I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. When I decided to make a movie review blog I made a commitment to try and see as many movies as I can because, well, I enjoy going to the movies and I enjoy sharing my thoughts on them. However, I also knew with this commitment would come a need, hell a downright requirement, to see films I didn’t want to see. Sometimes I bend that rule a bit like with the “Fifty Shades” franchise where I just knew I’d hate it and I didn’t feel my opinion would matter because of too much bias. But then there are films like “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies”. Growing up I was a big fan of the original “Teen Titans” animated series and when I saw this…interesting reimagining it broke my heart to see what these characters had become. When I learned that Warner Bros. would be making a movie I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to waste my time, but low and behold the film got great reviews so I decided to take a crack at it myself. Without further ado here is my review of “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is set within the fifth season of the Cartoon Network show “Teen Titans Go!” and sees the five members of the titular team continuing to try and save the world and gain relevance as legitimate superheroes. Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Hyndon Walch, Tara Strong and Greg Cipes all reprise their roles as Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy respectively. When the team tries to take down a villain terrorizing Jump City they get caught up in their usual antics and are overshadowed by other DC superheroes including Superman, the Green Lantern and Wonder Woman who save the day before revealing they are headed to the premier of the new Batman movie. Believing themselves to be a popular superhero team the Titans make their way to the premier only for Robin to become depressed upon the realization that they are among the few superheroes without their own theatrical film. Desperate to earn their own big screen adventure by finding an arch nemesis, Robin and the other Titans take on a new villain named Slade (Will Arnett) who is putting a nefarious scheme into motion. After their first battle with Slade Robin is pegged for his own movie creating a rift between him and his friends. Meanwhile Slade puts his ultimate plan into motion that threatens to compromise every hero in the DC universe. Robin must come to grips with his own selfish nature and learn the value of teamwork and respect for himself and his friends in order to stop Slade from conquering the world.
The first thing I can say about “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is that it’s a much smarter and more, shall we say family friendly and somewhat sophisticated movie that I had originally anticipated. The show it’s based on is incredibly immature and waters down everything I found cool about the Titans when I was growing up. Instead of focusing on how their teen angst plays into their superpowered adventures the show focuses more on them being goofy and childish. The movie actually kind of rides the middle line and somehow manages to find a balance between the bad ass crime fighters I knew and loved and the goofy pranksters the current generation has fallen in love with over the last few years. That’s just one of many ways “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” panders to both the children and the adults in the audience giving us characters that sometimes have legitimate personality and other times just want to have fun, but these traits never contradict each other. I dare say they actually compliment each other effectively preventing the movies from taking itself too seriously while also acting as a much more respectable interpretation than the modern television series.
I’ll take that concept a step further, because the film does go beyond simply blending the old and the new in how it presents these iconic characters. It also goes above and beyond with its story and embraces a similar format to last years “The Lego Batman Movie” by acting as both a satire and a tribute to the superhero genre in general to hilarious effect. This is the movie’s strongest trait. The humor is spot on for both adults and children as the film makes references to past DC properties, including the failed “Green Lantern” film, the overused “Martha” cliché from “Batman v. Superman”, and even casts Nicholas Cage as Superman as an in-joke to the actor once being cast for a shelved Superman movie. The jokes are smart, feel fresh and relevant and offer something that won’t confuse kids but is sure to get a chuckle out of adults who are in tune with comic book movies and pop culture. But DC is not the only studio that gets jabbed in this movie. In a surprising and delightful twist “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” also takes some great jabs at Marvel including mimicking the studio’s comic book pages opening, name dropping the Guardians of the Galaxy as part of a larger joke about obscure characters, turning the relationship between Slade and Deadpool into a running gag, and possibly the BEST joke of the entire movie with a gratuitous Stan Lee cameo (played by the ACTUAL Stan Lee) making fun of Stan Lee’s other gratuitous cameos in Marvel properties. It’s actually very ironic that two of the best DC movies of the last few years, this film and “The Lego Batman Movie”, actually make fun of superhero films rather than conforming to the common format of the genre. What “The Lego Batman Movie” started last year “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” perfects providing a great deal of humor to balance a serious story about self-worth and the true meaning of being a hero.
