Teen Titans Go! To the Movies: Teen Titans Get! Reviewed, by Ian Brill
Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go! is a strange property that contains within it both the past and present of Warner Bros. Animation’s achievements. It exemplifies the present by being yet another TV show (and now, a movie) that makes use of the company’s DC Comics superheroes — in this case the version of the Teen Titans that began in the 80s. But while most superhero shows want to ground their characters to make them palatable for a wider audience, Teen Titans Go! uses every trick in the animation playbook to create some of the most anarchic and freewheeling comedy out there. The Warner Bros. Animation logo that precedes the film features Daffy Duck and it’s the original Tex Avery and Bob Clampett Daffy that jumps around and spouts “woo-hoo!” in manic glee. The preceding film is born of that lineage, and that alone makes it an antidote to the very serious versions of superheroes on TV and in cinemas, many of which are coming from the Warner Bros. itself. The film Teen Titans Go! To the Movies faces the challenge of taking a show that is delivered in 12-minute chunks and sees if it can sustain a feature-length film. It’s mostly successful, but it’s clear that even the filmmakers themselves don’t believe that go-for-the-broke spirit cannot sustain itself for even a modest runtime of 88 minutes.
Teen Titans Go! is about what Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven do when they’re not fighting crime. The plots mostly concern themselves with the characters indulging in what they love, be it eating pies, eating sandwiches, or singing about eating pies and sandwiches. Matt Groening has explained that Homer Simpson is appealing because the character loves what he loves. The Teen Titans similarly celebrate the good things in life with infectious glee. The schism within the group is that their leader, Batman’s sidekick Robin, often wants the group to take things bit more seriously and the other four are happy to be teens who watch TV and dance to silly songs. In Teen Titans Go! to The Movies that conflict is taken into meta territory when Robin sees every other superhero get a film and he feels left out. He wants the Titans to gain and fight an arch-nemesis, so they will be finally ready for the big screen. Enter: Slade (he’s called Deathstroke in the comics but maybe that was too much for a PG-rated film).
The team’s visit to the premiere of yet another Batman movie and then to the Warner Bros. studio leads to many gags that have fun with our current glut of superhero narratives. Every aspect of Batman’s mythos is getting a movie except Robin, with a perfectly grim trailer each time. Furthermore, there is a seemingly never-ending supply of background jokes that have fun with DC Comics’ history. If you ever wanted to see a dinosaur version of the cowboy anti-hero Jonah Hex named Jonah Rex, keep your eyes peeled.
This may seem like territory that’s already a little familiar thanks to Warner Bros. Animation’s own The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. The voice of Lego Batman, Will Arnett, even shows up as the voice of Slade. What sets Teen Titans Go! To the Movies apart is its animation style, which takes the iconic George Pérez character designs and reimagines them in a way that is influenced by indie comics and anime. From there the film goes into sequences that further transform the style of the film in brilliantly creative ways. There is a Lion King parody sequence that is a major highlight of the film. Only a little while later the characters star in their own music video for an original 80s-style inspirational song sung by Michael Bolton, the end of which gives the film its best gag.
This inventiveness does peter out when Slade’s villainous plot is revealed and Robin tries to take him down. Robin is the only-somewhat-smarter Bud Abbott to the four Lou Costellos that makes up the rest of the team. When the film separates Robin from his teammates, we get an enjoyably snarky and light animated film but it’s nothing special compared to what we saw in the first half. The bigger shame is that the film dangles an intriguing plotline that involves the team travelling through time to make sure they are the only superheroes left. That would have been a main story that matches the audacious approach of the film’s beginning, but it is dashes it away as soon as it appears. Still, we get to hear Robin exclaim “these time cycles are powered by madness!” which is worth the ticket price alone.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies still has a lot of joy in it, especially for the superhero-obsessed who are comfortable enough in their obsession to laugh at it. Perhaps directors Peter Rida Michail and Aaron Horvath made the right call in easing up on the pace as the film continues but we’ll never know. While the film never truly capitalizes on what it puts forth in the beginning, it’s still a good enough parody of the pomposity of our current superhero climate.