In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Thursday of April to celebrating the character?
Released: 27 July 2018
Director: Peter Rida Michail and Aaron Horvath
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $10 million
Stars: Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Greg Cipes, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, and Nicolas Cage
Determined to be a Hollywood star, Dick Grayson/Robin (Menville) will go to any lengths to impress director Jade Wilson (Bell) to notice him and his team! With a few madcap ideas and musical numbers, the Teen Titans try to take the limelight, but when Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator (Arnett) messes with their plans, the Teen Titans will have to become true superheroes to save the world!
About four years after the debut of the Justice League of America (JLA), their teen sidekicks came together to form the Teen Titans, presumably to appeal to younger readers. The team were a relatively consistent presence throughout the 1960s and 1970s but writer Marv Wolfman and George Pérez breathed new life into the concept with characters like Victor Stone/Cyborg and Princess Koriand’r/Starfire, who became synonymous with the team. No strangers to adaptation, the Teen Titans have seen some success in animated ventures; Teen Titans (2003 to 2006) was widely regarded as a popular spin-off of the incredibly well-regarded animated series pioneered by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Many long-term fans were therefore put off when the show was retooled into a more kid-friendly aesthetic with the slapstick Teen Titans Go! (2013 to 2022), though many praised the show for its bizarre nature and light-hearted humour. Additionally, the show was popular enough to spawn this feature-length production; universally praised for its metatextual comedy, its gleeful destruction of superhero tropes, and its unhinged comedy, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies also gave finally star Nicolas Cage the chance to portray Clark Kent/Superman after missing out on a live-action appearance in the nineties. With a box office gross of $52.1 million, the film was followed by a reasonably well received straight-to-DVD crossover between the Go! Titans and their more serious predecessors, as well as a couple of other similar features of varying quality.
So, like a lot of kids my age, I watched a fair amount of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s DC cartoons back in the day; even into my late teenage years, I was enjoying Justice League Unlimited (2004 to 2006), and I really enjoyed the original Teen Titans cartoon. Although never explicitly stated to be a part of the same fictional universe, I always liked to think that Teen Titans was a spin-off from the main DC Animated Universe and I loved how it gave a bit of a gritty edge and a commanding presence to one of my favourite characters, Robin, and allowed him to be in the spotlight in a world where he’s often given the shaft in live-action movies. I’d be lying if seeing Teen Titans Go! for the first time wasn’t a little off-putting for me in this regard; however, it was clearly aimed at a younger audience and I found it to be quite funny the few times I did watch it, the same as Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008 to 2011), which showcased a more light-hearted version of the Dark Knight but in a fun and action-packed way. There is room for both interpretations of these characters, as much as I prefer the darker interpretations as they’re truer to the original spirit of Batman and his world, and it’s not as if there weren’t other animated ventures that showcased this side of the likes of Batman and Robin, so it was still pretty exciting when a feature-length presentation was announced, especially as it aimed to poke fun at Warner Bros.’ tumultuous history with cashing in on their DC Comics franchises.
Things get off to a loud and action-packed start as Jump City is attacked by the megalomaniacal supervillain known as Balloon Man (Greg Davies), a ludicrous character who is quite literally a gigantic, anthropomorphic balloon who can easily smash his way into a bank and squeeze through small gaps by expanding and contracting his bulbous body. Although Jump City’s police are no match for the inflated villain, the Teen Titans soon arrive to help out; what follows is a fight scene, set to an electric guitar remix of the Teen Titans Go! main theme, that helps to establish the characters and abilities of the titular team for those who are unfamiliar. Robin is the leader, jumping head-first into the fight and partially tearing Balloon Man’s hide with his shuriken; Cyborg (Payton) is the enthusiastic muscle, able to transform his body into all kinds of heavy ordinance; Starfire (Walch) is a naïve, childlike misfit from another world who wields incredible cosmic power but is easily distracted by cute things; Rachel Roth/Raven (Strong) is the dark, stoic enchantress capable of manipulating others and creating constructs out of a black magical energy; and Garfield “Gar” Logan/Beast Boy (Cipes) is the team’s goofball shape-shifter, who delights in monkeying around and transforming into a range of green-hued animals (including becoming a porcupine to pierce Balloon Man’s butt for an extended fart gag). So consumed by their own hype are the team that they completely miss that the Justice League – Superman (Cage), Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Halsey), and Jon Stewart/Green Lantern (Lil Yachty) – take out Balloon Man and are saddened to learn that both the public, and the superhero community, see them as a team of goofballs rather than “real” superheroes worthy of their own movies. Despite the fact that people “don’t talk” about Green Lantern’s movie, Superman advises the team that they’ll never be seen as anything other than a joke unless they shape up and start acting like real heroes rather than goofing off for food and dance numbers. Despite the evidence lobbied against them, Robin is adamant that he and his friends are not only world-renowned heroes but worthy of their own movie; it’s been his lifelong dream to have his own movie franchise, after all, and he’s determined to prove that he’s worthy of this accolade.
