The latest superhero flick to hit the big screens has arrived, and features pretty much everyone you can name from the DC Universe, including Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League. But this isn’t some overwrought angst fest a la Superman V Batman: Dawn of Justice, nor is it some galaxy-spanning epic, a la Infinity War. This is Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, a full-length film based on the Teen Titnas Go! (itself a spinoff of Cartoon Network’s beloved Teen Titans, that ran from 2003-2006) series of animated shorts.
Audiences might ignore it
On first glance, it would be easy to dismiss Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and the show it’s based on (Teen Titans Go!) as mere mockeries of their much-beloved predecessor. However, in doing so, one would be making the mistake of missing out on a frequently funny, heartfelt tribute to DC’s iconic characters. Unfortunately, with blockbusters like Mission: Impossible – Fallout, BuyBust, and even Mamma Mia 2 currently duking out for moviegoers’ attention, it’s a mistake many moviegoers have probably already made.
The plot is awesomely ridiculous
The film opens with the Titans –Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven– being turned away from the premiere of the latest Batman movie (fittingly titled, “Batman Again”), on account of their not being considered real heroes. When he learns that even Batman’s belt(!) and butler have films on the way, Robin reveals that he has always dreamed of starring in or being the subject of his own superhero movie. In order to help the Boy Wonder realize his dream, the Titans set out attract studio attention by fighting a villain they can build their credibility with.
As sequences of escalating hilarity detail the team’s search for an arch-nemesis to call their own, which ends when they cross paths with Slade Wilson (The Lego Batman Movie’s Will Arnett). Slade is out to capture a precious gem he needs to enslave the world, and it’s up to the Titans to thwart his evil scheme.
Will Slade be the villain of their dreams or will the Titans’ inherent goofiness stop Robin from getting his movie?
It embraces its TV roots
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies was in good hands from the get-go, written and produced by series showrunners Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath, with directing handled by Horvath and producer Peter Rida Michail. Ostensibly set during the series’ fifth season, it feels very much a part of what ‘s been established on TV, albeit with a bigger budget, yet remains instantly accessible to anyone who’s never seen an episode.
Where the show consists mainly of 15-minute shorts built on gags, slapstick, and one-liners, the film is…mostly the same, but with an extended running time.
It’s a musical!
At its core, To the Movies has a lot in common with your typical Disney animated flick, being a film about discovering, in the face of adversity, what really matters in life (ie. FRIENDSHIP and/or FAMILY) while dishing out a catchy tune or two. In this case, the song is “Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life”, an 80s-style power ballad that the Titans use to alleviate Robin’s depression over his Hollywood dream. Now, this would be enjoyable enough on its own, but the inclusion of Michael Bolton’s vocals as a tiger make this one for the ages. Now, we don’t know when he developed a sense of humor (though one surmises it was around the time he did “Jack Sparrow” with Lonely Island), but we honestly can’t complain.
It looks great
Visually, the movie’s animation style replicates the aesthetic of its small-screen roots while boasting significantly increased quality and overall scale. The designs (themselves stripped down versions of the 2003-2006 originals) translate surprisingly well to the big screen, with the bright colors fully embracing the characters’ four-color origins.
It’s like deadpool…for kids!
With all apologies to the film’s main villain, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is best described as DC’s version of Deadpool: a hilarious, irreverent romp that gleefully mocks superhero trends and conventions with Fourth wall-breaking aplomb. Similar to the aforementioned Merc with a Mouth, To the Movies! has no issues poking fun at its parent companies, with several jokes levied at Warner Brothers’ multiple attempts to create a coherent cinematic. Even the competition isn’t spared, as when the Titans are mistaken for the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Even the signs, posters, and billboards that populate the background are hilarious, making for an experience that will definitely take more than one viewing to fully absorb.
There are easter eggs everywhere
Easter eggs abound in this film, with more references, homages, and outright recreations than you can shake a stick at, many of which will likely fly over the target audience’s heads. Take, for instance, our heroes’ ill-advised series of travels across time, which open with (what else?) Alan Silvestri’s iconic Back to the Future theme, followed by a montage set to Huey Luis and the News’ “Back in Time” (naturally).
All told, the callbacks to nearly every facet of DC Comics lore are priceless, ranging from the fairly recent (“What is your mother’s name?!”) to the more classic ( “Help me stop Gene Hackman’s real estate scheme!”) are priceless, but casting Nicolas Cage as Superman and have him say the line, “Somebody save me!”? Whoever was responsible for that deserves a raise.
A sign of the times
Clearly, we’ve come a long way from the likes of 1999’s Mystery Men, a superhero spoof that flopped with mainstream audiences based largely on the fact that most people just weren’t familiar with the conventions being parodied. And, honestly, who could blame them? Back then, the only successful superhero flicks had been Superman the Movie (1978) and Batman (1989), with both series fizzling out around their third entries. On the Marvel side of things, Blade was only a year old, the first X-Men movie was a year away, and most Marvel properties were divided among a handful of studios.
Compare that with the screening this writer attended, where Green Lantern’s lament that his movie was something he refused to discuss (a clear reference to Ryan Reynold’s 2011 disaster) drew one of the biggest laughs.
What a difference a couple of decades make.
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