“Teen Titans Go! To The Movies” is a giddy reminder that DC movies are allowed to be fun

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, the new feature-length extension of the Cartoon Network series Teen Titans Go!, is a product of Warner Bros. Animation — and therefore technically exists in the same cinematic universe as the company’s line of live-action DC films. It’s a lineage the movie revels in subverting.

Children’s movies have to walk a delicate balance: They must cater to their target demographic without serving as a feat of endurance for parents. (The mother of your writer, to this day, likes to remind her that she sat through not one. But two, full-length theatrical Pokémon movies.)

In a post-Pixar world, mastering that balance is even more challenging by virtue of the bar being set needlessly high. Not every kid’s movie can be Wall-E, nor need it be. Sometimes, a movie for kids can just be a movie for kids.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, based on the breakout Cartoon Network series. Wholly succeeds in creating a zany, colorful escapade that will thrill kids and — thanks to zingers toward other superhero movies and comic book in-jokes — does so without providing their parents ammo for emotional blackmail later in life.

I’ll say though, that the adult and kid jokes remain disjointed and almost entirely discrete. That like the “one for you, and one for me” career strategy of an A-list actor.

For the grown-ups: a spoof of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. For the kids: a minutes-long fart joke. The grown-ups: a meta Stan Lee cameo (voiced by the man himself). Yes, in a DC movie! (Another Easter egg just for adults: Nicolas Cage voicing Superman. The role he famously never got to play in a scrapped 1990s movie). For the kids: a multiple minutes-long poop joke. And so it feels more like a kids movie than its counterparts, including The Lego Movie and Lego Batman.

But like another other self-aware, star-studded musical extravaganza currently playing in theaters. Teen Titans Go! To The Movies knows exactly what it is and stays entirely within its strike zone. Robin (Scott Menville) leads the gang of DC B-listers — Cyborg (Khary Payton), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). On a quest for superhero validity that will only come, naturally, if they get a superhero movie about them.

The meta jokes flow like Mountain Dew

This is a rollicking, goofy superhero send-up that never overstays its welcome. A film in which Krypton is saved through the power of EDM and the Batman’s parents are advised not to take their young son down Crime Alley. That after their evening at the opera. It’s in these moments that the true genius of Teen Titans Go! To The Movies becomes evidence: it’s a DC movie that’s allowing itself to have fun. The errant exclamation point is a perfect declaration of its intent.

Truly, perhaps the greatest disservice Christopher Nolan did to the superhero film-verse. That was convince us that we wanted to see serious, gritty movies about adults in theme costumes beating up villains in similar theme costumes. Equating “gritty” with “good” is how we got Superman films so bleak one could barely. That make out whatever unsaturated mooning was happening on screen. Teen Titans Go! cleverly recognizes that no one wants grit in an ice cream cone.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is the kind of wacky, infinitely energetic bit of animated fun that I would have simply adored as a young kid. It’s so loaded with movie references and unexpected bursts of absurdity, focusing less on concrete narrative logic and more on expert comic sequences. This is Deadpool for the elementary school demographic. And even as the film dips into more serious territory on occasion, it maintains a spirit of unabashed goofiness.

Although Teen Titans Go! gears its jokes towards younger audience members

I have to wonder if they’ll understand much of the humor. After all, unless you’ve seen the extraordinarily violent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a joke about the infamous Martha connection will fly right over your head. When Deadpool rattles off witty references to the Avengers and X-Men movies. It works because that audience is entrenched in the world of comic books and superheroes. Here, the effectiveness of those jokes is a little more shaky.

Ultimately, Teen Titans Go! includes just enough whip-smart satire to please hardcore fans and adults, while still maintaining the core spirit of the story. Fans will burst out laughing at a Back to the Future-inspired sequence (one that applies the classic Alan Silvestri musical theme), while kids will enjoy the interactions between the Titans. Like Chris McKay did with last year’s LEGO Batman, directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Mitchell balance parody and emotional weight with ease.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies will be overlooked by many because of its kid-centric charms, but it delivers laughs in a pretty significant way. The Titans are dumb and big-hearted, which is a near-perfect combination for this kind of silly animated B-movie. Their idiocy is just plain irresistible, and it’s easy for me to see the rebellious appeal of the show now.

The Titans push lots of buttons on their quest for laughs and superhero legitimacy, and if you’re in the right mood, that bold, sarcastic sensibility will make you fall in love with them.

INFO:

Rating: PG (for action and rude humor)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation, Kids & Family
Directed By: Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
Stars: Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Khary Payton
Written By: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
In Theaters: Jul 27, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 30, 2018
Runtime: 92 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

CRITIC REVIEWS FOR TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES

Jake Wilson
The Hollywood Teen Titans Go! initially looks more progressive than its real-life counterpart – but the climax gives this a rather different spin.

Mike McCahill
It’s encouraging to see someone at DC approaching this material as an opportunity for colourful fun rather than a grim matter of rights maintenance.

Simon Abrams
Most of the gags in this pandering spoof are about their own schematic nature – they’re jokes about how you’re smarter than the jokes.

Marsha Lederman
While the kids at the screening I attended laughed hysterically at the fart jokes, the parents chuckled at the slightly more sophisticated humour and the adult geeks howled at the deeper pop cultural references.

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