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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

Aside from a few clips on Youtube, I am not exactly familiar with the Teen Titans Go! TV show on the Cartoon Network.  But, having seen Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, I wonder if I am not missing something.  This is a supremely silly, and at times laugh out loud funny, film that mercilessly and at times intelligently pokes fun at just about every Superhero Cinematic Universe and Hollywood cliche.  Kids will come for the characters from the TV series and the occasional fart joke, while accompanying adults will find themselves laughing at the pop culture references that have been slyly inserted into the dialogue.

I am aware of the controversy behind the show, and how there was an earlier Teen Titans cartoon in the 2000s that was somewhat more serious and faithful to the original comics, and that fans of this earlier show are upset with this new series that is pretty much aimed squarely at kids.  For those of you who honestly do get bent out of shape at a cartoon that is clearly not made for you, there is a mid-credit scene that might lift your spirits.  But onto the movie itself.  The Teen Titans are a team of wannabe superheroes who are pretty much seen as jokes by every major hero and villain out there.  They are led by Robin (voice by Scott Menville), who is egotistical and tired of being seen as solely Batman's sidekick.  There is also Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), who can assume the form of any animal he wishes, and seems very excitable.  Next is Raven (Tara Strong), a girl with demonic powers who speaks in an ominous monotone, but secretly has a heart of gold.  Cyborg (Khary Payton) used to be human, but his body now is mostly robotic, and hides various weapons and a tape deck for which to play music.  Finally there is Starfire (Hynden Walch), a sweet and ever-optimistic alien princess.

The plot of the film centers around Robin's desire to have a movie made about him and the other Titans after seeing how every other superhero is getting their own movie. (Oddly, the movie does not bring up the fact that Cyborg appeared in last year's Justice League movie, but maybe the filmmakers want to forget that one ever happened.) After the Titans are forbidden from attending the premiere of the latest Batman movie (titled Batman Again), and they find out movies are being made about Batman's butler Alfred, the Batmobile, and even the Utility Belt, Robin decides that the only way that they can get a movie and impress world famous Hollywood filmmaker Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) is to have an arch rival.  The villain they pick is Slade (Will Arnett), a masked bad guy who has recently stolen "the ultimate plot device" - a crystal that can power a mind control Doomsday Device.

From there, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies starts throwing one visual and verbal gag at the audience in rapid succession.  The ones that get the biggest laughs are the hidden jokes (The Titans live in Jump City, whose welcome sign assures visitors that it is "Safer Than Gotham".), and the non-stop parodies of other superhero films.  Naturally, the movie pokes fun at the overly serious DC Cinematic films like Batman v. Superman, but the Marvel Universe is not spared either.  They even manage to throw a Stan Lee cameo in the film.  There are some clever nods at movie tropes as well, such as when the Titans try to cheer up Robin with an upbeat 80s tune performed by Michael Bolton that's titled "An Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life".  I was actually surprised by how well the movie plays to the adult audience.  After the visually interesting but somewhat drab Hotel Transylvania 3, this is a kid's movie that knows how to speak to both audiences.

Speaking of the visuals, the movie is drawn entirely in 2D animation, just like the TV show.  I kind of found myself admiring the approach, which is not exactly eye-grabbing, but has a unique charm.  It's also kind of nice to have an animated film where professional voice actors play the lead characters, rather than bankable celebrities.  Yes, there are "names" in the movie like Kristen Bell and Will Arnett, and while they are fine, for once they are not the draw.  There's even more celebrity stunt casting when Nicolas Cage turns up as the voice of Superman, which is a funny Hollywood in-joke that most will miss out on.  It never goes beyond that basic gag, but it's not supposed to.  The characters from the TV show that kids love are the draw, and they work well in a cinematic feature.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is smarter than you might think, and a lot of fun, even when the jokes don't always work.  The fact that the movie never lets up and is consistently entertaining is probably its greatest asset.  There's no doubt that the built-in under 10 crowd will love this.  What's more surprising is that adults may find themselves laughing more at certain jokes than the kids.

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