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Non-Review Review: Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is a delight from beginning to end.

The go-to description of Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is “a G-rated Deadpool”, which is both accurate in general and interesting in specifics. Although the two Deadpool films have become cultural shorthand for “self-aware superhero parodies”, that is not what they really are; at their best, they are affectionate eighties action movie homages with a superhero veneer and a sheen of ironic self-awareness. Ironically, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is a much better example of an affectionate and a committed parody of superhero cinema.

Cycles of violence.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is nonsense, but it is gleeful and self-aware nonsense, dedicated to both celebrating and gently mocking both the conventions and the specifics of superhero blockbuster filmmaking. It is too much to describe Teen Titans Go! to the Movies as a deconstruction of either superheroics or the modern cinema based around these characters, but the film cleverly plays on the tropes, conventions and history of these characters to do something that is highly amusing and occasionally gut-busting.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is cheeky fun, and it would be hard for anybody with any affection for either animation or superheroes to watch it without a grin on their face.

Teen work, people.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies prides itself on its irreverence. There are a number of jokes at the expense of the big-budget live action Warner Brothers superhero movies, including both a prominently featured poster for “Yawn of Justice” and a sequence in which Batman and Superman wonder about the names of each other’s father. Teasing the vocal online hatedom that the show has among animated superhero purists who look down on its aspirations towards a younger movie, a key plot point involves a film recorded over a VHS of popular cancelled show Young Justice.

Of course, a lot of this is wired into the series that inspired the film, Teen Titans Go! Indeed, Teen Titans Go! can be a divisive and controversial television series to discuss online, because it is the relatively rare superhero show consciously aimed at younger viewers, like the similarly playful Batman: The Brave and the Bold. A significant amount of online audience members are skeptical of Teen Titans Go! because it was seen as a replacement for the more serious and older-skewing Teen Titans. Naturally, Teen Titans Go! has always enjoyed trolling those sorts of fans.

This is their Lot in life.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is a film where the characters interrupt the hero’s big closing speech in order to chant to “credits! credits! credits!”, conspiring to keep the brisk run-time under ninety minutes. In an era of increasingly bloated blockbusters, that is an act of heroism of itself. However, each of those ninety minutes is used remarkably well. The best thing about Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is the sheer density of jokes, with the creative team throwing out wild idea after wild idea in an effort to keep the audience engaged.

Not all of these jokes land. Perhaps reflecting its target demographic, there’s an incredibly high quantity of jokes about bodily functions. The opening action sequence includes a very crude fart joke that outstays its welcome and never quite manages to cycle back around into being funny. There is another gag about a prop toilet on a movie set that goes on far too long and ends with a somewhat unnecessary homage to Ace Ventura. At the same time, the strength of Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is that it commits to volume. These jokes don’t land, but there are plenty of others.

He always did have an inflated opinion of himself.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies casts a wide net in terms of humour and targets, hoping to be a film that can appeal to as broad an audience as possible. A lot of the humour in the film derives from animation, from the fairly crude drawings that are incredibly flexible and dynamic. While the animation certainly doesn’t compare to the best work that Warners Animation ever produced, it is stylised and creative. It pops.

The film consciously aims to evoke the television series that inspired it, and the rich history of Warner Brothers animation. On visiting the Warners Studio lot, Starfire declares of the water tower, “That’s where the Animaniacs live!” Although the film finds excuses to play with different styles of animation – whether through the device of films within the film, or through dreams – it largely retains the same simple style of the cartoon from which it emerged. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies makes excellent use of its character models.

Breaking on to the scene.

Similarly, the film also derives a great deal of amusement from its archetypal core cast. The Teen Titans are hardly household names outside of comic book fandom, but the joy of Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is in painting the ensemble as a recognisable group of personalities that can play off each other well enough to land jokes and keep the plot moving at a decent speed. The characters are well drawn enough to make sense to the target demographic of young kids, but also enough to sustain jokes.

In particular, there’s something delightful about the characterisation of Robin in Teen Titans Go! to the Movies. The adopted child of a trust-fund billionaire, of course Robin is presented as a self-obsessed arch-capitalist. To reinforce the none-too-subtle pointed jokes, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies repeatedly draws the character’s attention to his “baby hands” and his insecurity about those hands. (In their rap theme song, when Cyborg mentions that Robin’s hands are small, Robin pointedly raps back, “Robin’s are large!”) Robin even lives in a giant tower shaped like a “T.”

It’s Robin season.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies has a great deal of fun with this character premise. The movie hinges its plot around Robin’s desire to have anchor a big-budget superhero spectacular, and his very warped ideas of superheroism in pursuit of that. This central plot is perhaps the closest the film comes to something resembling a coherent criticism of the superhero genre, both in a villainous scheme that hinges upon the genre’s saturation of the cinematic market and in the recurring notion that modern superhero storytelling hinges on vainglorious self-centredness.

After all, there is a solid argument to be made that comic continuity has developed the Avengers as a commentary on class in America, with these heroes insulated and disconnected from human beings. The Marvel Studios films follow the same template, with the basic character arc for a Marvel Studios film involving a hero (and the people around them) learning never to doubt themselves. The superheroes of Avengers: Infinity War are so self-centred that Ned is really the only non-superhero character with any significant screentime in a movie about killing half the universe.

