There isn’t a frame of Teen Titans Go! To The Movies that isn’t marked by manic energy, the whole thing is just rambunctious as all heck, it’s the cinematic manifestation of a six-year-old who just gobbled up all the sugary treats they could stomach. If that sounds like a grating experience that would leave you more tired than entertained, somehow, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies manages to upend expectations and make such high levels of hyperactivity actually pretty humorous. Kids movies that want to be just about all the laughs are a dime-a-dozen, but unlike, say the recent Illumination Entertainment efforts, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is one such kids movie that’s actually (*GASP*) funny enough to justify it concentrating solely on the yuks.
Based on a massively popular TV show on Cartoon Network, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies which, as you might have guessed from the title, stars the superhero group Teen Titans whose members consist of Robin (Scott Menville), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Raven (Tara Strong), Starfire (Hynden Walsh) and Cyborg (Khary Payton). Though the group is usually content to just engage in zany hijinks, Robin has a burning desire to become a regular superhero once he realizes that that’s the only way he can get a movie made about him. This sets into motion a heavily-meta story (one that sometimes feels like a bunch of episodes of the tv show stitched together) that has Robin trying to make Slade Wilson (Will Arnett) his arch-nemesis since all real superheroes, the kind who got their own movie, have an arch-enemy.
As someone who is unfamiliar with the TV show on which Teen Titans Go! is based, the most delightfully surprising element of this feature film is just how prevalent dark humor is in the proceedings. Characters engage in cartoonishly brutal violence frequently and there’s a whole bunch of death played for laughs (including a gag with Bruce Wayne and his parents that’s brilliantly bleak), resulting in a whole lot more dark humor than I expected. At times the level of violence feels like something out of an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon from The Simpsons rather than being part of a property actually intentionally aimed at young ‘uns and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.
Also a pleasant surprise is that this is a musical, one with a number of songs that are actually pretty well-written and catchy. The best of the numerous tunes has to be Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life, which gets belted out by a surprise guest star whose majestic pipes only enhance the comedic lyrics. These musical numbers frequently make use of differing art styles too that are mighty well-realized (an extended parody of The Lion King’s iconic opening is especially good at subtly recreating a unique art style) and it’s a joy to see so many different styles of hand-drawn animation get utilized in a theatrical film given how sparsely used the animation format has been used in theatrical American animation in recent years.
On the weaker side of things, these three best elements are tragically unused in the weaker final half-hour or so of the story which dedicates itself to a more conventional plotline involving the broken-up Teen Titans having to learn to reconcile to stop Slade Wilson. There’s still fun jokes to be had, including a great closing line from Robin, but too much of it becomes too predictable and feels like the kind of ultra-conventional storytelling the film had been lampooning up to this point. It’s also worth mentioning that Greg Cipes is extremely irritating in his work as Beast Boy, his constant use of “hip” lingo made my skin crawl. On the other hand, the rest of the main cast is extremely enjoyable, particularly Hynden Walch and her hysterically cheerful work as Starfire.
While Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is manically frenzied in its pacing, I appreciate that the movie doesn’t use that hyperactive demeanor as an excuse to turn in shoddy work, there’s clearly some real work and creativity going into the best parts of this movie like its dark humor, its musical numbers or the variety of hand-drawn animation styles used for certain sequence. Its story becomes mired in formulaic tendencies by the climax and there’s plenty of jokes that miss the mark, but the craftsmanship seen in Teen Titans Go! To The Movies best elements allows it to stick around in one’s mind more than far more generic middling animated family fare of recent years like The Boss Baby or a Despicable Me sequel or even any of the DC Extended Universe movies that aren’t Wonder Woman.