If the DC Extended Universe is the snobby student shooting rickety rockets to the moon, the animated Teen Titans is the silly troublemaker shooting spitballs at the blackboard. It aims low with its farts and obnoxious body motions, but it’s hard to not snicker at a film so simultaneously smart with its satire of superheroes and daring enough to continuously use the word “poop.”
Sure, that’s childish humor, but look at the film’s target demographic here. Adults have had Deadpool to rip apart the subgenre, and now kids get to have Teen Titans Go! to the Movies as their cheeky chuckle for comic-book superheroes, playfully animated to their level of fun and foul.
Considering the film’s liberal use of air horns, musical numbers, and bodily functions, I’m sure it’s bound to be a headache inducer for some parents. But I grew up adoring the DC Comics brand, and this movie knew the way into my heart with jokes as blunt as characters stepping on size-shifting the Atom to the in-joke casting of Nicholas Cage as Superman. It’s also brilliantly self-aware with a story to match: Robin (Scott Menville) wants his own movie, which in this animated universe seems to be a rite of passage. As one trailer jokingly suggests, “If Aquaman can get a movie, anyone can.” But Robin’s collective, the Teen Titans—comprising the alien princess Starfire (Hynden Walch), the animal-shifting Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), the high-tech Cyborg (Khary Payton), and the deadpan sorceress Raven (Tara Strong)—have yet to receive their own movie. (True, they have had numerous direct-to-video movies, but let’s not get too meta here.)
What the Titans believe they lack, according to a film director, is a villain. It’s apparently for this reason that Alfred, the Batmobile, and Batman’s utility belt are receiving movies ahead of Robin. And so they need Slade (Will Arnett), a gun- and sword-toting bad guy with classic plans of theft and world domination. He checks out, but the Titans swear he looks a lot like that Deadpool fella—a reference to another superhero universe, but there are clearly no limits to the humor at play, especially when one particular Marvel figure won’t stop making cameos in the film.
Akin to The Lego Batman Movie, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies takes aim at anything it can find in the DC Comics universe to doodle into the background or write into the dialogue, but with a more knowing punch to the obsession than mere visual commentary. Every DC film is mocked, from the Superman movie with Gene Hackman’s real-estate scheme to the Batman v Superman plot point in which parent names shift emotions to that Green Lantern movie we’d rather not speak of. Out of almost a random desire to toy with DC’s history, the Titans travel back in time to prevent the tragic origins of the superheroes, only to go back and undo the damage with hilariously dark glee. (Ever seen Robin smile as he tosses Bruce Wayne’s parents down Crime Alley? That’s just one of the film’s numerous nutty firsts.)
But the kids in the audience won’t need to have studied up on the DC Comics Encyclopedia to have a laugh. Most of the humor revolves around ludicrous musical numbers with silly lyrics, giggling at potty words, and being distracted by burritos. The Titans never miss an opportunity to bust a move, sling some beats, or go for a prank. It’s this jester nature that makes the rest of the heroes look down on the them but also what makes them most unique. The movie’s rather predictable path boasts an acceptance of who you are, encouraging the Titans to be confident in their wackiness rather than reformat to match the more serious DC adaptations. It’s a surprisingly smart commentary on the superhero cinema landscape. But don’t worry, kids: the Titans will pull back from the sappiness with a gag just before you gag.
The goals of Teen Titans Go! to the Movies are small ones, but the heroes accomplish them supremely well with the aim for laughs as a candy-coated roast of the DC cinematic universe. The comedy is wickedly paced, the songs are amusingly staged, and the animation delves down some surprising routes, satirizing everything from Disney’s style to the sugary 1980s. For being adapted from an 11-minute-episode cartoon series built around frantic and simple humor, this movie packs its 88 minutes tightly enough with a combination of self-aware, referential, and low-brow hijinks to make anyone smile—including fans of the original Teen Titans animated series who despised Go! There’s a treat for even that lot in this movie, in addition to an amusing short for the crowd who dug Lauren Faust’s take on DC superhero girls.
As for me, I just melted into a childish geek trying to spot every DC character in the background and laughed hysterically at the irreverent writing.