Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, 2018.
Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail.
Featuring the voice talents of Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Hynden Walch, Greg Cipes, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Halsey, Lil’ Yachty, Tom Kenny, John DiMaggio, Jimmy Kimmel, Stan Lee, and Dana Snyder.
A villain’s maniacal plan for world domination sidetracks five teenage superheroes who dream of Hollywood stardom.
Nowadays, it seems the best way to market an animated movie for both children and adults is to pepper the child-friendly aspects with a number of adult-oriented jokes that are too subtle for kids to catch onto let alone understand. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (based on the popular cartoon from writers Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail who have also been granted directorial duties for this big screen adaptation) is strictly for young ones through and through (complete with the usual messages of staying true to one’s self and never betraying your real friends, especially in the name of fame or getting ahead in life), but they (along with co-writer Michael Jelenic) know that adults need something to cling onto in order to tolerate the experience enough to bring their little ones in the first place.
Let’s face it, this isn’t Incredibles 2 (which has the right amount of political allegory presence) or even the recently released Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation which has quite a bit of that aforementioned grown-up humor, this rebooted Teen Titans cartoon has always seemed to be about leaning in to teaching kids life lessons and the camaraderie from the young heroes hanging out rather than actual crime-fighting with an interesting story. Every now and then it will have a self-aware joke, but more often than not it usually comes across as another way to explain something to kids. For the movie, the tone is drastically different and more along the lines with another Warner Bros. property, The LEGO Movie, here sending up the superhero genre of films new and old, even functionally serving as a broad commentary on our fascination with consuming these epics rooted into its central plot.
Much like our own world, the fantastical universe of spandex-wearing crime fighters (whom often have enhanced abilities) is obsessed with whatever the current blockbuster starring one of their own is at the time. Everyone including Sir Alfred is getting their time to shine, so as the Teen Titans gang (Scott Menville’s Robin, Tara Strong’s Raven, Khary Payton’s Cyborg, Hynden Walch’s Starfire, and Greg Cipes’ Beast Boy) join a fancy premiere surrounded by their peers (including more well-known DC saviors ranging from Wonder Woman voiced by Halsey to Nicolas Cage finally getting an opportunity to do an interpretation of Superman, which in itself is actually worth the price of admission), they, especially Robin, become disheartened and expressively hurt at the fact that not only is Hollywood’s biggest director Jade Wilson (voiced by Kristen Bell) disinterested in making a movie about them, but also that no one knows who they are.
And so the quest begins to raise their notoriety and popularity in an effort to make it to the grandest stage of all, the silver screen. What ensues is a highly meta, self-aware lighthearted comedic offering where the expense of its jabs is not limited to DC… or even Marvel. Part of getting your own superhero movie is finding an arch-nemesis (there is a saying that you’re only as good as your best villain) who here comes in the form of Will Arnett’s Deathstroke who the group has mistaken for the Merc with a Mouth Deadpool. More hilariously, his nefarious plans involved a magical crystal that can easily do his bidding, and it’s something immediately poked fun at with its tongue firmly in its cheek.
The gang tries everything from going back in time eliminating all of their competition to saving the day themselves, and the journey there is filled with numerous inspired directorial choices; there’s actually a sequence in this movie that pays homage to The Lion King of all things. Of course, as par for the course with Teen Titans Go, some of the manic energy and sheer bizarreness of it all can feel grating and exclusively for children (there are some song and dance numbers here, with one so far out there that while watching it I questioned if anyone was on drugs conceiving it, and that’s coming from someone who hates lobbying that assumption towards weird creativity), but To the Movies balances it all out by flinging reference after reference at the wall. More often than not, the jokes land.
As far as the actual animation, it looks exactly like the show; very colorful, with plenty of wide-open spaces, a throwback vibe, and is as busy as the characters themselves. None of the action sequences are particularly memorable, but they get the job done and find some clever ways to utilize the mechanical body of Cyborg. Robin also has baby hands and desires to be depicted as more of a hunky macho figure in his hopeful film adaptation, which is seen at points and more frightening than anything. Regardless, it’s pleasant simply to see something hand-drawn in theaters again.
Most of all, it’s just a blast watching a superhero movie playfully send-up the genre and in some cases outright attack movies within its own brand (nothing is spared here, not even the stupidity of the Martha revelation in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Superhero movies have come a long way and matured to a legitimate form of cinematic art, but there’s still enough room to have a good laugh at the embraced tropes and shortcomings. Whether you have never watched the cartoon or prefer the original version (by the way, you will get a nice surprise as well), It should be encouraged for adults to take their children to Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. Like most good animated movies, there’s something in it for everyone… even a Stan Lee cameo that sends the best possible message to comic book fandom; forget label wars, let’s just celebrate what’s good no matter its creator.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com