Directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail on Stan Lee's cameo and who almost played Superman instead of Nicolas Cage
Warning: This post contains light spoilers from Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, which opened in theaters Friday. Read at your own risk.
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is a delightful and irreverent half musical that takes shots at the current boom of superhero movies, including one DC Comics movie in particular.
Based on the Cartoon Network series, the film follows Robin (Scott Menville), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy’s (Greg Cipes) attempts at getting their own movie since every other hero has one. Along the way, they cross paths with their arch nemesis Slade (Will Arnett) and poke fun at everything in the superhero realm from Stan Lee cameos and Guardians of the Galaxy to even Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which, like this film, was produced by Warner Bros. In fact, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail told EW that WB took issue with one joke in particular.
Midway through the movie, Robin walks by Batman and Superman as they film the sequel to Batman v. Superman. The two heroes are locked in battle, but cease fighting once they realize their mothers were both named Martha; however, their battle resumes once they remember that their fathers did not share a name. It’s a hilarious send up of the ridiculous moment in Batman v. Superman where Batman (Ben Affleck), who spent the entire movie hunting Superman (Henry Cavill), relents once he discovers Superman’s mom is also named Martha. Unfortunately, not everyone found it funny.
“They did not care for our Batman v. Superman Martha joke,” Horvath told EW.
“That one in particular was on the chopping block for months,” added Michail. “Our executive producer Sam Register was fighting hard for that one, and right at the end of it they let us keep it.”
Horvath and Michail came out victorious at the end of the day because the “Martha” bit earned one of the biggest laughs at every test screening. “We’re making a comedy movie, and if you get a laugh, it’s like, do you want to be the guy who cuts laughs out of the movie?” says Horvath.
Read on below for the rest of EW’s chat with the Teen Titans Go! To The Movies directors about writing the music for the movie and how they got Stan Lee, Michael Bolton, and more to participate in the movie.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This movie features a lot of musical numbers. Which one was the most challenging one to write?
PETER RIDA MICHAIL: The most challenging part was for sure the “My Superhero Movie” song, mainly [because] that’s so not my wheelhouse and I had to do a lot of studying. I pulled up a lot of songs from musicals and just studied the format. That one was really, really challenging for me, but really fun. For all of these songs, what was really cool is that the songs that we do for the series tend to just get knocked out in an evening, like I just write a song, go to my partner Jared Faber’s studio and we just knock it out that night. But the movie allowed us to include new artists to work with us and new musicians and take time. That superhero song took us three weeks to write.
“Upbeat Inspirational Song” was my favorite one. How did you guys get Michael Bolton to sing it?
AARON HORVATH: We just asked him, and he was super into it. We were surprised, I think, that he was so willing to do it almost immediately. We told him that in the film that he’d be playing a white tiger playing the keytar. He was just nodding along [going], “Cool, cool, cool.”
MICHAIL: It was super flattering, man. We sent the song over, and he dug the scratch that we sent him and just liked the idea behind the movie. Like Aaron said, he was excited to hop on board.
HORVATH: He’s a very particular craftsman, too. I don’t know anything about music, really, but he was looking at keys and notes and all this stuff. It was pretty amazing to work with him.
Where did the idea for the “Upbeat Inspirational Song” come from?
HORVATH: The “Upbeat Inspirational Song” was Michael Jelenic, the other writer-producer on the movie. I don’t think he had a particular story place for it to go, but he just knew he wanted to write a song about how an upbeat song can make your life better just by being an upbeat song.
MICHAIL: That clearly had to take the form of an ’80s pop song.
What challenges did you encounter bringing these characters to the big screen?
MICHAIL: It was super challenging man. We did this movie in record time. In less than a year and a half, we were able to knock this out. The only way [that was] possible is that we have all been working together for six years now, so it’s a super solid team that works on a series and we took that team over to the feature department and brought in a couple more players, but we were able to get it all done.
HORVATH: We didn’t stop making episodes, so we were making episodes and making a movie at the same time. It was very taxing on everyone. I think in the end it was a ton of fun. With TV, you can sort of say, “Oh, that joke didn’t really work out, but we’re making so many more episodes. We’ll get ’em next time.” With the movie, you can’t have that sort of mentality. Everything has to be the best possible version it can be. I think that was a challenge for us being sausage making TV guys.
What scene or line was the hardest to nail down?
HORVATH: The time travel sequence was really hard because we had written it in a way that wasn’t working at all, so we sort of had to re-conceptualize it. The core idea was there, but we couldn’t execute it the way we had written it. We had to go back and work that over several times. I think it ended up being the most interesting sequence in the movie as a result.
How did you get Stan Lee to do a cameo in the movie?
HORVATH: Our boss Sam Register was, again, a huge champion of this movie. He had lunch with somebody who knew Stan and came into our offices and said, “Hey, I had lunch with this guy. He said Stan would be in the movie. Would you want him in your movie?” We’re like, “Yeah, we want him in our movie. Are you crazy?” Immediately, we were like, “We gotta do a really obnoxious Stan Lee cameo where he just mugs at the camera and calls attention to himself.”
MICHAIL: To me, it doesn’t matter if its DC or Marvel. You got Stan Lee in your movie, you have validated this as a comic book movie! It was just one of those things where it was like, “Oh man, he’s down for this!”
What was it like to meet him?
MICHAIL: It was awesome, dude! We got to go to his office, and Aaron voice-directed him. He was just up for everything.
HORVATH: He was very nice and very welcoming and super patient with us. Our audio engineer, his equipment broke broke, and I’ve never seen a person’s face turn so red or get so sweaty so fast. He was trying to fix the board and he couldn’t fix it. So we ended up having to record Stan on like a laptop. Our engineer was just so ashamed of himself.
MICHAIL: It was great though because Stan Lee was just busting his balls the whole time. He was awesome, man.
I really got excited about this movie when it was announced that Nicholas Cage would be voicing Superman because he almost played the character in a movie. Did you know from the beginning you wanted Nicholas Cage to voice Superman?
MICHAIL: You want to know something, man? Nic Cage was always a wish, but marketing had other ideas. When their idea kind of just fizzled, we were able to come in and swoop down and suggest Nic Cage. We were lucky enough that his son Kal-El is a huge fan of our TV show. So Nic was like, “Cool, let’s do it!” He only had one stipulation and that was for his son to be in the movie as well. His son actually voices Young Bruce Wayne.
Who did marketing have in mind for Superman?
MICHAIL: It was Jason Bateman. Will Arnett, our producer on the movie, is friends with Jason Bateman. It just kind of fell through. It wasn’t even that he wasn’t interested, I forget the actual details, but whether it was schedule or whatever, it just kind of fell through.
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is in theaters now.