The best art is referential—a dynamic tapestry of thought and history, building a world that connects deeply with those who engage with it. It is also a facet of separating the educated from the ignorant. But that’s what nerd culture is all about, right? Referencing the excellent, and not so excellent, in the decades-long character arcs that power the inner-circle of nerd knowledge. But nerd culture is regular culture now. And the power of the educated nerd is dwindling. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is yet another death rattle in the demise of nerd culture. However, where Marvel applies self-reference in a way that mutates and evolves culture, DC just wants to watch the world burn.
Teen Titans Go! to the Movies follows the gang—Robin, Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy (who has the most annoying cadence of any cartoon character ever)—to, well, the movies. The DC Universe has been overtaken by Hollywood. Batman and Superman are heroes both on and off the screen. Big time film director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) is behind the wave of hero movies and, seeing their success, wants to make a movie of Every. Single. DC. Character. Ever.
Except for the Teen Titans.
Especially not the Teen Titans.
Who even are the Teen Titans?
So the gang develops a plan to get their own movie, starting with step one: find an arch nemesis. They find a great one in Slade (Will Arnett), a goofy villain who is definitely not Deadpool, serving up a litany of dad-jokes and mind manipulation.
What follows is a good long stretch of varying animation styles, musical numbers, and, you guessed it, references. To everything. DC, Warner Brothers, almost every WB-owned property, the 80s, the 90s, and Marvel. Fuck, they even got Stan Lee (voiced by Stan Lee) to make an appearance. They even reference how STUPID IT IS THAT THEY’RE REFERENCING EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME.
Watching the movie is like going to one of those ice cream bars where you get to add your own toppings. And you put everything, ever on. I’m talking cherries, gummy bears, crushed Oreos, coconut, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, nuts, caramel, strawberry goop, marshmallows, bananas, Fruity Pebbles, and even some raisins because why not? You’re golden for the first half, but by the second half, once everything really mixes together, you’re like, ugh, raisins? Why. Why am I doing this?
Anyway, what I’m getting at is this: DC makes some shitty movies, has some shitty properties, and takes itself way too seriously (“Fuck Batman” anyone?). But it seems like Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is the one place where it gets to treat itself like shit. This one goes out to everyone who loves DC, loves to hate DC, loves to watch people love and/or hate DC, or would love to watch DC both love and hate itself. References! Nic Cage even voices Superman. And his son, Kal-El Cage even voices young Bruce Wayne. So, there you go. Where once the Joker asked, “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” he might now be asking if you’ve ever seen a snake eat its own tail.
Final words: It’s annoying how fun this movie is. And it kept my kid quiet for 1 hour and 33 minutes, which was a plus. But then he didn’t stop talking for 3 hours. So, I guess it’s a wash.
(Note: I was going to give this a 6 or 7 but then I figured I’d probably have to buy it for my kids at some point, and I guess the references will keep me finding something new every re-watch. So it got an extra bump.)