Nicolas Cage finally gets to play Superman, Stan Lee makes a cameo (two of them, actually) in a DC movie, and Green Lantern is embarrassed about the misbegotten “Green Lantern” movie (a bomb also ridiculed in “Deadpool 2”). Those are the sort of in-jokes that older viewers, particularly comic geeks, will appreciate in “Teen Titans GO! to the Movies.” At the same time, the movie features a lot of poop and fart gags to amuse the kiddies. The result is a superhero spoof that aims for the saucy irreverence of “The Lego Batman Movie” but despite some inspired moments doesn’t quite hit the target, though an anarchic spirit and gaudy animation that takes its style from Japanese anime help.
An offshoot of the popular TV series that’s thrived on the Cartoon Network since 2013, and written by its creators Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath, this incarnation of the Teen Titans, the junior-justice-league that stretches back to 1964, treats the group as a bunch of amiably goofy pals who fight crime with juvenile insouciance. They’re Beast Boy (voiced by Gary Cipes), a literally green kid who can morph into animals; Cyborg (Khary Payton), half-human, half-machine and all loopiness; Starfire (Hayden Walch), a sweet-as-sugar gal who can emit energy bolts; and Raven (Tara Strong), a floating, hooded enigma who can open portals of space and time travel. Their leader is Batman’s erstwhile sidekick Robin (Scott Menville), who doesn’t have any superpowers but is agile beyond belief.
He’s also hungry for recognition, which provides the lynchpin of the plot. The Titans are treated by the “big” superheroes—Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, et al.—as jokes, an assumption that seems entirely justified by their self-absorbed, ineffectual encounter with a massive pink balloon monster (Greg Davies), which culminates in their singing their own theme song rather than taking him (it?) out. The final indignity comes when they’re not even invited to the gala premiere of the newest superhero extravaganza cranked out by studio honcho Jade (Kristen Bell), although even such minor figures as the Challengers of the Unknown are on the list (another joke aimed at the parents). And when they do sneak in, Robin is horrified to discover that future Batman spinoffs will feature everybody (and everything) but him.
The Titans decide to earn Robin a reputation that will convince Jade to make a movie about him. First they try to remove the “big” superheroes from the picture entirely. But when that bright idea has horrifying unintended consequences, they decide that what they need is a memorable nemesis—who conveniently appears in the form of Slade (Will Arnett, moving to the dark side after his lego Batman), who’s happy to play the part although he’s angry about always being confused with somebody else.
Eventually Robin gets a call from Jade, but—of course—getting his own movie will entail severing his ties with his team. Ultimately he’ll have to make a choice between fate and friendship, and of course we’ll be regaled with a message about how important it is to be yourself. These are compulsory morals in contemporary kidflicks, of course, but at least here they’re delivered, like everything else in the movie, with a knowing wink that acknowledges that the makers realize pandering when they give in to it.
And that, ultimately, is what’s irksome about “Teen Titans GO!” The inside-joke, elbow-in-the-ribs quality, which can be fun in five-minute segments, gets more than a little tiresome when dragged out to feature length, however frenetic the pace. The gags come fast and furious, but at the halfway point they start to get exhausting, almost needy. The insertion of a tune called “It’s an Upbeat, Inspirational Story About Life” would be funnier, for instance, if it weren’t italicized quite so bluntly, as if to say, “Yeah, we know this is crap! Enjoy looking down on it!” By the time the end credits roll, you might feel that you’ve just spent an hour and a half listening to the kid who thinks he’s too cool for school trying desperately to convince you that he’s right. It’s not unique to “Teen Titans.” With its similar though nastier, vibe, “Deadpool 2” started to peter out before it was over, too. And one expects that another “Lego Batman” would run out of gas as well.
Still, it can’t be denied that there are plenty of bright spots in this superhero send-up; it’s just that the movie comes on so strong that the effect dwindles as it goes on.
At any rate, it’s far preferable to the short that precedes it—a frantically unfunny bit about Batgirl going nuts waiting for her father to go to sleep so that she can suit up and join her female colleagues to do battle with Mr. Freeze. It’s a continuation to a web series that’s been airing since 2015, as well as an introduction to another Cartoon Network show, “DC Superhero Girls,” which is scheduled to premiere soon, and does not bode well for it.