Teen Titans GO! To the Movies is solid entertainment for the kids, but it's undermined by a thin story that only scratches the surface.
Based on the long-running Cartoon Network series (which just aired its fifth season), Teen Titans GO! To the Movies represents the latest step in Hollywood's quest to give virtually every superhero their own movie. With even obscure characters now becoming household names thanks to box office success, it's only fitting that DC's youngest team makes the leap to the big screen too. Judging by the source material, it's apparent this film is going for a lighter and more comedic vibe than several of the titles it riffs on. While that breath of fresh air is appreciated, it doesn't mean the execution is always spot on. Teen Titans GO! To the Movies is solid entertainment for the kids, but it's undermined by a thin story that only scratches the surface.
In Jump City, the Teen Titans team of Robin (Scott Menville), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton), and Raven (Tara Strong) are eager to prove they are legitimate heroes just like the Justice League. Unfortunately, the group has difficulty taking their crimefighting responsibilities seriously, and are seen by many others as jokes. Committed to changing the world's perception of the Titans, Robin will do whatever it takes to get a movie made about him and his team. If they land a Hollywood deal, then the Titans will be "real" heroes.
When Robin's pitch to director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) is turned down, he sees an opportunity. The villainous Slade (Will Arnett) has been committing crimes while the superheroes are at film premieres, meaning there's no Justice League to stop him. Robin believes if the Titans can make Slade their nemesis, Hollywood will have no choice but to make a Teen Titans movie. But due to his silver screen ambitions, Robin risks losing sight of what's most important in life.
The biggest challenge Teen Titans GO! To the Movies faces is adapting the show (episodes run 11 minutes) to feature length. It's here directors Peter Rida Michail and Aaron Horvath hit some stumbling blocks. Not only is there not much to the main narrative, it also takes a while for the story to rev up. As a result, certain sections of the film drag in places, reiterating character motivations multiple times and getting hampered down by extended musical numbers and set pieces that are little more than filler. Admittedly, some of these are entertaining in the moment, but that isn't enough to warrant the full versions of these sequences in the movie.
Horvath's screenplay (co-written with Michael Jelenic) comes up short in regards to providing proper balance for the team. There is a very heavy emphasis placed on Robin, who is the only member of the titular team to receive an arc. While he is positioned as the leader and is a fitting choice for the movie's main protagonist, his friends are greatly underserved. Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy are all there primarily to use their powers in action scenes or console Robin when he's feeling down. Since there isn't much time dedicated to fleshing out the other members of the Titans (or Robin's relationships with them), this approach undermines the movie's core messages and morals. This may not be the biggest deal for fans of the TV show (who have 5 seasons of episodes to fully understand character dynamics), but it doesn't help newcomers or casual audiences with limited knowledge of the source material. The Titans fight well as a group, but that's not enough to sell viewers on their personal friendships.
Humor is an integral component of Teen Titans GO! To the Movies, and sadly, it's something of a mixed bag here. On the positive side of the spectrum, the filmmakers take great joy in commenting on the current state of superhero cinema, with plenty of references and gags to the plethora of comic book adaptations that have hit theaters over the past several years. Some of the bits (see: a nod to a certain Batman V Superman scene) have perhaps worn out their welcome by now, but there are laughs to be had - even if the exploration into the genre isn't particularly deep. Parents of children in attendance will enjoy these nods, but the same can't be said for every comedic beat. Multiple times, Teen Titans relies on juvenile jokes designed to get a response from the juice box crowd, which ends up hurting the film's overall appeal. Unlike, say, The LEGO Batman Movie, Teen Titans is geared more towards younger audiences.
Despite the shortcomings of the script, Teen Titans is kept afloat by its energetic and entertaining voice cast. The members of the Titans are all comfortable in their roles after several years, and the newcomers have a blast as well. Arnett is a highlight as Slade, playing it with the gusto of a Saturday morning cartoon villain. There are also numerous celebrity cameos (like Nic Cage's Superman) that will be fun for audiences to spot. The downside is that for all the talent involved, nobody has all that much to do in their portrayals - outside of Menville's Robin, who goes on a fairly predictable trajectory.
Teen Titans GO! To the Movies is certainly far more niche than most superhero movies are today. Fans of the TV show should get a good deal of enjoyment out of it, since it maintains the distinct animation style and tone of the series. However, for those who aren't well-versed in Teen Titans lore, this isn't something worth rushing to the theater to check out. It's a relatively harmless fluff piece that unfortunately misses the mark in a few places.
Teen Titans GO! To the Movies is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 93 minutes and is rated PG for action and rude humor.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!
- Teen Titans Go! To The Movies (2018) release date: Jul 27, 2018