Peter Rida Michail and Aaron Horvath’s Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a spastic, Mad magazine-style parody of comic-book movies for the age of superhero overload. A gag-a-minute meta-commentary on the ubiquity of the genre, the film follows pint-sized teenager Robin’s (Scott Menville) efforts to convince Hollywood to make a movie about him and his gang of adolescent crime-fighting pals: manic shape-shifter Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), portal-producing goth Raven (Tara Strong), cutesy alien princess Starfire (Hynden Walch), and gluttonous jock Cyborg (Khary Payton). Despite having a team name and even their own theme song—a ridiculously on-the-nose rap that serves as a running joke throughout the film—the Teen Titans get no respect from their more illustrious elders like Superman (Nicolas Cage), who dismisses them as “goofsters.” Only by starring in a glitzy, effects-laden blockbuster of their own can they prove that they’re “real” superheroes.
Animated in a super-simplified style reminiscent of The Powerpuff Girls, Teen Titans Go! is self-consciously not such a blockbuster. Though it hits most of the same beats—monumental team battles, grandiose speeches, tête-à-têtes with a scheming supervillain with a menacing name (here, Will Arnett’s Slade)—it does so with a winking, satirical edge, as in a big motivational moment that takes the form of an 1980s power ballad sung by Michael Bolton. The screenplay is a Looney Tunes-level smorgasbord of violent slapstick, goofy absurdism, and literal toilet humor (specifically, an extended gag in which the Titans take turns pooping in a prop commode).
But the film earns its biggest laughs from its in-jokey riffs on contemporary superhero movies, which, despite this being a DC production, features a number of gags that directly reference its arch-competitor, Marvel, starting with a parody of its ubiquitous flipping-comic production logo and even featuring a cameo by Mr. Excelsior himself, Stan Lee. The film also demonstrates a notably self-deprecating attitude toward some of DC’s more notorious follies, skewering everything from the length of time it took to produce a Wonder Woman film to the infamous “Martha” scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Even the casting of Cage as the Man of Steel nods toward one of DC’s most notorious debacles: the late-’90s attempt to revive the character in the aborted reboot Superman Lives.
Of course, Teen Titans Go! is hardly some scorched-earth deconstruction of DC’s legacy or the superhero genre in general, though Slade’s master plan, to enslave humanity with a hypnotic comic-book blockbuster that plays on every screen in the world whether you want it to or not, is a rather pointed remark on the inescapability of these films. In essence, Michail and Horvath’s movie is a cog in the very same Hollywood machinery it’s satirizing. There was a time when the spoofs were left up to the likes of Mel Brooks or the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker school; now they’re being produced in-house, as auxiliaries to the very properties they’re parodying. In theory, that should make Teen Titans Go! seem phony, like an employee forced to roast his own boss. But the film is simply too joyous, clever, and downright funny to dismiss so easily. The filmmakers have managed to carve out a highly appealing niche as the rascally, wiseass little brother of the Justice League. Here’s hoping some of that impish joie de vivre rubs off on the Titans’ dour older siblings.