in his cell in the Drej mothership, until he discovers that by using two fingers to push apart the energetic membrane imprisoning him, he can escape his cell. When the Drej Queen orders several fighter ships to go to the nebula, Cale makes his way aboard one of the ships and manages to evade the Drej undetected.
Cale manages to pilot the Drej ship to the Valkyrie. Cale frantically tries to send an encoded sequence to identify himself and prevent confrontation. Korso intercepts the code and allows Cale into the Valkyrie. Cale informs them that the Drej have copied the map, whereupon Gune examines it once more and realizes that it is pointing to a nebula known as the Ice Rings of Tigrin. Later, Korso shows Cale how to pilot the ship and race some Wake Angels (electric creatures that live in open space, rumored by star pilots to be sources of good luck) for fun.
When they stop at the New Bangkok drifter colony for supplies, Cale and Akima overhear a conversation between Korso and the Drej Queen's hologram, wherein it is revealed that Korso is searching for the Titan in order to hand it over to the Drej for money. In the ensuing confrontation, Korso aggressively reveals that the Drej have long ago killed Sam Tucker after refusing reveal the location of the Titan, and that he believes that it makes no difference whether or not the human race find another home, because the Drej will continue pursuing them until the humans are destroyed. Cale and Akima flee, and Preed—having been aware of Korso's intentions all along—attempts to catch them, only to become stranded on the drifter colony.
There in New Bangkok, Cale and Akima are helped by the colony's elder women. When Cale sees a boy inventing a new sport, he remembers the invention he made during Earth's final hour and other memories of his father. Cale and Akima repair one of the wrecked spacecraft on the station, the Phoenix, and use it to make their way to the Ice Rings of Tigrin, in which the Titan has been hidden. Korso learns of Akima and Cale's actions and follows the pair, who again manage to evade Korso and at last find the Titan.
Within the Titan, Cale and Akima discover that Cale's father had been one of the main architects in designing the craft. The designers, anticipating the destruction of Earth, gave the Titan the ability to create a new planet and loaded it with the DNA of every living Earth species for the purpose of repopulating the new world. Unfortunately, according to a holographic message left by Sam Tucker for Cale, the ship's energy has been long since drained and the process cannot be activated.
Korso finds and boards the Titan, accompanied by Preed. Preed leaves Stith and Gune a communication watch, which later turns out to have been a bomb designed to remove the two of them; Gune apparently sacrifices himself to detonate the bomb away from Stith. Korso and Preed confront Cale and Akima. Cale tries to reason with Korso to no avail. Preed turns on Korso, having been promised his life and a substantial amount of money by the Drej in exchange for his killing of Cale, Akima, and Korso. However, Preed hesitates, and a scuffle follows, in which Korso kills Preed by snapping his neck. Korso then fights with Cale before falling over a railing. Cale grabs hold of Korso's hand, trying to save him, while Korso goads him to let him fall to his death. Cale refuses to let go, but Korso slips from his grip and falls. However, Korso survives by hanging onto a metal rope. Akima and Cale, joined by Stith, then work together to defend the Titan against the impending Drej attack. Cale realizes that the energy comprising the Drej and their ships may be used to power up the Titan's systems; therefore they work to bring the vessel online, until they see that one of the circuits is jammed.
As Cale dons a space suit, and Akima and Stith use the Titan's guns to provide cover for Cale. The Drej ships destroy the guns and threaten Cale until Gune, who has survived the explosion, pilots the Valkyrie to fight the Drej ships. He manages to damage one, which crashes and pins Cale against the Titan's outer wall.
Korso reappears, but unexpectedly frees Cale, realizing that they might have a chance to defeat the Drej. The ships then return to the mothership, which is preparing to fire in the same method it used to destroy Earth. Korso joins Cale in the circuitry room, and persuades him to use his ring to power up the system while Korso sacrifices himself to bridge the jammed circuit. Reluctantly, Cale agrees, and bids farewell to his friend. Korso, bleeding to death after suffering a blast from a Drej ship, uses his final moments to bridge the circuit with his gun. the Drej mothership fires a destructive beam at the Titan. Cale, at the last moment, uses the ring to channel the beam's power into the Titan's systems. The Titan drains all the Drej energy—which causes them to disintegrate—and uses the surrounding matter to form a new planet, which is mostly comprised of the Ice Rings.
The film ends with Akima and Cale standing upon their newly-created world, with Stith and Gune flying above them aboard the Valkyrie, and bidding their friends "good bye" as they prepare to kiss. Akima wants to name the planet "New Earth," while Cale suggests naming it "Bob" as a joke. The final scene is of the human refugees in the spaceships coming to the planet labeled "New Earth [Planet Bob]." It is now the year 16 A. E. ("After Earth").
One of the reasons most commonly given for the financial disaster of Titan A.E. is its poorly identified target audience. People were unsure, having seen trailers for the film, whether it was intended for an older sci-fi fan crowd, or whether it was pitched more at children. This confusion was further increased by the mixture of people used to write and direct the production. Joss Whedon, was, at the time, famous for the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as for making contributions to films such as Speed and Disney/Pixar's G-rated family CGI hit Toy Story, whereas Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were more noted for also creating G-rated children's cartoons such as The Secret of NIMH and Anastasia. Bluth later added to the confusion when he stated during an interview with HBO's First Look, "This is not one of those cute, little kid musicals; this film is nothing but action." However, the film garners a 70% "fresh" rating among users at Rotten Tomatoes, in comparison to the 51% given by critics, and a "C+" at Box Office Mojo. Notably, though, film critic Roger Ebert enjoyed it, giving it 3.5/4 stars for its "rousing story," "largeness of spirit," and "galactic visuals [which] are beautiful in the same way photos by the Hubble Space Telescope are beautiful." He cited the Ice Rings sequence as "a perfect examine [sic] of what animation can do and live action cannot.
The Dark Horse Comics prequel comic told the story of Sam Tucker and his crew, and their quest to hide the Titan.