It should come as no great shock to longtime readers of this site that I loved Teen Titans Go! to the Movies.
It’s a gloriously silly, wackily animated film that pokes incessant fun at its own genre while cramming more superhero in-jokes and nerd references than you can shake Robin’s bo staff at. How could I not love it?
I laughed, and laughed hard, at a film based on a TV series I was never a true fan of. I enjoyed the character interplay and the tongue-in-cheek cameos. I got a kick out of the songs and the animation riffs that accompanied them.
I did, however take issue with one scene.
It’s a very brief scene, mind you, and has little to no bearing on the film’s overall plot. Nevertheless, it ever-so-slightly tainted my enjoyment of the film – and, in true nerd fashion, I shall now devote a great many words to complaining about it.
But to understand why that scene ruffled me so, we must start at the beginning.
When Teen Titans Go! (the TV series which spawned this film) debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013, it prompted more backlash than anything DC and its corporate animation partners had produced in years. The series was in on the surface a spiritual successor to Teen Titans, the action series which had debuted to a successful run on the network a decade earlier – it featured the same five core heroes, voiced by the same five actors. But while he original Teen Titans was a semi-serious action show (it dropped one-liners and anime riffs only as the story would allow), Go! was a sharp left towards comedy – and often juvenile comedy, at that.
The colors were brighter, the noises louder, the character models more two-dimensional. Stories rarely focused on defeating villains – more often than not, episodes were centered on mundane, almost sitcom-style plots. And true to the form of the younger audience it targeted, Go! never met a toilet joke it didn’t like.
Fans of the 2003 Titans show excoriated the new series before it even premiered. The show they loved had been dumbed down, turned into a joke – and the Internet, as always, provided a suitable outlet for verbal retribution.
I didn’t love the original Titans cartoon – despite its visual creativity, the series was rather lacking in strong characterization. So that may explain why I found the hate leveled at Go! to be a bit overwrought and unfounded. While the new series was nothing brilliant, it was an easily digestible diversion, and could be quite entertaining when it tossed the plot out the window and let silliness take over.
Still, the constant criticism that Go! has fielded in recent years has clearly eaten at the show’s producers – and that’s evidenced by the film adaptation.
(Slight spoilers for said film follow.)
Go! to the Movies centers on Robin, the Titans’ de facto leader, and his desire to achieve what every superhero yearns for these days – a movie. The film chronicles his attempts, and those of his teammates – Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy – to obtain their own movie, garnering an arch-nemesis (Slade, who is not to be confused with Deadpool) along the way.
The film has a barrel of fun mocking the current state of the superhero film industry – how it’s launched obscure titles to worldwide fame, and how DC has for years struggled to keep up with its corporate rival in the filmmaking department. (“There was a Green Lantern movie… but we don’t talk about it.”) Not content with parodying the deluge of potential Batman spinoffs and Marvel’s ever-expected Stan Lee cameos, the film even features great digs at Back to the Future and The Lion King.
But the greatest dig may be at the fans themselves. Robin and his teammates are told, repeatedly, that they can never get their own movie because no one can take them seriously. They sing, they dance, they make toilet jokes – hardly the description of “cinematic.” These criticisms echo those of the original Titans fans (albeit with less profanity), underscoring what a difficult time the Go! versions of the Titans have in making a name for themselves.
The message of the film, though, effectively validates the Titans’ unorthodox crime-fighting means. No, they may not be your usual superheroes, but it’s their differences which allow them to win the day in the end. It’s a great message which validates the characters both in-film and against the constant backlash they get on the Interwebs.
By the time the end credits began to roll, I was feeling quite satisfied with the experience. A few good songs, a lot of great laughs, and an amusing “Take that!” at the haters. All in all, the film hit every note I was hoping for.
And then Go! to the Movies made its one big mistake.
As is not uncommon with modern superhero films, Go! to the Movies features a mid-credits scene. But there’s no tongue-in-cheek irony or parody to be found. Instead, the scene simply features the “original” Teen Titans – that is, the five characters in their 2003 designs – telling the audience that they may have “found a way back.”
As I said up front, this scene has no real bearing on the rest of the film. It simply exists to invoke the theory that the earlier Titans series could somehow return. It’s not funny or self-aware – it’s just a quick tease to the fans that the show they’re nostalgic for may come back.
And just like that, Go! to the Movies kicks the legs out from under its own message. All the time the film spends justifying the existence of the newer Titans TV series is effectively muted by a last-minute reminder of the old one. Yeah, the newer show is fine… but hey, wouldn’t you like to have the original back?
It may sound like I’m making too big a deal of a scene that takes up less than ten seconds of screentime. But, unfortunately, this one little scene has generated more online buzz than anything else in the film. The idea of the original Titans returning for a sixth season is simply too much for folks to handle. (Never mind the fact that the fifth season – a last-minute renewal after Season Four’s meant-to-be-grand finale – was widely divisive among the fanbase.)
Do I believe that the original Titans will in fact make an official return? Not particularly – between Go! and the upcoming live-action Titans series, it seems like DC has sufficient Teens on its plate. But that only makes the tease at the end of this film even more aggravating – and makes me rather uncurious to learn what (if anything) it means.
None of this is to truly discredit Go! to the Movies, which remains a perfectly fun and enjoyable flick. But it’s too bad to see the film’s victory lap get muted by a last-minute admission of defeat.
Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is currently playing in theaters. The first four seasons of Teen Titans Go! are streaming on Hulu.