Compared to their dark and dour live-action brethren, the Warner Brothers/DC Comics animated features are a breath of fresh air. Much like “The Lego Batman Movie” (which one could argue is the best Batman movie – full stop), the wild, wacky and self-aware “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” bursts onto the screen like an attention-addled sugar rush. It absolutely nails the humor and self-referential material that is so sorely lacking from the likes of “Batman Vs. Superman.” So yeah, it is possible to make a funny DC Comics movie.
Based on the wildly popular and long-running Cartoon Network series “Teen Titans Go!,” the feature film adaptation is directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail, written by Horvath and Michael Jelenic. “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is a deliriously demented and gleeful skewering of DC Comics characters, superhero movies and Hollywood in general that’s one long inside joke – with musical numbers!
It’s a classic story of big Hollywood dreams, wherein Robin (Scott Menville) goes on a quest to attain what seems impossible – a meeting with a big-time movie director, Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell). He wants to be a real superhero, along with his crew, the Teen Titans: Cyborg (Khary Payton), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) and Raven (Tara Strong). Based on anecdotal evidence, Robin deduces the way to be taken seriously as a real superhero is to have a movie made about you. And to be a real superhero and have a movie made about him, he needs an archnemesis – enter Slade (Will Arnett).
One of the great things about “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is the team behind the television show, including the filmmakers and voice actors, have been transplanted to the big screen and given a bigger platform, rather than replacing the creators with higher profile names. That deep knowledge and comfort with the characters shows, as it’s the rapid-fire chemistry within the group that keeps the film moving at a breakneck pace.
There are cheeky body-humor jokes and rousing musical numbers, including an absolutely epic ’80s jam called “Upbeat,” complete with a Lisa Frank-inspired aesthetic. There’s a hilarious recurring Stan Lee cameo (voiced by Lee), roasting the Marvel publisher’s thirst for screen time. Most importantly, there’s a willingness to poke fun at some of DC’s most iconic characters, like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. It may blow your mind that Nicolas Cage voices Superman, considering his obsession with the character and his failed Superman movie, “Superman Lives.” His son, Kal-El Cage (yes, named after Superman), even voices young Bruce Wayne. This is the kind of mind-boggling depth of reference going on.
But after such a promising start, it becomes clear that when stretched to an hour and 33 minutes, the relentless, frantic energy of the Teen Titans can be rather exhausting. The film becomes busy, loud and harried, never letting up on the pace or making room for lines or jokes to land. The Teen Titans overstay their welcome just a hair, as they most likely shine brightest in a half-hour format. But the film is incredibly smart, and funny, and a refreshingly lighthearted take on these characters and cinematic universe. Here’s hoping their attitude is infectious.
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