Go figure, it took a big screen version of a children’s animated program to course correct. The DC Cinematic Universe, long the red-headed stepchild to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, finally sees a team up work. Now, the film in question is “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies,” so it’s not what DC and Warner Brothers initially had in mind. Still, in a world where you could argue that only “Wonder Woman” has been a success for them, this is something to hang on to. In fact, the failure of things like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” has been a blessing in disguise. Those movies provide tons of ammunition for this film, a meta animated adventure with a lot of humor to share. A solid third of the jokes are making fun of live-action DC flicks, and that’s part of why this is such a delightful success.
“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is often a riot. If some of the sillier moments and action beats are clearly aimed at little kids, so many of the jokes are adult in nature, while never dirty. The film threads a hard needle in that regard. Nothing that a child won’t get is because it’s filthy. It just requires having seen a lot of DC movies and a decent knowledge of comic book characters. In fact, more than one gag involves how unknown certain characters are to the masses. Little tykes won’t know why a “Jonah Hex” reference is funny, but you might. The same goes for how a Stan Lee cameo is handled. If you have children or younger siblings, each of you may be laughing at very different things. However, you’ll all certainly be laughing.
In this world, the Teen Titans are second tier superheroes, with the A-list DC characters the ones getting all of the glory. Robin (voice of Scott Menville) very much lives in the shadow of Batman. His cohorts in the Teen Titans, Cyborg (voice of Khary Payton), Raven (voice of Tara Strong), Starfire (voice of Hynden Walch), and Beast Boy (voice of Greg Cipes), are happy just to do their small scale superhero thing. Robin, however, dreams of getting the same credit that the big time heroes do. Namely, he wants his own movie. When he and the gang sneak into the premiere of Batman’s new movie, he sees everyone getting their due except him. This sets a plan into motion.
Robin figures that if he can prove his worth, filmmaker Jenny Wilson (voice of Kristen Bell) will give him his own film. Of course, part of that includes having an arch nemesis, something new villain on the scene Slade (voice of Will Arnett) seems poised to provide. Of course, things aren’t fully how they seem. Mostly though, this is all an excuse to mock the DC movies, subvert the tropes of superhero films, and provide cues for a bunch of silly songs, including a catchy Michael Bolton tune.
While there isn’t a voice performance to go crazy over, there is one very cool bit of casting. Having Nicolas Cage finally play Superman is a terrific little Easter Egg. Cage doesn’t contribute a whole lot, but just hearing him as the character makes you smile. Will Arnett is having a lot of fun here, and that helps make his almost Deathstroke character memorable. The same goes for Kristen Bell and her character. The teens don’t leave much of an impression, but they do their thing well enough. Greg Cipes is kind of grating, but that’s more because of how Beast Boy is written than how he’s performed. In regards to cameo voices, listen for Halsey, Jimmy Kimmel, Patton Oswalt, and Lil Yachty.
In terms of the animation, it’s bright and will lure kids in. This isn’t gorgeous in the way Pixar is, but it is very different than “The Incredibles,” from top to bottom. Visually, it probably fits with some of the direct to home video stuff that folks love these days, but the effort put into meta commentary and jokes helps set this one apart. It’s a cut above there, trust me.
Crafting this lunacy are directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail. Horvath also co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Jelenic, and the trio show a nice ability to mix adult humor with kiddie material. Sure, there are fart jokes and a pacing aimed at kids, but so many other gags are meta ones aimed at the DC universe. The repeated jabs at “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” are consistently amusing. Then, there’s an amazing little one-liner about “Green Lantern.” Frankly, more of that would have even been welcome. When it gets into learning lessons and the fight scenes, it’s simplistic and aimed directly at children. When it’s cracking wise, adults are just as thrilled. Credit to Horvath, Jelenic, and Michail for the Bolton song especially, as it will be stuck in your head long after the credits roll.
If you remove the overt kid material, “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is a fun romp that pokes fun at a poorly done cinematic universe. With the aforementioned stuff thrown in, the overall product is still pretty good, but not as sidesplitting. Still, this is, aside from “Wonder Woman,” the best thing DC and the WB have combined to do in a while. Whether you like or dislike their comic book fare, this will surely tickle your funny bone. You don’t have to know the “Teen Titans” show either. This very easily stands on its own.