Edge of their set stuff.

Similarly, there is something very cheeky in Teen Titans Go! to the Movie playing with the idea of superhero saturation. Robin’s insecurity about the lack of a Teen Titans movie is largely anchored in the fact that every other superhero seems to have a movie. Teen Titans Go! to the Movie has a great deal of fun with the idea of Batman’s market saturation in multimedia. At one point, the gang are subjected to no fewer than three consecutive trailers for Batman-ancillary films.

Although delivered with a great deal of irony and reflexiveness, and coming from within a superhero movie itself, Teen Titans Go! to the Movie seems to play with the idea that the modern cultural landscape is oversaturated with superhero adaptations across a variety of platforms. It’s fun to see a superhero movie playing with that idea, especially one that is consciously designed as a children’s film. It seems to have put considerably more thought into its premise than any number of bigger-budget older-skewing superhero films.

Holding out for a hero.

To be fair, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies consciously avoids any real or heavy-handed “message”, making a point to spoof didactic superhero and children’s films in its closing minutes. Nevertheless, the film softly plays with something approaching self-awareness and self-criticism, even if approaching it from a rather oblique angle. “Maybe you shouldn’t be so self-centred!” is a pretty basic family film moral, it just happens to be one that modern superhero stories could do well to take on board.

It should be notable that Teen Titans Go! has form in this regard, for burying pointed social and genre commentary beneath a jokey and irreverent exterior, to the point that the commentary itself seems to boomerang into becoming a wry joke of itself. Teen Titans Go! has dedicated episodes to concepts as broad as the idea that superheroes belong as much to children as to adults and as intentionally obtuse as the mechanics of the rental market. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies inherits that sense of knowing irony, but never lets it obscure the fun that the film is having.

A Studious approach.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is an animated film that is very consciously aimed at children, rather than being designed for parents or teenagers. It is not a film that aspires to the emotional heft of Pixar films or modern Disney films. It also doesn’t try to portray its central superhero characters in an overly self-serious way. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies understands the appeal of superheroes for kids. While there are jokes here that will appeal to older audiences, they are never at the exclusion of younger viewers. There is something to be said for that approach.

However, the plot of Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is really just there to serve as a skeleton on which the production team might hang a series of jokes. These jokes take a variety of forms, aiming at a broad audience. There are a host of references to broad cultural landmarks like Back to the Future or The Lion King or even Dunkirk. There are also broader jokes about just how many superheroes actually exist. When Teen Titans Go! to the Movies hinges a recurring joke on the Challengers of the Unknown, the joke is how unlikely it is that anybody will have heard of them.

Nothing can stop the Batman.

At the same time, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is clearly aimed at audiences who have some vague awareness of the superhero genre as modern day blockbusters. The Dark Knight is a recurring touchstone for various characters, including one absolutely hilarious joke about how hard it is to stop Batman. The villainous Slade offers a number of G-rated riffs on Heath Ledger’s Joker, including an affectionate homage to the character’s infamous “pencil trick” and an allusion to his “you and I are destined to do this forever” line.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies casts such a wide net that it reaches across the aisle. The film features a self-described “subtle Stan Lee cameo” and jokes about raiding the catering on the set of the latest Spider-Man movie. At one point, the characters are mistaken for another former Z-list superhero team to get their own massive superhero movie franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy. There is a playfulness to these jokes, right down to a recurring gag about how Slade looks like Deadpool.

Titans of a new age.

However, it’s also abundantly clear that the production team working on Teen Titans Go! to the Movies harbour an incredible affection for their source material. Although the jokes and the plotting never exclude anybody without a grounding in superhero continuity, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies makes a variety of deep cuts from the mythology. Nicholas Cage plays Superman, a nod to the aborted Superman Lives! A key plot twist hinges on Slade’s never-mentioned-on-screen surname. Posters are drawn from iconic comic book covers and panels.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies works best when it commits to its demented sense of humour, with little attention paid to the plot. The best jokes in the film often feel like extended cutaway gags, such as an extended sequence in the middle of the film when Robin seizes upon the fact that the only way a Teen Titans movie is happening is if there are no other superheroes. In keeping with the film’s gleeful refusal to embrace simplistic didactic storytelling, Robin only realises that a world without superheroes is a bad idea when it means there are no cinemas to show the Teen Titans film.

Welcome to the Darkseid.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is a superhero movie that never takes itself too seriously, and gleefully embraces the absurdity and silliness at the heart of the superhero genre. At the same time, the film cannily realises that silly is not synonymous with stupid, and offers a variety of clever and well-observed points buried beneath a mountain of jokes designed to appeal to all sorts of viewers. It would not be surprising if Teen Titans Go! to the Movies were to end up as the second best superhero movie of the year, behind Black Panther.

Robin would be proud.

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One Response

  1. The movie is much better than the TV show is based on because the TV show is self-complacent and more focused on trolling people, mocking fans of anything that doesn’t dare to share the creative team’s vision, and being dumb for dumbness’ sake than on anything else. The movie at least has something to say and says it with gusto.

    It doesn’t succeed at what it tries with the same flair as shows like The Tick or Darkwing Duck, or animated movies like LEGO Batman, but it does manage to be an efficient chain of humor scenes tied together by a cohesive and strong enough central theme.

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