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You should go to ‘Teen Titans Go! To the Movies’

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The notion of superheroes as kid stuff has largely fallen by the wayside thanks to the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the less-massive-but-still-pretty-huge success of the DC Extended Universe. These are movies that young people can enjoy, but they are very much made for adults; the DC side especially leans into that aspect of the genre.

But there’s still a lot of kid-friendly fun to be had with superheroes. The animated TV series “Teen Titans Go!” – a staple on the Cartoon Network for the past five years – is a non-canonical DC property aimed at lighthearted fun and parodic takes on comic book tropes.

And now there’s a movie.

“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is an attempt to maintain that irreverent style over the course of a feature-length movie – an attempt that, despite some padding here and there, is remarkably successful. It is unquestionably a kids’ movie, full of bright colors and juvenile humor. But it’s also a surprisingly smart and self-aware movie, with some meta references and DEEP comic book cuts.

I’ll put it this way – I came in almost completely unfamiliar with the show and had a heck of a good time.

The Teen Titans – former sidekick Robin (Scott Menville, TV’s “Bunnicula”), shapeshifter Beast Boy (Greg Cipes, TV’s “Ben 10”), demon-powered Raven (Tara Strong, TV’s “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”), alien warrior princess Starfire (Hynden Welch, TV’s “Adventure Time”) and cyborg Cyborg (Khary Payton, TV’s “The Walking Dead”) – are struggling to be taken seriously by villains and heroes alike.

When they get laughed at and gently mocked by Justice Leaguers like Superman (Nicolas Cage, “Looking Glass”), Wonder Woman (pop star Halsey) and Green Lantern (rapper Lil Yachty), the Titans decide that they need to be in a superhero movie if they want anyone to know who they are. However, when they approach comic book movie maven Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell, TV’s “The Good Place”), she turns them down.

The Titans won’t take this lying down, deciding that what they need is a true arch-nemesis to make them more attractive to the filmmaker. This is when they cross paths with Slade (Will Arnett, TV’s “BoJack Horseman”), an assassin/mercenary who is trying to put together a vaguely-described device for an ill-defined nefarious purpose.

But when a promising offer comes - an offer that doesn’t include all of the Titans – the goofy group is left with a difficult decision. Is it fame and notoriety that matters most? Or is it friendship and teamwork?

“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” proved to be a delightful surprise for me. I had a general idea of the show’s tone, but I really wasn’t aware of just how silly things could get. The jokes fly FAST, and while there’s plenty of kid stuff (including fart jokes, which are really for all ages), there are some jokes and references that are simply going to fly far over the heads of younger viewers and straight into the brains of the older comic book fans out there.

(Seriously – there’s a running gag about how lame the Challengers of the Unknown are. That’s digging deep for a reference that no nine-year-old is going to get. There’s also a musical moment in which a singing, keytar-playing, sunglasses-wearing tiger is voiced by an ironic icon – you’ll know him when you hear him.)

Visually, the film is actually quite a treat. There’s a fluidity of style; different moments are rendered through different animation choices. The end result could have felt haphazard or choppy, but really, the marriage of aesthetic with narrative tone proves to be rather ingenious. Bright colors and quick cuts, sure, but by bouncing up and down the spectrum between cutesy and gritty, the filmmakers provide something of genuine visual interest.

The voice cast is wonderful. The five Titans are obvious VO pros, with thorough understanding of both character and storytelling style. Their sense of ensemble is palpable, making them a lovely fit for a tight-knit team. As for the more famous folks in the cast, well … they’re super, if you’ll pardon the pun. Arnett is basically giving us Supervillain Gob Bluth, which is absolutely perfect for this movie. He’s having a ton of fun. So is Kristen Bell, who has some great moments as well. Nic Cage finally gets to play Superman and is clearly relishing the opportunity. Halsey and Lil Yachty don’t get a ton of dialogue (although Lil Yachty’s on the soundtrack). Other famous folks turn up in brief cameos – Jimmy Kimmel as Batman, Wil Wheaton as Flash and Patton Oswalt as Atom. Hell, there’s even a Stan Lee cameo.

“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” wasn’t the lowest common denominator kiddie flick that I was expecting. Sure, there’s potty humor (in fact, there’s one literal toilet joke that genuinely made me laugh), but there’s also a lot of pop culture goofery and comic book meta-awareness. It’s fun and funny and full of positivity. Plus, the songs are extremely catchy.

Basically, if you love superhero fare, you should go to the movies with these Teen Titans.

[4.5 out of 5]

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