DC Comics has never really broken the mold when it comes to film forays this millennium outside of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Sure, there was the occasional Watchmen or V for Vendetta – technically – but more often than not we got something more on par with Green Lantern or Catwoman. But where DC always excelled – and allegedly still does – is on the small screen. While I’ve always considered myself a Marvel fanboy first and foremost, as far as the TV side of superhero things were concerned, nothing topped the mid-2000’s iteration of Teen Titans on Cartoon Network. Don’t ask me why it only ran five seasons, because pretty much everyone my age agrees it was absolutely the bees’ knees. But if you ask those same people about this decade’s incarnation of the Titans in Teen Titans Go!, you’ll get a wholly different response. And most haven’t really given it a chance – myself included – partly due to the fact that it’s ostensibly bubblegum gibberish aimed strictly at the seven to eleven age set and dispels of any character drama and world-building that made its predecessor so compelling. And yeah, the first series got silly at times because it knew what channel it was on, but it was able to hone in on the kind of DC storytelling adroitness that created a fanbase that’s as rabid – perhaps even more so – as it is today. So to see the sequel series that’s largely regarded as a sacrilegious slap to the face get the feature film treatment instead has drawn plenty of indignation from the older community. And I’ll admit, I probably will still never give the current series a chance, but if this film version, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is any indication, we may have been a bit too quick to criticize. It’s not groundbreaking animation, and really can’t compare with the juggernauts of its field, but for what it’s worth, it’s eighty-eight minutes of superhero stand-up that echoes the precise kind of commentary you’ll hear from these fan communities. Its post-modern sensibilities may be a symptom of the cannibalism of the genre, but it’s likely to induce the most laughs you’ll have at the theatre all summer.
In Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, it seems as if every hero on the market is getting the big-screen treatment, with the latest installment of the Caped Crusader’s franchise being appropriately titled “Batman Again.” With so much cinematic love to go around, is it too much to ask for the Boy Wonder himself Robin (Scott Menville) to get his standalone? Apparently, yes, as he and the rest of the Titans – including Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong) and Starfire (Hynden Walch) – are shrugged off as mere superhero wannabes, undeserving of making it to the big time. At least that’s what megashot Hollywood director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) tells them. Yet there’s hope: the only thing the Titans are missing from the superhero formula is an arch-nemesis, a Joker to their Batman, if you will. Well that’s enough hope for Robin and company, who stumble along the perfect candidate in the martial arts expert and master of mind manipulation Slade (Will Arnett). Together, the Titans will do whatever it takes to earn Slade’s hatred, court Wilson’s attention, and make it onto the silver screen.
So, yeah, as I’m sure you can imagine, there’s plenty of meta humor and superhero commentary to go around here, there being in reality and influx of superhero films to the point where fatigue of the genre must be just around the corner. And Teen Titans Go! To the Movies takes full advantage of the current landscape. Though largely in response to the trend of universe-building ushered in by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now seems the perfect time for this film to be released, following the relative crashing and burning of the DC Extended Universe with the disappointment that was last fall’s Justice League. And trust me, the more comedic leverage this one can find, the better, as it’s more than willing to rip on some of DC’s lowest points, like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And while this self-awareness and self-deconstruction isn’t new within the superhero genre, the animation element alone gives this film the ability to set that regimen to rapid-fire. Not even the groundbreaking Deadpool can measure up to the amount of superhero jokes laid out here. And as far as their potency is concerned, it’s all actually pretty funny, assuming you’re with the times and can recognize and appreciate the myriad of references it makes. Seriously, at certain points, frames become essentially a Where’s Waldo? picture, where viewers will likely be trying to pinpoint all the obscure DC characters and easter eggs that otherwise wouldn’t be seen in a theatrical film.
But the humor doesn’t stop there, as perhaps Teen Titans Go! To the Movies‘s funniest moments come from it just trying to be funny in a natural or unexpected sense that don’t require any outside knowledge. Seriously, the end joke of a happy, upbeat inspirational song about life montage had me grateful I was the only one in the theatre so I could laugh my ass right the f*ck off. And speaking of that montage, throughout the film the animation will find itself fluidly adapting to fit whatever comedic context the scene requires of it. At its default setting, it’ll look more and less like your regular Saturday-morning cartoon polished off to meet big-screen expectations, but it often warps into something dynamic and bizarre to the point that it evokes images of the criminally forgotten Disney gem that is Teacher’s Pet.
Actually, that film is a germane comparison, because similarly Teen Titans Go! To the Movies isn’t really for kids. At least, not for the age of kids you would presume. Rather, I would contend that the audience that would get the most mileage out of it is young adults, or namely those that are most familiar with the superhero genre and the extended universe of comics. I kind of hate the excuse that poorly received films use when they claim they were “made for the fans,” but this one really was made for the fans. Granted, I probably can’t make a full argument having not seen the new series it’s based off of, but I’ll still try by saying that it may actually be catering more to fans of the original Teen Titans series than the current one. To use another comparison, I’ll bring in last year’s Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie as an example. Though initial footage led one to believe it was being marketed to a younger set as well, the actual product revealed it had more in mind the now grown-up kids who read the books while they were in their heyday in the early to mid 2000’s. It may have been full of potty humor – pun intended, for those who’ve seen it – but there was a whole lot for adults as well. Now, this Titans outing isn’t as adult-centric as some animated films, but it’ll definitely be better appreciated by those who can recognize when it’s nodding its cap to even just the evolution of animated films over the years. And though it may be unrestrained in its approach, it’s evident that the minds behind it are enthusiastic animators who hold a lot of reverence for the old stuff. They’re having fun, which makes the Titans fun, which makes us have fun.
Normally, I’d give recognition to the work done in front of the camera, but here we simply have a terrific team of voice actors to lend the characters the kind of verve the film requires. One of the strongest contributors to any incarnation of the Titans – save for the upcoming live-action series boringly titled Titans; hold your breath on that one – has to be the primary voice talents behind the heroic five-some themselves, who reprise their roles here. The reason the Teen Titans has worked and works here is easily due to the team dynamic, and how well the characters support and play off one another, and it would all be for naught were the voice actors not as on point as they are. As for the celebrity-laden supporting cast is concerned, many will be quick to recognize Arnett as Slade, as he takes over the reigns for Ron Perlman, who voiced the character on the original series. And though he may be a lesser and safer pick, he certainly does fit the mold for the comedic tone that the film is going for. I won’t run down the list for those in cameo roles, but I will give a quick shoutout to Nicolas Cage, who finally got to play Superman in a big-screen movie.
If there’s any glaring negative about the film, the story may be an easy target, as its “boys to men” paradigm – in the sense that the protagonists are out to gain respect from the older generation – is heavily reliant on the likes of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Not to mention a certain third-act plot device will have moviegoers harkening back to just six weeks prior when Incredibles 2 did it first, though that can easily be chalked up to coincidence more than anything. Though while these developments are familiar and somewhat trite, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies takes it in stride, as it never makes you question whether the film could have gone any other way.
Having said that, though, it’s not like a huge burden of narrative expectation was or should be placed on this. And Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is really only interested in making you laugh, and make you laugh it shall. As a preface, I’ll note that the rating I’ve attached below admittedly doesn’t really reflect what I’ve written here, as my opinion and fondness for the film has only grown in the days since I’ve seen it and am now writing this, and I’m already more than willing to revisit it someday and amend my score. But regardless, my ultimate conclusion is that though it may not be the most transcendent product to come out of the superhero boom, it is absolutely a breezy, colorful time.
Final Score: 6/10