Laugh of the Titans
If you've spent time pondering such weighty questions as what heroes-in-training might do during their downtime, Cartoon Network's Teen Titans Go! has plenty of answers for you. So many, in fact, that the scrappy comedic series has spawned its own film: "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies." This bright, noisy, quick-witted animated entry joins the glut of superhero movies that have clogged multiplexes over the past few years - and promptly makes its bones by proceeding to poke fun at the genre's many now-risible tropes, often with hilarious results.
The Teen Titans crew consists of Batman's sidekick Robin (Scott Menville); alien princess Starfire (Hynden Walch); Raven (Tara Strong), who happens to be the daughter of a demon; the robotically enhanced Cyborg (Khary Payton, The Walking Dead); and shapeshifter Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). They do some crimefighting, but rather than dealing with heavy-hitters they take out lighter-side baddies like Balloon Man (amusingly voiced by James Corden), an incongruously weighty inflatable villain who attacks via deceptively cute balloon animals. Balloon Man's rampage seems destined to destroy numerous city blocks until he's easily defeated by a projectile to the butt - and the fart jokes ensue.
But the occasional bathroom humor aimed at the kiddie set is more than balanced here by witty volleys, sharp split-second visual gags, effectively sketched facial expressions that serve as wordless punchlines, and a surprisingly sophisticated take on the superhero genre. The main plot kicks in when the Titans run into Superman (Nicholas Cage, "Mom and Dad") on his way to the premier of Batman's latest movie. (The title of this one? "Batman, Again.") Our heroes sneak into the theater - they're too small-time to be on the guest list that includes such A-list crimefighters as Batman himself (Jimmy Kimmel), the Flash (Bill Hader, Barry), Wonder Woman (singer/songwriter Halsey), Aquaman (Eric Bauza, "The Emoji Movie"), and Atom (Patton Oswalt). Seated in the front row during the previews, Robin gets excited about the prospect of starring in his own movie one day. Alas, it's not in the cards, as we learn in a hilarious sequence that Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred (Ty Burrell, Modern Family), the Batmobile, and even Batman's utility belt are all getting the Hollywood treatment ahead of the Boy Wonder.
This fuels Robin's determination to join the superhero elite as an action star, so the Titans are off to the Warner Bros studio lot, where they gawk at the iconic water tower ("Hey, the Animaniacs live there!") and sneak in to see the number one director of superhero action movies, Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell, "Bad Moms"). The film has fun with a quick setup here where Batman and Superman are shooting a lugubrious dramatic scene on an obligatorily rain-drenched soundstage. Jade shoots down Robin's offer to star in a movie, so it's off to solve the apparent problem: the Teen Titans decide they need an arch-nemesis to make them more dramatically appealing to the superstar director.
Soon the Titans are wrangling with Slade (Will Arnett, "The LEGO Movie"), a bad guy whose name is really fun to say in a dramatic voice and whose suspicious resemblance to Deadpool is the source of a couple of great one-liners. It's just one of the many entertainingly meta moments that demonstrate both the sharp eye and the clear affection that writers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath have for the genre. But they're not limited to skewering just the current superhero trend: there's also a funny sendup of "The Lion King," a satisfying takedown of Shia LaBeouf ("Transformers"), and a brilliant throwaway line about "Gene Hackman's real-estate scheme" that's a fun wink to older audience members who will recall the first time that the Man of Steel hit the silver screen.
"Teen Titans Go! To the Movies" is briskly paced, with plenty of breaks due to the Titans' tendency to solve any number of problems by busting out a pertinent, poppy musical number. Younger viewers may get a bit restless as the third act crests, but older kids will be absorbed by the engaging characters, some easy to follow jokes, and a bright color palette, while parents can watch this one on a whole other level and wait for the knowing, laugh-out-loud moments. Keep an eye out for a quick shot of the Titans heading off a certain quartet of turtles as they amble toward a stream of radioactive goo; and what superhero movie would be worth its salt without a cameo from Stan Lee...even if it is set in the DC universe? "Titans" clearly, shamelessly crosses pop-culture boundaries; it's all in good fun, and it's as good a reason as any to go! to the movies.