Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is irreverent and clever, a satire of superhero movies that both kids and adults can enjoy. A sort of breathless anarchic energy overcomes the film. Yet, despite its zany buckshot style of satire Teen Titans Go! does have a plot. Remarkably it never forgets the story in all the zaniness which ensues. The satire and the story never overwhelm the other and the result is a sharply observed look at an adolescent’s desire to be taken seriously.
Robin (Scott Menville) desperately wishes to be taken seriously as a hero. What makes a hero? Having your own movie of course!
Directors Peter Rida Michail and Aaron Horvath have made Teen Titans Go! unlike any other comic book movie that has come out in the past decade or so. It has more in common with Airplane or Animaniacs. Starfire (Hynden Walch) even remarks as they pass the Warner Brothers water tower, “That’s where the Animaniacs live.”
The Titans themselves are less superheroes and more a mix of the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers. When the team is fighting Balloon Man (Greg Davies) they puncture his balloon-like skin in his butt. Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) collapses with laughter.
Balloon Man is baffled by these kids. Demanding to know who they are, they break out into song to introduce themselves as Robin, Beast Boy, Starfire, Cyborg (Khary Payton), and Raven (Tara Strong). Unfortunately, while they are singing and joking Superman (Nicolas Cage), Wonder Woman (Halsey), and Green Lantern (Lil Yachty) sweep in and save the day.
They are on their way to see the new Batman (Jimmy Kimmel) movie. When Robin asks why he wasn’t invited, the other superheroes laugh, “You’re a bunch of goofs.” The Titans rush to the premier only to find themselves blocked from the red carpet event for not being on the list. Robin vows to be taken seriously and sets about trying to get a movie made about him.
The fact that Teen Titans Go! is a movie about kids wishing someone would make a movie about them, only to realize the dream of having a movie but must stop it in order to save the world is pretty clever. At the heart of Teen Titans Go!, however, is the notion of kids demanding to be heard and valued by adults.
The Titans realize they lack a nemesis. Luckily for them, Slade (Will Arnett) breaks into nearby Star Labs to steal a crystal. Upon seeing the crystal Slade laughs, “Aha. The perfect plot device.” With his superior fighting abilities and his “mind manipulation,” he defeats the Titans handily. His mind manipulation ranges from the old “removable thumb” gag to the even older “What’s that behind you?”
Michael Jelenic and Horvath fill the script for Teen Titans Go! with jokes with sharp edges to them. Unlike most comedies aimed at kids, the humor has a sense of danger to it. After being shot down by the greatest director in the world, Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell), the Titans realize there’s only one way to get a movie about them. They have to be the only heroes. So they go back in time and erase the other superheroes’ tragic origin stories.
The darkness from these jokes becomes apparent when they return home only to see the world literally on fire. The Titans are forced to go back and undo the happy endings. All of this takes about two – two and half minutes total and contains no less than a dozen jokes. Jelenic and Horvath throw everything at the audience without ever appearing desperate.
Colorful and upbeat, the dark humor serves as a tonic to the overly saccharine optimism of most kids shows. To cheer themselves up, the Titans sing a happy song. The band who plays along consists of a happy-go-lucky bunny on guitar, a dolphin on the keyboard, and a unicorn as a backup dancer. I won’t spoil the joke but suffice to say it goes to a place most kids movies wouldn’t dare to go. The last line of Teen Titans Go! is without a doubt the best joke of the year. Less a satire of superhero movies or even kids shows, it feels more like something sprung from the mind of Andy Kaufman.
In the midst of all the puns and sight gags, Teen Titans Go! slyly give us one of the more complex characters in the DC/WB’s universe: the Boy Wonder himself, Robin. Both grateful to Batman for the opportunity to fight with him, he also strives to escape the caped crusader’s shadow. An elected leader of his ragtag group of friends, Robin is filled with the easily offended ego any child possesses. Temperamental, impatient, and stubborn, Robin also has a big heart, knows when he’s gone too far, and is capable of putting his friends before his own desires.
Horvath and Michail make Teen Titans Go! a brisk 80 minutes. Teen Titans Go! barely has time to wear out its welcome. The animation fits perfectly with the sort of gonzo style of the characters. While these may be DC properties, they don’t look or act like anything DC has ever put out before. The character design is a mix of utilitarian simplicity and bold vivacity that makes the images and frames dynamic.
Stan Lee remains the single best sport in all of Hollywood. When the Titans go to the Warner lot he lurks in the background. Not content to only have the animated Lee, the madmen behind Teen Titans Go! went the extra mile to actually get Stan Lee to voice himself. “I just love cameos!”
The voice acting by Strong, Menville, Payton, Cipes, and Arnett thread the needle of bombastic and subtle. Payton’s plaintive cry of, “I think his Dad is a cop!” is a pitch-perfect cap to a joke that had already taken a hard left turn into morbidity.
Teen Titans Go! is a breath of fresh anarchic air. Acerbic but not too mean, its appetite for irreverence to its source material gives us hope for the genre. Michail and Horvath have weaved what seems like patchwork episodic television into a cohesive joke-a-minute breathless story that ends almost as soon as it begins. It gets in, gets out, and leaves you wanting more.