By: Steve Pulaski
All month long, leading up to Teen Titans GO! to the Movies, I told anyone who would listen my rationale for seeing the film adaptation of the successful Cartoon Network show. I reminded them how spoiled we were growing up, seeing Rugrats,Spongebob, Hey Arnold!, The Wild Thornberries, and more of our favorite TV characters make the leap to the silver-screen. Catching many of those movies in theaters remain as some of the highlights of my childhood; the awe of seeing characters that were such integral presences in my living-room get a "promotion," so to speak, to the local theater was something very exciting to my younger, impressionable self.
In the present, with the advent of VOD and Netflix, I'm sure studioheads don't see the need for a theatrical adaptation of children's shows. Dwindling box office returns for medium/small-budget animation not from the Pixar, DreamWorks, or Illumination canon can't inspire financiers to take the risk (even DreamWorks' Captain Underpants underwhelmed on a comparably small budget, at least enough to where the thought a Netflix show would be better than a theatrical sequel). If the year was currently 2002, we'd at least have a Paw Patrol and Adventure Time movie and quite possibly an ongoing franchise for one or the other.
So it's with that nostalgic sentiment I approached Teen Titans GO! to the Movies and it's with those rose-colored glasses on that I emerged impressed with what I had watched. The film has that inescapable, zany charm of somehow managing to be manic yet under control and impressive as crams a lot of material into a pretty short runtime (84 minutes without credits). Just when you think its run out of breath thanks to its own frantic pacing, it shows up with an oxygen tank it employs while sticking its tongue out at you.
I'll catch you up: Teen Titans GO! is an ongoing Cartoon Network show, currently in its fifth season. My generation, however, better remembers Teen Titans, the darker, grittier, more preteen show that ran from 2003 to 2006; to this day, it's one of the most beloved Cartoon Network programs alongside Courage the Cowardly Dog and my personal jam, Ed, Edd n Eddy. The current iteration of the show revolves around the younger versions of the main characters: Beast Boy (voiced by Greg Cipes), who can turn into any animal, Starfire (Hynden Walch), an ultraviolet princess, Cyborg (Khary Payton), a humanoid with several weapons on his body, Raven (the famous Tara Strong), a human/demon hybrid, and Robin (Scott Menville), their leader.
The film picks up on their misadventures in their hometown of Jump City. Seeing fellow DC heroes like Superman (voiced by Nicolas Cage, which is a hilarious joke in itself), Batman (Jimmy Kimmel), Wonder Woman (pop singer Halsey), and Green Lantern (Lil Yachty) have their own movies, Robin grows increasingly jealous. The path to legitimacy in the superhero world, of course, is having your own feature film, and Robin is determined to convince filmmaker Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) that he's worthy of having his own starring vehicle. One of his primary setbacks is not having a credible arch-nemesis, something he tries to combat by getting on the wrong side of Slade (Will Arnett), a trickster villain with a name that's really fun to say slowly.
The plot is incredibly simple and easy to follow, and in an attempt to downplay its inherent simplicity, writers Michael Jelenic and co-director Aaron Horvath fill the screen with punchy dialog, rambunctious sequences of action, and a lot of pretty colors. The linear narrative fits nicely with the animation style, which is retrograde by default, yet it's bright, clear, and great to look at. It also makes the battle sequences easy to follow. Even as quickly paced as the action so often is, you never lose sight of what's happening, and for a film that's so imaginative in its visuals, that really counts when it comes time to reflecting upon what just occurred from scene-to-scene.
Teen Titans GO! to the Movies could reasonably be considered the kid-friendly version of Deadpool. Think about it: the film is written as an overly meta, referential superhero film that takes shots at other heroes while adhering to the common cliches of the genre. Like Deadpool, it has no problem taking shots at the onslaught of heroes who have seen their time of day in a glossy, big-budget movie. In one memorable instance, the Teen Titans sneak into a movie premiere and anxiously watch the coming attractions with hope that a "Robin" movie is soon to be hitting the screen. Unfortunately, that doesn't prove to be the case; however, Batman's utility belt, butler, and vehicle will be getting their own movies (the latter "coming vroom"). This is the playful side of their favorite shows that kids yearn to see, and having a charming, inoffensive film cater to one of their favorite interests while parodying it in the most genial way is a formula that, thanks to the solid work of Jelenic, Horvath, co-director Peter Rida Michail, and some faithful folks at Warner Bros., got the ultimate premier treatment.