When it comes to superhero movies, there's a perception that you've got to choose between DC's gritty, dour offerings or Marvel's winking humor. But five cartoon wannabe heroes armed with fart jokes are trying to change that.
Warner Bros. has elevated its "B'' level DC superheroes in Team Titans Go! from basic cable to the big screen in hopes they can do what so many of its A-list films cannot — add a dose of surreal and goofy humor to its universe. Think of it like "Deadpool" for the middle school set.
"Teen Titans GO! to the Movies " might be aimed at fans of the manic and underrated Cartoon Network show but any parent who tags along will likely chortle as the film gleefully skewers the world of superheroes and the film industry itself.
Jokes take on "Apocalypse Now," ''Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "The Lion King." There's a scene when Shia LaBeouf gets beaten up and an appearance by Stan Lee, the Marvel icon, who, yes, makes fun of himself in a cameo in a DC film. This is a film that adores mocking itself: One of the original songs features Michael Bolton singing the exquisitely cheesy "Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life" that features colorful unicorns, dolphins and jet skis.
The film's central premise is mocking the endless supply of tights-and-cape wearing flicks out there. The Teen Titans — Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Cyborg and Raven — want one, too, but they're not considered famous enough to warrant their own franchise. So they band together to force Hollywood to take them seriously. "Having a movie is the only way to be seen as a real hero," intones Robin.
They decide they need an arch-nemesis to legitimize them and find one in Slade (a sort of DC version of Deadpool, which proves a rich vein of jokes). Part of the reason they decide on Slade is his name is "fun to say in a dramatic way." He's voiced by Will Arnett, who played Batman in the two "LEGO" movies, and is happy to break the fourth wall: "Don't you know anything about arch-villains?" he asks when he seems to be defeated. "We always have a back-up plan."
Some of the other guest voices include talk show host Jimmy Kimmel as Batman, singer Halsey as Wonder Woman, rapper Lil Yachty as Green Lantern, actor Wil Wheaton as Flash, comedian Patton Oswalt as Atom, and actress Kristen Bell, as a film mogul. You'll also get to hear Nicolas Cage voice Superman — a role he famously almost played in a live action film in the late 1990s. But most of the celebs have very few lines so don't go just for the guests.
Do go for the world created by the writers and directors Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic and Peter Rida Michail, who have been collaborating on this screwball world since 2013, going from mocking Napoleon Bonaparte to the film "A Few Good Men." Their transition to the big screen is admirable — taking a 22-minute TV show into an hour and a half movie can't be easy — but it never lags.
The filmmakers are brimming with ideas, from explosive diarrhea jokes to time-travel montages accompanied by Huey Lewis & The News' "Back in Time." They also supply some of the songs (but might not win any lyrical awards for rhyming "booty" with "movie"). And they're also not afraid to bite the hand that feeds them — much of the shenanigans take place on the Warner Bros. back lot.
"Teen Titans GO! to the Movies" is the sort of silly film you and your kids can both enjoy, a slice of pure escapist fare in these divisive days. It's decidedly not political. (One note: Robin is notoriously sensitive about his baby hands. That is NOT a Trump thing — it predates jokes about our commander in chief's small hands.)
The kids will come away with life lessons — friendship is more important than fame, teamwork is always worth the effort — and the adults will laugh about watching Green Lantern admit that "we don't talk about" the disastrous "Green Lantern" movie — in a DC flick, at that.
"Teen Titans GO! to the Movies," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for "action and rude humor." Running time: 88 minutes. Three stars out of four.