Review: ‘Teen Titans Go! To the Movies’

dfn-teen_titans_go_to_the_movies_300What do we want, what do we need, what do we get from superhero movies nowadays? Mostly, not anything like Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, especially for a grumpy old man like me.

The animated comedy, based on a television show that I’ve never seen, was far more fun than I anticipated. Its zippy pace and good-hearted humor made me laugh out loud more than once.

For its intended audience of young ones, that may be enough. The running time clocks in at 87 minutes, including credits, and that is sufficient length to tell a story, tell all its jokes, pack in several extended sequences, and include a couple of songs (?!), which gives it one leg up on other superhero movies I’ve seen recently.

For adults, the filmmakers enjoy poking fun at adult superheroes in the DC universe, sometimes breaking the fourth wall and winking, literally, which diminishes the severity of the pokes within the context of the movie. It’s all meant in good fun, not to be taken seriously at all, which also contributes to the general merriment for parents and guardians, adults and otherwise.

Dating back to 1964, the comic-book Teen Titans gathered together a few sidekicks and other young heroes to fight crime and, presumably, appeal even more so to a younger audience. The most recent television series, Teen Titans Go!, began airing on the Cartoon Network in 2013, revolving around the day-to-day lives of the young heroes, with a decided emphasis (evidently) on silly and sophomoric humor. The series has not won unanimous praise, to put it lightly, but it has proven sufficiently popular to be renewed multiple times and gain its own base of devoted fans.

Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath, who developed the series, also wrote the screenplay and produced the feature version; Horvath and Peter Rida Michail directed. The film begins with a reminder that the Teen Titans are an easily distracted lot, lacking in serious follow-through; they can’t quite finish a job, and the adult Justice League must soar in to finish off a bad guy for them.

Their limitations are underscored by their yawning realizing that every other superhero in the known universe has seen a movie produced about them — but none of the Teen Titans have had that honor. Frankly, the only one it bothers is Robin (voiced by Scott Menville), coincidentally the only member of the team that I recognized. He yearns desperately for his own movie, and so he eventually seizes on the idea that if the team only had its own nemesis, then it might qualify.

Robin decides that the super-villain Slade (voiced by Will Arnett) would be the perfect nemesis, despite everyone mistaking him for Deadpool (because of his costume and weapons). And then the team meets film director Jade Wilson (voiced by Kristen Bell), who agrees, and things then begin to veer out of control for the Teen Titans.

Voiced by the same actors as the television series, the team — Robin, Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong), Starfire (Hynden Walch) — supports each other and Robin, who becomes increasingly distracted as he focuses almost exclusively on his goal of starring in his own movie. Perhaps that’s a distinguishing feature of his character in the TV series as well; in any event, it makes him the obvious star of the movie and reduces the remainder of the team into supporting status.

That also opens up the field for Slade and Jade Wilson to dominate the action whenever they pop up on screen, perhaps befitting also the star status of Arnett and Bell. Among the other supporting voices, we also have the absolute pleasure of hearing longtime comic book fan Nicolas Cage voicing the role of Superman. The only other voice that stood out to me was Patton Oswalt as Atom, a member of the Justice League.

By that time that’s all sorted out, the film is racing toward and then through its home stretch, finding room for timely lessons about supporting one another, no matter what. Yes: gentle moral lessons and and action sequences and jokes and more fan service than I could track. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies easily conquers all the challenges that stumble most other superhero movies, defeating the summer blues and providing good motivation to get out and go to a nice, cool, air-conditioned movie theater.

The film is now playing at theaters throughout Dallas and Fort Worth.