The Teen Titans finally have a movie, but unfortunately it’s neither the film fans wanted nor the story the characters deserve. Done in the style of Teen Titans Go!, the cutesy follow-up to the beloved 2003 series Teen Titans, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a bouncy, lighthearted and ultimately soulless super hero parody.
Robin (Scott Menville) is desperate to have his own movie, to be taken seriously, and to be viewed as a true super hero. However, his friends and teammates, Starfire (Hyden Walch), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Raven (Tara Strong), and Cyborg (Khary Payton) are more interested in having a good time than being good heroes. So to win the favor of big shot director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell), Robin attempts to attract the attention of super assassin, Slade Wilson (Will Arnett). Robin’s (and to a lesser degree his fellow Titans’) quest for respect is told in a myriad of bright animation styles and features multiple musical sequences, and while the constant changes in style keep each scene fresh, it also prevents the film from feeling cohesive.
Despite featuring the Teen Titans in the title, the film feels more like a Robin movie than an ensemble piece. Robin is the only character who undergoes any change throughout the film, and his teammates are often brushed aside to focus on his story — in the third act they even disappear entirely. The joy of any Teen Titans story is the strength of the group dynamic: Robin and Starfire’s romantic tension, Cyborg and Beast Boy’s laid-back comradery, and the overall familial closeness that is a hallmark of both animated iterations of the characters. It’s this lack of cohesiveness, both on a character level and a structural one, that plagues Teen Titans Go! To the Movies; is it an ensemble piece or a solo affair; is it a musical, a comedy, both or neither; is it intended for children or an older DC fan base?
But the film is no better when the other characters are on screen. Each member of the Titans has been diluted to fit the Teen Titans Go! aesthetic, and in doing so they’ve become vapid and obnoxious. Starfire speaks in a frustrating dialect, while Beast Boy’s surfer-dude affectation has been cranked up to an absurd degree. Cyborg and Raven escape unscathed, but they’re featured so infrequently that they don’t leave much of an impression.
Most of the team moments are musical numbers. The first two acts feature several indulgent songs that interrupt the flow of the film and are neither funny nor creative. But even stranger is the total abandonment of the musical structure part-way through the movie. After what feels like an endless slew of songs, the third act is almost entirely bereft of original compositions; the climactic fight is the only scene featuring a song, a recycled number from earlier in the film.
This lack of focus is reflected in the plot as well. A prolonged Back to the Future homage in the center of the movie is completely unrelated to subsequent events. The Titans travel back in time, meddling with superhero origins to ensure that the Teen Titans are the only super team in existence, thus ensuring them their own movie. The sequence, set to Take on Me, could have been its own movie — a cross time period romp through DC comic history. But after five minutes the subplot is resolved and abandoned; it’s too long to be a gag and too short to be a satisfying arc. It’s one of several moments that feels padded.
Like Deadpool or Lego Batman, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies has a bounty of pop culture references. Backgrounds are laden with billboards and buildings featuring the names and faces of classic (and obscure) DC characters. At first it’s a fun exercise to scan the screen and test your cultural knowledge, but after a while the nods to comic canon become white noise.
The more direct references don’t fare much better. Jokes at the expense of the Teen Titans are initially funny — a scene where the Titans watch trailers for an Alfred movie, a Batmobile movie and a Batman utility belt movie is a fun jab at the increasingly obscure superhero movies — but these jokes quickly wear out their welcome. The remainder of the film’s satirical humor feels cheap or repetitive; the time has long past where Batman v Superman “Martha” gags are funny.
In a way the film’s simple humor is to be expected; Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is aimed at a younger audience. But in 2018, that’s not an excuse. Even within the animated superhero subgenre, other films, like The Lego Batman Movie, managed to balance clever and accessible humor, charismatic characters, and pop culture call-outs in a way that transcended its PG rating. However, the Teen Titans’ first cinematic outing doesn’t live up to its potential. Instead the film feels like an episode of Teen Titans Go!, bloated to fit a feature-length run-time.
Fortunately, the hyper-exaggerated Teen Titans Go! art style is consistently delightful. It’s refreshing to see a DC property that embraces the vibrant, bright goofiness that is currently absent from many of their comic adaptations. Even DC’s straight-to-DVD animated films have a grittier, more violent edge that Teen Titans Go! To the Movies scraps to compliment the film’s lighter tone. Even when the film abruptly switches styles, each new interpretation is at least novel and well considered, despite preventing the film from feeling cohesive.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a disjointed romp through DC comic properties. Despite the crisp, bright animation and the occasional charming joke, the film ultimately suffers from little brother syndrome; it exists alongside better animated super hero satires and never lives up to the lofty heights set by better films. Even on its own terms, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies fails to carry out a cohesive vision and ends up being a forgettable affair.