Full disclosure: Chris O’Donnell is my Robin. That’s not, like, something I’m proud of or anything, but I’m sharing it to give you some context. I was never as well-versed in the world of DC superheroes as I was the Marvel one, and as far as the character of Robin went, my image has primarily been shaped by the creative direction of Joel Schumacher. At least, until I started watching gleefully ridiculous Teen Titans Go! on Cartoon Network.
Which also means that no, I’ve never seen the original Cartoon Network take on Teen Titans. That series, which launched in 2003, featured the lineup of Robin (voiced Scott Menville), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). It also hewed more closely in style and substance to the comics team-up, as a sort of teen drama with superpowers. It ended its run in 2006, though fans have never forgotten it.
Teen Titans Go!, which launched in 2013, isn’t really a replacement. Sure, it features the same characters and the same voice actors, but it trades the teen drama for poop jokes and musical numbers about waffles.
The show is basically one long wink at the audience, with meta references layered in amongst all the laughs. But despite the rampant silliness, what really makes the series tick is the interactions between the characters. On paper they may be the DC heroes you’re familiar with: Batman’s former sidekick, a naive alien, a demonically powerful sorceress, a dude who can transform into any animal, and a… well, a Cyborg. But Teen Titans Go! presents them as a dysfunctional family — a bunch of kids trying to live and work together, who know each other’s quirks and who accept each other without question (baby hands and all). In the world of Teen Titans Go!, Starfire can attempt to marry a pot of chili, and Cyborg can have a meatball cannon, and Beast Boy can live in a mysterious Narnia world of garbage, and Raven can bust out her alternate heroic persona, Lady Legasus, whenever the team needs a strong pair of legs. And Robin can be a beloved and capable team leader while also being a neurotic, paranoid, semi-delusional train wreck of a person.
All of which brings me to Teen Titans Go! To The Movies. The good news is that it’s fun, and funny, and a seriously clever send-up of the entire genre of superhero movies. But it’s also — and I say this as the ultimate compliment — a seamless extension of the television show. Sure, it had a bigger budget, which likely went to hiring bigger supporting voice actors (Nic Cage as Superman for fucks sake!), bringing in Michael Bolton to sing an original song, and for clearing a bunch of Marvel jokes. But otherwise if this aired in an extended slot on Cartoon Network one day I wouldn’t even bat an eye. It simply is the show. But as a movie. About the team wanting to be in a movie.
Which also means that if you never liked Teen Titans Go! to begin with, this movie likely won’t win you over. There’s an extended fart gag in the first 10 minutes. Just fair warning.
So, the plot: All the DC heroes are starring in big screen movies (cue Green Lantern joke), which is all fine and dandy… until Robin notices that the extended Batman universe is rolling out films about Alfred, the Batmobile, and the Utility Belt, and yet nobody is making a movie about him. So he and the rest of the Titans set off for Hollywood and storm the WB lot, where they hope to convince director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to give them a shot. Unfortunately, the Titans aren’t really movie material since they’re, well, jokes. Jokes that don’t even have their own arch-nemesis!
So it’s pretty fortuitous that they encounter the villainous Slade (voiced by Will Arnett, Lego Batman himself), who is TOTALLY NOT DEADPOOL YOU GUYS, SHEESH. Will he prove to be the antagonist their story needs?
But the plot plays second fiddle to the jokes, easter eggs, songs, and usual Titan banter. It’s almost refreshing that all the big-ticket additions don’t take the spotlight, but merely add some fancy stage dressing to what is basically business as usual, and the message of the movie is all about how being a good hero means being yourself. And the movie is a testament to that. Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is living 90 minutes of its best wall-to-wall funny self on the big screen. And even as it is commenting on the superhero genre, it’s also commenting on itself and the way it’s perceived by fans. It IS a joke. It IS silly. And that’s its greatest strength, especially in a cineplex filled too often with heroes of the dark & gritty variety.