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With: Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Hynden Walch, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Michael Bolton, Nicolas Cage, Jimmy Kimmel, Patton Oswalt, Wil Wheaton (voices)
Written by: Michael Jelenic, Aaron Horvath
Directed by: Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
MPAA Rating: PG for action and rude humor
Running Time: 93
Date: 07/27/2018
IMDB

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sidekick Start

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I was a kid, Marv Wolfman and George Perez's "New Teen Titans" comics were among the best reads out there. It was a 1980s reboot of the silly 1960s version, carrying over Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl, and introducing Changeling (formerly Beast Boy), Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire. The stories dealt with problems of fitting in, in an interesting, mature way. One story cycle from this series, "The Judas Contract," is considered among the best comics stories of all time.

The new movie Teen Titans Go! To the Movies — based on a Cartoon Network series — contains the same characters (minus Kid Flash and Wonder Girl), but is entirely different. It's more hyperactive, more in tune with today's YouTube and Snapchat teens. Yet it's also hilariously self-aware, zippy and colorful, and with tons of references to old-time DC readers like myself. (Although even I never read "Challengers of the Unknown.")

The plot, basically, concerns Robin (voiced by Scott Menville) wanting to be taken seriously enough to have a big-screen superhero movie made about him. He decides that the team needs their own arch-nemesis, and they think they may have found him in Slade (voiced by Will Arnett, who, ironically, sometimes performs the voice of Batman). Slade — I knew him from the comics as "Deathstroke the Terminator" — wants to steal some kind of power stone for some "taking-over-the-world" evil plan, but Robin is more concerned about his movie.

The team gets a call from movie director Jade Wilson (voiced by Kristen Bell), who has finally decided to make the movie, but in order to do so, Robin must quit the team. The plot is pretty predictable, but the silliness that swirls in and around each familiar twist is fresh and funny. The Titans perform little musical numbers during battle, especially a "sick" rap song and a great 1980s "uplifting, inspirational" song, sung by none other than Michael Bolton.

If the movie had gone on any longer, say, as long as Zack Snyder's Batman v. Superman — which this movie effectively skewers — the characters could wear on a person. Beast Boy (voiced by Greg Cipes) — no longer "Changeling" — speaks in a kind of streetwise slang, sentences punctuated with "yo." Starfire (voiced by Hynden Walch), an alien unfamiliar with earth's ways, uses "the" in strange places, such as "you are the friend" and "today is the good." Cyborg (voiced by Khary Payton), however, is cool, and so is Raven. She's voiced by Tara Strong, a veteran voice actor best known for The Powerpuff Girls, and tons of other voices you'd recognize. She gives Raven a snide "whatever" growl, reminiscent of "Daria."

In a wonderful surprise, Nicolas Cage voices Superman in a few scenes; Cage was in talks to play the Man of Steel back in the 1990s when a version worked on by the likes of Tim Burton and Kevin Smith eventually fell apart and never materialized. Many deep-cut DC characters appear on the sidelines, if you look fast, including some of my favorites: Swamp Thing, Deadman, the Spectre, Jonah Hex, Plastic Man, and more.

The humor ranges from these little references to questioning the entire idea of superhero movies, and superheroes in general. It's nothing in-depth, mind you, but it does raise the question, which is interesting enough. It's a little like The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, in its relentless attempts at humor, though Teen Titans Go! To the Movies isn't quite as constantly clever (it contains fart jokes and jokes about Robin's "little hands"), and certainly its two-dimensional animation is no match for the glories of the Lego movies, but its spirit is there. It knows enough to jump into the fray, make some noise and some flash, and get out while the getting's good.

(Note: The movie played with a fun little girl-power short film called The Late Batsby.)

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