It feels appropriate that the Warner Bros. logo that precedes Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD, features the earliest gibbering, anarchic Daffy Duck. At its absolute best, Go! To the Movies manages to capture that same feeling of gleeful, all-out, anything-goes mayhem and humor that the original Looney Tunes possessed before time and corporate mandates neutered them. While the material is somewhat overtaxed by needing to reach a 90-minute feature runtime, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is the cheerfully cruel satire that superhero movies need right now.
The Teen Titans are a long-running, ever-shifting super-group of young heroes, typically led by some version of Robin the Boy Wonder. The team gained mainstream prominence thanks to an animated series in the early Aughts, featuring Robin (voiced by Scott Menville), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong), and Starfire (Hynden Walch). That incarnation was cancelled in 2006, but the entire cast returned for Teen Titans Go!, a spin-off that replaced the character development and weighty storylines and themes with jokes on top of jokes with more jokes on the side and would you like some joke-seasoning on top of those jokes?
For their feature film debut, the Titans are looking to make their feature film debut, with Robin in particular frustrated that everyone except for him gets their own movie and recognition as a hero. Popular superhero film director Jade (Kristen Bell) isn’t interested in Robin or his friends at all, so the group set out to earn an archnemesis that will earn them greater prominence among the other heroes. Their pick: Slade Wilson (Will Arnett), mostly because his name sounds cool to say in slow motion.
But really, the Titans’ quest for their own movie is a loose framework for directors Peter Rida Michail and Aaron Horvath (who also co-wrote) and co-writer Michael Jelenic to cram as many jokes about DC comics, comics in general, and the unending glut of superhero movies we’re currently experiencing, as they can into one 90-minute go. The film succeeds as well as it does for as long as it does thanks to the fact that the jokes are both largely terrific and often incredibly mean-spirited.
No, I’m serious. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a gleefully mean little comedy, with the candy-colored, low-fi nature of the animation giving the creative team license to go to some unbelievably dark places, confident that the lightning-pace with which the jokes are dispelled will cover. There’s one montage involving the Titans using time travel to try and stop the creation of other superheroes that ends on a punchline so breathtakingly cruel and hilarious that I genuinely could not believe what I was watching.
And that extends to much of Go! To the Movies’ relationship with other comic book characters and films. It’d be easy to draw a comparison between this and stuff like The Lego Batman Movie or the Deadpool films, but that’s not quite right. The Deadpool movies love them a meta-wink, but they also try to function as legit superhero films in-between the jokes. And while Lego Batman ribbed Batman, it was always from a place of sincere affection.
This is not that. There is real venom in the barbs that Go! To the Movies sling at their Warner Bros. brethren. If Lego Batman was a loving prank between two buddies, Go! To the Movies is the equivalent of that Jackass bit where they lock their pals in a limousine and dump a bunch of angry bees in there with them.
This kind of anarchic sensibility is tough to maintain for very long, and there are times when you can feel Go! To the Movies scrambling to keep things moving, especially in the third act which disappointingly goes for the standard stock superhero story format. The action beats are clever in their design, but the limitations of these designs and animation style mean those beats don’t really fly the way they could.
If there’s a tiny kernel of sincerity to be found in Go! To the Movies, it’s in Robin’s desire for recognition and the bond between himself and the rest of the Titans. But the movie can only occasionally be bothered to pretend to care about that stuff, to the point that I would rather the filmmakers have rolled their eyes at having any kind of moral to this story and instead indulged in any sociopathic whim that came to mind.
They certainly indulged in the DC universe, filling almost every frame with deep-cut references that even accomplished comic readers might need a second to recall. For God’s sakes, there’s a whole running gag about the Challengers of the Unknown. Who the hell would think to include the Challengers of the Unknown in a movie in 2018? There is of course a healthy collection of cameos dropping in, most prominently being a gloriously goofy Nic Cage finally getting a chance at playing Superman, bless ‘im.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is rude and crude and very clearly proud of both of those features. While some parents may not love the film’s love for jokes involving butts and farts and all that jazz, those willing to indulge their kids in slightly more risqué entertainment will find a movie eager to do something interesting with the format and formula of the superhero film. The Blu-ray comes with music videos, a couple deleted scenes, and the very charming “The Late Batsby” short that teases the upcoming DC Super Hero Girls show, which looks entirely too wonderful.