Unfortunately, he and his friends are aghast to learn that they’re not on the list to attend the premiere of Batman’s (Jimmy Kimmel) newest film, and even more insulted when the Challengers of the Unknown, of all people, are more known than they are. Thanks to Raven’s ability to teleport them using her extradimensional portals, the team are able to gate crash the screening and steal the Challengers’ seats, introducing them to beloved superhero movie director Jade Wilson. Robin is dejected to see first-hand that he’s not only not slated to appear in a movie, but that the entire superhero community laughs him off as simply a sidekick and a nobody. After dispelling Robin’s depression with a musical number, the team head to Warner Bros. Studios in Hollywood, determined to demand that they get their own movie from Jade. Unfortunately, she’s not interested in the prospect of a solo Robin movie and states that she would only consider it if there were no other superheroes in the world, a dismissive comment that gives him the outrageous idea to travel through time to prevent the world’s superheroes from ever coming into being using their time cycles (because their regular time machine is too “boring”). Thus, the team prevents Krypton’s destruction (using disco-synth, no less), stealing Wonder Woman’s magical lasso when she’s just a girl, cause Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Eric Bauza) to get caught up in trash and drown as a baby, prevent four turtles from coming into contact with radioactive ooze, and redirect Thomas, Martha, and young Bruce Wayne (Kal-El Cage) from going down Crime Alley. As you might expect, this results in the world being overrun by supervillains in the present day and therefore no superhero movies being produced, so the Teen Titans immediately travel back to undo their efforts…resulting in them being directly responsible for Krypton’s destruction and gleefully pushing Thomas and Martha Wayne to their deaths with a smile and a thumbs-up!
Since rewriting the space/time continuum did nothing to improve their standing in the superhero community, the Teen Titans resolve to prove themselves the old-fashioned way. Earlier, the others suggested to Robin that they’re not taken seriously because they lack a cool archnemesis with an ominous name and they attempt to address this by confronting Deathstroke (as ever referred to simply as “Slade”) as he steals “the perfect plot device”, the Ditronium Crystal, from Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs). A bombastic villain who mocks the Teen Titans pose and easily tricks them with simple illusions and distractions, Slade is nonetheless fully capable of holding the team off using only his skill, weapons, and vast array of gadgets. Still, by taking themselves seriously, the team is able to retrieve the crystal on their second encounter, but Slade easily escapes by preying on Robin’s ego and painting himself as his archnemesis. Incensed at their interference, Slade vows to divide the team to take away their greatest advantage, something made considerably easier when jade summons the team to Warner Bros. Studios, impressed by their fight, to start shooting their movie. However, when the others embarrass him by repeatedly pooping in a prop toilet, attacking their co-star and subduing Superman with Kryptonite, causing havoc, and almost destroying her Digitally Ordering Online Movies Streaming Directly At You (D.O.O.M.S.D.A.Y.) Device (Phil Morris), Robin angrily ditches his friends in order to have his own solo movie and shake the stigma of their idiocy from his character. Heartbroken at his decision, especially after they supported his dream all throughout the movie, the team leave him to indulge his greatest fantasies on the set of his very own movie, finally bringing him the adulation he has craved for so long, though all the digital enhancements and action sequences in the world can’t make up for the loss of his friends.