Surprisingly even the action is pretty decent as is the film. “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” somehow turned out to be a very smooth and well-paced experience despite stopping in its tracks for useless musical numbers, but more on that later. All the voice actors are able to rail off line after line in sometimes pretty fast conservations flawlessly and even Will Arnett, who portrays the long awaited “Teen Titans Go!” version of Slade, adds a nice touch to the exchange as the heroes float through a frankly well-constructed story and engage in (and I can’t believe I’m going to say this) some of the best superhero action of 2018 so far. The first real battle between the Titans and Slade is pulse pounding and fun to watch and when his final plan comes into play and the inevitable showdown commences the energy is captivating. And that’s the key word here, energy, because the voice actors and the slight improvement in animation thanks to a larger budget are enough to keep you hooked even when you know the outcome. It’s not too harsh and drawn out for kids to appreciate, but it’s also not so fast and rushed that adults fail to find joy in the action. It’s a perfectly balanced example at a kid’s film made to entertain the target audience and the inevitable older demographic that has to tag along for the ride. That to me shows a lot of respect for everyone who could be walking in to the movie and once again I reiterate that this is not what I would have ever expected from a “Teen Titans Go!” film. It’s smartly written, aware of its audience, filled to the brim with pop culture references worth a laugh and takes advantage of that extra funding to make Slade’s introduction and the subsequent action worth the price of admission. It’s not a flawless film but holy crap is it a lot more fun that it deserved to be.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Of course, the first thing I need to talk about is the animation in this movie which is kind of hard to fault because its consistent with the animation of the television series, but I don’t like it on TV so by default I don’t like it here. It just looks so cheap and I know that’s the idea but for a theatrical film it just doesn’t translate well for me. I will give the film credit for looking much more polished and smoother than its television counterpart. This is usually the case with animated movies based on TV shows because of the larger budget, but the odd thing about “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is that at times the animators dis actually use different animation styles particularly during fantasy or dream sequences. Now this was probably done for some added flavor, but it only reminded me just how much better these characters could have been animated from the start. We even see a callback to the original animation styles of the Titans themselves in the credits (which I HIGHLY recommend you stay for the mid credits scene by the way) which only made me yearn more for a different, more professional animation style. I do give the animators credit for upping their game to add to the aesthetic as the explosions and actions scenes are pretty well done and, again, the visual style feels more polished. But that doesn’t make the generic, cheap look any more inviting for me as a viewer. I know it’s a kid’s film and I get why the visual style was chosen but even for a kid-friendly product this animation style looks really cheap and phoned in.
Also, not everything really works in terms of humor. I’d say probably 80 percent of this movie’s gags are great. The fourth wall breaks, the in-universe references and even the out-of-universe references are all just so much fun. However, again this is a kid’s movie and there are a LOT of immature jokes mixed in as well. This film contains fart jokes galore and man does it get annoying fast. There’s even a scene with a prop toilet in a movie studio that involves four of the five Titans talking about taking a crap…no really, one by one they all poop in the prop toilet and then CELEBRATE IT BY DANCING!!! This is the kind of humor that made me hate the show and it clashes tremendously with the more sophisticated and mature humor of the rest of the movie. It just feels out of place, like the writers were deep into making this a decent film and suddenly realized “oh yeah I forgot this is a kid’s movie better put in a fart joke to remind the kids to laugh”. Even then though it’s not needed. There’s plenty of kid-friendly humor without it. Not only is it the lowest hanging fruit of jokes in movies or television, but it’s not relevant to the story and just feels so forced it annoyed me to no end. These jokes, and there are many of them, are a perfect example of just how bad I expected “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” to be and thankfully most of the humor and pretty impressive writing makes up for it.
And then of course there’s the musical numbers I mentioned before. Now granted the songs aren’t that insufferable. Kids will probably like them, and I dare say I tapped my toes a time or two, but they’re just so poorly placed and unneeded. The movie works fine and follows a decent pace until these random musical numbers kick in and stop the film in its tracks. The introductory song where each Titan takes a verse I can overlook because that at least turns out to be plot related, but the remainder of the songs, including the reprise of the intro song, I could have totally done without. There are attempts to utilize the songs to build on the satire worked into the film, but this is the weakest example of such humor in this movie and is easily overshadowed by literally every other in-joke in the script. It took me out of the film several times when I was already surprised to be invested in the first place. Again, I try to be aware that this is a kid’s film, but I wouldn’t be surprised if even the kids checked out during these musical numbers. It just seemed like the studio wanted to extend the run time to the full hour-and-a-half, so they decided to tell parts of the story in three-minute songs rather than a minute of dialogue. It’s not the most annoying aspect of this movie by far, but it doesn’t help.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this but, I liked “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies”. Sure, it’s not perfect by any means. The musical numbers, fart jokes, and animation style all annoyed me to no end, but there are so many redeemable aspects that litter this film that I can safely call it one of the most surprisingly engrossing movies of 2018 for me personally. I found myself completely caught up in all of the references to genre tropes from both DC and Marvel as well as the other cultural references scattered throughout the film that all put a big smile on my face. The tone of the film and the development of the characters, both new and old, do respect to both young fans of the modern Titans and fans of the original series which makes “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” a well-rounded film that mixes comedy, drama and satire perfectly. It’s a craft Warner Bros. seems to be embracing more and more in their animated offerings and if I’m being honest I think it’s the one approach to animated films that sets them apart in the medium right now. To say “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” was a shockingly well done and entertaining movie for me would be an understatement. Whether you’re a fan of the newer show, or a classic fan willing to laugh at the expense of the superhero and comic book genre in general there’s a lot this movie has to offer and to my surprise I actually highly recommend it.