There are two audiences who will be laughing uncontrollably throughout “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies”: The kids who enjoy the antics of “Teen Titans Go!” on Cartoon Network, and the comic-book obsessed adults who will get the movie’s deep-cut satire of DC Comics superhero lore.
For the uninitiated, a fast primer: The Teen Titans are five young DC superhero characters — Batman’s sidekick Robin the Boy Wonder, half-mechanical Cyborg, alien girl Starfire, animal-shapeshifting Beast Boy, and daughter of demons Raven — who have teamed up to fight bad guys. The team had their own serious-minded animated show on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2006, then was repurposed into a sillier, kid-friendly, Nickelodeon-style animated series, also on Cartoon Network, starting in 2013. Diehard fans still pine for the old show, which is just one of the many things series creators and writers Aaron Horvath (who co-directed with Peter Rida Michail) and Michael Jelenic joke about in this movie.
The biggest, juiciest target is the whole idea of the superhero movie, of which Robin (voiced by Scott Melville) desperately wants to be a part. But only real superheroes get movies, so when Superman (voiced by Nicolas Cage), Wonder Woman (voiced by Halsey) and Green Lantern (voiced by Lil Yachty) tell the Titans they’re more jokesters than heroes, it’s a blow to their ambitions.
Robin is especially determined to convince movie director Jade Wilson (voiced by Kristen Bell) to make a movie about the Teen Titans. Real heroes, they learn, have an archnemesis — and they think they’ve found one in Slade (voiced by Will Arnett), a masked supervillain who steals a rare crystal as part of a world-domination plot. But it’s hard for the Titans to take Slade seriously as a supervillain, because they think he looks an awful lot like Deadpool. (“Look into the camera and say something inappropriate,” Cyborg, voiced by Khary Payton, tells Slade at their first encounter.)
Along the way, Horvath, Michail and Jelenic poke fun at all aspects of superhero movies: The barrage of trailers, the critical drubbing of the “Green Lantern” movie, the repetition of origin stories, the onslaught of special effects, even the celebrity cameos. They also aren’t afraid to name-drop across corporate brands, mocking the Marvel Cinematic Universe as much as DC’s.
Smartly, the filmmakers stick to the happily anarchic spirit of the “Teen Titans Go!” TV series, and keep the original voice cast — besides Menville and Payton, there’s Greg Cipes as Beast Boy, Hynden Walch as Starfire and the legendary Tara Strong as Raven. The TV-level animation is augmented with clever segments that use stop-motion felt animation and other styles.
Most importantly, “Teen Titans Go! to the Movies” sticks a pin in the super-inflated pomposity of comic-book movies and the people who get so worked up over them. It’s a reminder that these movies are supposed to be fun — and this one certainly is.
‘Teen Titans Go! to the Movies’
Opens nationwide Friday, July 27, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG for action and rude humor. Running time: 84 minutes, plus a 5-minute short, “The Late Batsby,” from the “DC Super Hero Girls” series.