‘Teen Titans Go! To the Movies’ Hilariously Riffs on Superheroes

Like an animated enfant terrible, “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” chuckles at everything we know and love about comic books, and comic book movies, with a refreshing attitude. It’s a gut-buster for kids who will giggle at the poop jokes, but adults will appreciate how it makes fun of itself and the whole superhero genre. Sometimes we yearn for cartoons that are just that: cartoons, with some wit, slapstick fun and satire, this one surprisingly has a little bit of all.

When the big names like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are nowhere to be found, it is the rambunctious Teen Titans who (try) to step in and fight off evil threats. Robin (Scott Menville) leads a pack which includes Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Raven (Tara Strong), Starfire (Hynden Walch) and Cyborg (Khary Payton). The Titans are seen as goofballs and troublemakers by their fellow caped crime fighters, and not always without good reason. When Batman (Jimmy Kimmel) boasts that his new movie is premiering, Robin goads the Titans to tag along, expecting that he is naturally going to get his own movie soon. To Robin’s shock, there is no movie being planned about him, or the Titans (even Alfred is getting his own epic soon). Distressed, the team goes to Hollywood to see how they can convince a big time director to film their exploits. It dawns on them that they are missing a key component for all superheroes: an arch nemesis. They find the perfect candidate in Slade (Will Arnett), a masked, diabolical villain who plans to enslave the world with his own brand of “mind manipulation.”

With animation making great strides and delivering movies like “The Incredibles 2,” it’s a nice escape to watch a small movie that celebrates being a cartoon for its own sake. Like last year’s “Captain Underpants,” “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” sings, flies and chuckles without a care for good taste but with a big heart. Taken from a Cartoon Network series, on a big screen the colors come alive and the animators have more room for big gags. The real fun is in how the whole movie is one big poke at the idea of comics and superheroes. When everyone gathers for the trailers before Batman’s new movie, one trailer after another roasts the ongoing trend of endless franchises. We get previews for “Alfred: The Movie,” “Batmobile: The Movie” and so on. There’s at least one recurring cameo that is a brilliant jab and some of the dialogue sparkles with a lighthearted bite (“there’s a Green Lantern movie…but we don’t talk about that”). At the red carpet the Titans find they are not on the list, but the pompous Challengers of the Unknown are. Once the Titans wander onto the Warner Bros.’s lot the movie gets even wilder in its takedowns of Hollywood culture. Robin gets a full makeover, the Titans gobble down the fancy catering and the director, voiced by Kristen Bell, is a shady megalomaniac.

But all the satire and humor is done with a cheerful, light touch. This movie is still designed for a specific audience, and it delivers many moments of just pure, joyous charm. The Titans try to save Krypton by playing the planet’s crystals like a rave, a giant balloon villain threatens their city but a poke to its posterior turns him into one big fart joke. Once in a while the movie can’t help itself and throws in something truly vicious, watch out for the fate of baby Aquaman. But with all the gags there are still some strong lessons about friendship and fame. Each Titan is written to embody a different personality trait any kid can relate to (if not adults). Raven is the moody one who shrugs or responds with sarcasm, Cyborg is the easy going partygoer ready to blast the group’s theme song through his built-in speakers, Starfire is all sweetness and Beast Boy is loyal to the end. Robin is the more level-headed leader, but throws a fit because he doesn’t get the respect Batman naturally inspires. The celebrity cameos for the big name heroes are a riot. Jimmy Kimmel’s Batman is stiff moodiness while Nicolas Cage flies in as a jock Superman and Halsey as tough, mature Wonder Woman.  Will Arnett steals the show as Slade (whose name is so evil everyone has to pronounce it by stretching out every letter). The movie loves to bask in glorious exaggeration, especially when Slade exclaims, “mind manipulation” with gigantic, comic book letters in the background.

“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is a fun take on the very aesthetic of comics, while giving younger viewers gags and some catchy songs. As summer rolls along, there’s something healthy in sitting down with some snacks to watch something truly colorful, where every frame feels like it was actually a good time to work on.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” releases July 27 in theaters nationwide.