The Simpsons. South Park. Transformers. My Little Pony. The list is more expansive than this, but all these cartoon properties have one thing in common: they all attempted, to varying degrees of success, to put a major motion picture in theaters while their TV show was in the middle of its non-syndicated television run. Now, there is a new member of the club: ‘Teen Titans GO,’ who see their film, the aptly-named ‘Teen Titans GO to the Movies,’ hit theaters this weekend.
‘South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut’ was extremely funny, and succeeded so well because it did something different than it’s televised counterpart – it arrived in the form of a musical – while still maintaining the vibe and integrity (such as it is) of the TV series. ‘The Simpsons Movie’ largely failed to delight fans, mostly because it just felt like a longer version of an average episode of the TV show (even though movie-goers did get to see a brief unedited version of Bart Simpson’s naughty bits, which was very weird). ‘Teen Titans GO to the Movies’ seems to straddle the line between these two approaches – and I’m happy to report, for the most part, it succeeds.
The plot of the film is very “meta,” as the entire Teen Titans series has always been. During a fight with a bad guy in their beloved Jump City, our team of intrepid heroes – Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, and Beast Boy – become distracted by themselves, and when members of The Justice League (Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern) show up to actually stop the threat, Robin starts to feel bad about the Titans’ possible “B-List” superhero status. The situation is exacerbated when the Titans are denied entry into the premiere of the newest Batman film; a veritable who’s-who of other DC superheroes are present for the film, including such deep cuts as The Atom, Metamorpho, Deadman, Swamp Thing, the Challengers of the Unknown, and more, so the Titans’ exclusion stings all the more.
Robin is determined to get him and the Titans a feature film of their own. Big-shot Hollywood producer Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) tells the team that they are just not movie material, especially with other big-name heroes in the mix – and especially without an arch-nemesis supervillain to call their own. After some rather hilarious time-travel hijinks to try and eliminate the other heroes from ever existing, the choice is clear: the Titans have gots to gets themselves a bona-fide enemy to fight.
Enter Slade (more commonly known as Deathstroke throughout the DC comics, but the powers-that-be probably thought that the word “Death” was a bit heavy for a film like this), a super-duper bad guy who breaks into S.T.A.R. Laboratories to steal some high-tech stuff. The Teen Titans spend the rest of the film chasing Slade (Will Arnett), trying to get their own movie to hit, making poop and fart jokes, and sorta learning valuable lessons and junk.
The movie is chock-full of jokes for both kids and adults – I even hesitate to call this a “kids movie,” as the balance of jokes aimed at adults is dangerously close to tipping the scales in the grown-ups direction. I don’t mean that in a gross or “mature” way, but the amount of things that will likely go over kids’ heads is sizable. As mentioned, the film reads like a “how many B-, C-, and D-List heroes from the comics can we squeeze in here,” and the younger crowd will have no idea who these people are. (The aforementioned Challengers of the Unknown actually star in several scenes of the film, much to my personal delight – time to bust out those DC Showcase trade paperbacks on my shelves and re-read their greatest adventures!) Multiple jokes about the failed attempts at the “DC Extended Universe” are present and good on the company for poking a bit of light-hearted fun at themselves. There are also several Marvel references, including the Titans mistaking Slade for Deadpool on more than one occasion and an animated Stan Lee cameo by The Man himself!
Of course, this is a Teen Titans film, so the juvenile jokes are out in force as well. The Titans have a great time saying “Slade” in the most ominous ways they can; the team works on defeating the balloon-like villain in the opening scene by punching a hole in his butt and listening to him “fart” as air escapes; the list goes on and on. I’m pleased to report, however, that many of the jokes for both kids and adults are intelligent and incisive – my particular favorites are when it’s demonstrated how hard it is to stop Batman from chasing you and the film-closing scene where Robin needs to make sure that a valuable lesson is learned, even if he screams the wrong “lesson” at the camera as the credits roll. There are direct and well-done references to other “Hollywood films” like ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ older DC films like the ’70s & ’80s Superman movies, and more. I laughed A LOT throughout the entire film – very likely moreso than my 8-year-old daughter did. In my defense… I am easily entertained and pretty dumb.
What’s not dumb, though, is ‘Teen Titans GO to the Movies.’ The animation is bright and peppy; the voice talent is top-notch, combining the Titans we know and love (Tara Strong, Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Greg Cipes, and Hynden Walch) with great turns from Bell and Arnett, in addition to fun cameos in the voice roles for Superman (Nic Cage!), Batman (Jimmy Kimmel!), Wonder Woman (Halsey!), Flash (Bill Hader!), Atom (Patton Oswalt!), and more. Biting humor, irreverent satire, surprisingly-deep DC in-jokes and non-stop nonsense make this a DC animated film to seek out – if you’re into that kind of thing. Much like ‘The LEGO Batman Movie,’ DC has figured out it’s fun-for-the-fun-of-it cartoon-movie formula, even if it’s still trying to find its footing in the live-action arena.
Oh, and there’s a mid-credit sequence that’s not to be missed for the hard-core DC Animated fans! Go, Titans, GO!