I gather there are a lot of people who dislike the art and animation style of shows like Teen Titans Go!; many comparisons are made to the likes of Steven Universe (2013 to 2019), though I’m not sure why that’s a bad thing as, while I’ve never watched it, I always thought the show was quite popular. Again, it’s potentially because of the nostalgia and love for Timm and Dini’s traditionally dark and moody visual style, and the anime influences seen in the original Teen Titans, but I thought the change in visual direction was a great way to immediately show that Teen Titans Go! is aimed at a completely different audience to its predecessor, and enjoyed the presentation because it, like some of the line-towing humour, reminded me of The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991 to 1996; 2003). Jump City is a bright maze of skyscrapers and beaches, its inhabitants all sport comically oversized heads and cartoonish proportions, and much of the allure of the movie’s visual style comes from the short, sharp movements characters make that remind me of traditional animation techniques such those using construction paper. The movie’s tongue-in-cheek approach is also evident right from the start, as DC’s heroes are chibi-fied in the opening credits to fit with the show’s more exaggerated art style; the movie even appears to ape the traditional Marvel Studios opening by rapidly flicking through pages of Teen Titans comics, only to subvert expectations and show that it’s simply a seagull flicking through a comic book! In this cartoonish world, the DC superheroes are such huge celebrities that they have their own merchandise and movie franchises, just like in the real world, with even the grim Dark Knight playing up to the paparazzi at the premiere of his new film, Batman Again, and heroes like Kara Zor-El/Supergirl (Meredith Salenger) and even Doctor Raymond “Ray” Palmer/The Atom (Patton Oswold) being treated as Hollywood starlets.
This is taken to the nth level when we see just how many superheroes are being given feature-films and the lengths to which Hollywood is going to milk Batman’s popularity with movies about his loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth, his high-tech vehicle, the Batmobile, and even his utility belt! Although a hilarious gag at the time, and with some basis in truth given how much Batman content had been produced by 2018, this lands even harder now considering Alfred received his own live-action television series and we even got a Cars-like (Various, 2006 to 2022) Batmobile cartoon! Even the D.O.O.M.S.D.A.Y. Device is a precursor to the stranglehold over the genre that Marvel Studios would get with the onset of Disney+, making the film scarily ahead of its time in its metacommentary. The film also stands out with its fourth-wall-breaking humour; this includes jabs not only at existing DC properties, but also gags like the Teen Titans mistaken Slade for Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool, a parody of the iconic opening of The Lion King (Allers and Minkoff, 1994), references to one of my favourite cartoons, Animaniacs (1993 to 1998; 2020 to present), Superman (Donner, 1978) and the Tim Burton Batman movies (1989; 1992), and the Back to the Future trilogy (Zemeckis, 1985 to 1990), a gratuitous and self-referential cameo by Stan Lee himself, a fantastic jab at the whole “Martha!” debacle during the filming of Batman vs. Superman: Part II by having the two come to blows because their fathers have different names, and having Robin’s team mates embarrass him when they kick the crap out of Shia LaBeouf (James Arnold Taylor). Musical numbers also play a huge role here; we get our first taste of this when Balloon Man insults and shocks the group by claiming not to know who they are (he thinks they’re “lesser members” of the Justice League of the Guardians of the Galaxy), leading to them performing a rap number running down their names, powers, and a bit of their background (“GO!”). Unfortunately, they get so wrapped up in their singing and dancing that they’re completely upstaged by the Justice League. Struggling with his sense of self-worth and disheartened at being mocked by everyone, even the team’s adorable hand-crafted movie fails to cheer Robin up; it takes an amusingly generic “upbeat, inspirational song” to reignite Robin’s spark and renew his enthusiasm (“Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life”). Additionally, Robin’s able to describe his perfect solo superhero through song, resulting in a montage and homages to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Miller, et al, 1986), Batman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1995) specifically designed to emphasise Robin’s competency, cute butt, and totally adult hands (“My Superhero Movie”). When the Teen Titans travel through time to take out their competition, the sequence is brilliantly set to A-ha’s “Take On Me” and Huey Lewis and the News’s “Back in Time”, they play Krypton’s crystals like a DJ deck to prevent the decidedly Donner-esque planet from exploding, and Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy get themselves kicked out of their own movie by pulling pranks all over the Warner Bros. Studio (“Shenanigans”).
