Children’s movies have to walk a delicate balance: They must cater to their target demographic without serving as a feat of endurance for parents. (The mother of your writer, to this day, likes to remind her that she sat through not one, but two, full-length theatrical Pokémon movies.)
In a post-Pixar world, mastering that balance is even more challenging by virtue of the bar being set needlessly high. Not every kid’s movie can be Wall-E, nor need it be. Sometimes, a movie for kids can just be a movie for kids.
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, based on the breakout Cartoon Network series, wholly succeeds in creating a zany, colorful escapade that will thrill kids and — thanks to zingers toward other superhero movies and comic book in-jokes — does so without providing their parents ammo for emotional blackmail later in life.
I’ll say though, that the adult and kid jokes remain disjointed and almost entirely discrete, like the “one for you, and one for me” career strategy of an A-list actor. For the grown-ups: a spoof of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. For the kids: a minutes-long fart joke. For the grown-ups: a meta Stan Lee cameo (voiced by the man himself), yes, in a DC movie! (Another Easter egg just for adults: Nicolas Cage voicing Superman, the role he famously never got to play in a scrapped 1990s movie). For the kids: a multiple minutes-long poop joke. And so it feels more like a kids movie than its counterparts, including The Lego Movie and Lego Batman.
But like another other self-aware, star-studded musical extravaganza currently playing in theaters, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies knows exactly what it is and stays entirely within its strike zone. Robin (Scott Menville) leads the gang of DC B-listers — Cyborg (Khary Payton), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) — on a quest for superhero validity that will only come, naturally, if they get a superhero movie about them.
The meta jokes flow like Mountain Dew — this is a rollicking, goofy superhero send-up that never overstays its welcome, a film in which Krypton is saved through the power of EDM and the Batman’s parents are advised not to take their young son down Crime Alley after their evening at the opera. It’s in these moments that the true genius of Teen Titans Go! To The Movies becomes evidence: it’s a DC movie that’s allowing itself to have fun, and the errant exclamation point is a perfect declaration of its intent.
Truly, perhaps the greatest disservice Christopher Nolan did to the superhero film-verse was convince us that we wanted to see serious, gritty movies about adults in theme costumes beating up villains in similar theme costumes. Equating “gritty” with “good” is how we got Superman films so bleak one could barely make out whatever unsaturated mooning was happening on screen. Teen Titans Go! cleverly recognizes that no one wants grit in an ice cream cone. B+