Robin is so caught up in finally getting his time in the spotlight, away from the shadow of the Batman and the goofiness of his teammates, that he doesn’t even question Jade’s motivations or inputting the code to the vault as part of his movie’s finale. All too late, he realises that he’s been tricked into opening the actual vault and that Jade has been Slade in disguise all along in a surprising, and amusing, twist. Thanks to his manipulations as Jade, Slade has effectively subdued the Justice League by distracting them with their movies, leaving him free to steal the Ditronium Crystal, insert it into the D.O.O.M.S.D.A.Y. Device, and control the minds of the world’s populace as part of a diabolical scheme for world domination. Thanks to his baby hands and Bat-gadgets, Robin is able to escape the exploding Titans Tower; seeing his home and his friends’ possessions go up in smoke makes him realise how selfish and foolish he’s been but his friends enthusiastically return to his side to aid him in stopping the broadcast of Robin: The Movie to prevent Slade’s plans from coming to fruition. After unmasking Slade before their superhero peers, the Teen Titans are forced to battle the Justice League when Slade uses the D.O.O.M.S.D.A.Y. Device to turn them into his mindless slaves; thanks to a golf cart and Raven’s portal abilities, they’re able to take the Justice League out of the equation but, when Robin engages Slade in a one-on-one fight, Robin’s unable to resist watching footage of his film and is compelled to attack his friends. Robin’s brought to his senses when forced to watch the remainder of the homemade film the Titans made for him, reuniting the team in friendship just in time to battle Slade’s ridiculously oversized robot! Although Slade mocks them and boasts at his invincibility, Robin realises that their greatest asset is their goofball antics and they’re able to take out Slade’s robot using another of their dope songs (“GO! (Battle Remix)”) and an overwhelming combination of their unique powers and abilities. With the world freed from Slade’s control, the Ditronium Crystal destroyed, and Slade defeated, the Teen Titans finally earn the approval and respect of their peers, though Robin’s denied the chance to deliver a meaningful speech as everyone else insists that the movie’s over.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a ridiculously over the top, slapstick romp in this exaggerated and cartoonish spin-off of the darker DC Animated Universe. Everything from the visuals, the gags, and the action is designed to appeal to younger audiences, ones who will delight at the instances of toilet humour and the fun music numbers, yet there’s a fair amount here for older audiences to enjoy as well. From cameos, references to other movies and DC properties, and some surprisingly dark inclusions that might go over the heads of little kids but had my spitting out my drink at times. The overriding narrative of the Teen Titans trying to earn respect for being superheroes is done pretty well, and wisely focuses on Robin’s obsession with being seen as more than a sidekick and worthy of his own movie, though the film doesn’t dwell too much on the wedge this causes between him and his friends. Similarly, the time travel side plot was primarily there as a gag, a funny one to be sure but one immediately undone to focus on the campaign against Slade. I would’ve liked to see the Teen Titans realise their worth in a world without the other superheroes, but it was fun seeing Slade mock them and wipe the floor with them and be revealed to have been disguised as Jade all along. While there isn’t much here for the other Teen Titans to do beyond be goofy, say their catchphrases, and sing and fight alongside Robin, the metacommentary on the influx of superhero movies was amusing and I found myself thoroughgoingly entertained through the film. I always enjoy it when animated movies sprinkle their narratives with little Easter Eggs for adults to enjoy and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies certainly succeeds in this regard, and with including some genuinely funny gags that keep the energy high, resulting in a very enjoyable animated romp.
Did you enjoy Teen Titans Go! To the Movies? Were you a fan of the cartoon or did the move towards slapstick put you off? Which member of the team was your favourite and what did you think to Robin’s desire to be taken seriously as a superhero? Did you enjoy the musical numbers and the sprinklings of dark humour laced throughout? What s your favourite incarnation of the Teen Titans? Who is your favourite Robin and how are you celebrating the Boy Wonder’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on this film, Teen Titans, and Robin, leave a comment either below or on my social media.
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