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  • nickkarner

Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans (2019)


If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 46 times - the difference between Marvel and DC characters is as follows: DC has the most iconic characters. Marvel has the most interesting. There’s a reason you can walk into a store that sells various magnets, shirts, accessories, etc., and the majority of branding on said items are emblazoned with the symbols for Wonder Woman, The Flash, Superman, Green Lantern, and Batman. Sure, you’ve got Captain America’s shield, Spider-Man's symbolic spider, and thanks to the movies, Iron Man’s chest light. Still, DC did come first and those memorable logos remain largely in the Detective Comics universe. Thanks to the revolutionary movement that is ‘The Superhero Movie,’ we’ve gotten live-action versions of fan favorites and even a few slightly obscure comic characters as well. The only major drawback is that the comics provided numerous opportunities for these heroes and villains to interact with each other on a huge canvas (confined within tiny squares). With live-action films, it takes a herculean effort to get everyone together. One performer may want to quit, others could be busy, yet others demand bigger salaries or more screen time. Thanks to animation, particularly the Warner Brothers division, we’ve been treated to very entertaining crossover films that would be exorbitantly expensive if done in live-action.

It's not even accurate to label a vast number of animated superhero movies as crossover films. Like the comics, you can make the argument that these characters live in a shared universe, or rather, a multiverse in some cases, so showing up in one another’s story is just par for the course. In 2019, there were two genuine crossover movies in the DC Animated Universe. There’s Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a funny and legitimately thrilling film that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Once you hear that idea, it seems as obvious as Batman vs. Predator. The dark knight and the turtles both perform their heroic deeds in the shadows, and the various pairings of both the heroes and villains bring a sense of wish-fulfilling giddiness to even the most jaded comic book traditionalist. The other film released that year was Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans.

Let’s be honest here. Live-action DC movies went downhill in a big way. By the time Justice League (2017) rolled around, what should’ve been an event as big as Avengers: Endgame (2019) ended up receiving a collective “meh.” Yes, Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018), and Shazam! (2019) were bright spots and definitely steps in the right direction, but they unfortunately had the added effect of proving that the Marvel way was the right way. In other words, they were proving their enemy right. The once mighty DC had dropped the ball so many times that even the teaming of many of its most famous heroes couldn’t overcome the audience’s reluctance to venture out, citing the oft-repeated phrase: “I’ve been burned before.” Luckily, all was not lost in every section of the DC Universe since I feel one of the absolute best films DC has put out was Teen Titans GO! to the Movies (2018). So clever, so funny, and ultra self-aware, this theatrical release absolutely stuck the landing and was a joy from start to finish. Particularly rad was an extended Back to the Future riff and Will Arnett playing Slade Wilson quite nicely. Or wait, is he Deadpool? Look at the camera and say something inappropriate!

Teen Titans GO! (2013-?) has been a ratings behemoth for Cartoon Network. The first time my daughter watched TTG! was in the hospital after a sledding accident. She wasn’t in a great deal of pain - she was more there for observation - but as far as a distraction goes, TTG! was pretty great. She’s become a major fan of the series and loves watching the bite-sized episodes on repeat. And yet, check out its IMDB page. There’s a great deal of hate for TTG!. Why? Simple. For an older generation, the real Teen Titans had their own anime-inspired show from 2003-2006. They were slick, they were cool, and they were TAAAALLLL.

I’m happy to report that since the original Teen Titans showed up at the end of TTG! to the Movies, that peaked my daughter’s curiosity and I tracked down the early episodes. They really are a sight to behold. Although there’s a fair amount of silly humor, the OS Teen Titans is definitely darker, with more mature themes and a compelling storyline. TTG! is bright and anarchic, rarely taking itself seriously but it retains the same theme of friendship from the previous iteration. The people who grew up with OS are probably resentful of the ridiculous tone TTG! took, but I’m sure they also took some guilty pleasure seeing their beloved tall titans beat up the pint-sized new versions. Or as OS Robin calls them, “the baby versions of us.” Fortunately for everyone, TTG! retained the five brilliant voice actors from the first series, ensuring a consistency and an acknowledgment of the indelible impression these performers made in the first place. They are, alphabetically: Greg Cipes (Beast Boy), Scott Menville (Robin), Khary Payton (Cyborg), Tara Strong (Raven), and Hynden Walch (Starfire). Oh, and by the way, my daughter loves both of the series. The movies too.

We get a nice reminder of where Warner Animation began with an appearance by Daffy Duck, followed by a crime alert at Titans Tower. They suit up and GO...but not before feeding Silkie, their adorable mutant moth larvae. Must feed Silkie. Their latest nemesis is The Gentleman Ghost (voiced by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic) who can pass through anything and take control of anyone’s body much better than Patrick Swayze in Ghost (1990). Although he is indeed a gentleman as he attempts to rob a bank, Starfire informs him that “Polite language does not excuse the doing of the crime.” The titans attack with their usual firepower and Beast Boy’s green dinosaur, but everything passes through The Gentleman Ghost. Robin has an ace up his sleeve since he lobs his birdarangs at the giant money bag the Ghost keeps trying to abscond with, causing major annoyance. Robin: “We can be annoying all day.” Raven: “They really can.” Starfire: “I would like to second the that.” Starfire’s dialogue is hilarious as it’s almost human, but not quite.

The Gentleman Ghost enters Robin’s unconscious, which is depicted as a gym where an ultra-ripped Robin hangs out and admires himself. Robin’s biggest flaw has always been his oversized ego and it’s a testament to how strong Scott Menville’s characterization of him is that we still love him for it despite being an insecure, overcompensating, cry-baby at times. The Ghost enters Starfire’s unconscious, which is expectedly full of rainbows and unicorns. Raven, who has always been the most fascinating of the group due to her half-demon, half-human status and her moody, non-comformist/goth attitude, gets the Ghost treatment next. Inside her mind, he sees a dark, reddish swamp along with a giant vault-like wheel. As her fellow Titans draw a moustache on Raven and balance cards on her head, the Ghost enters the vault and disturbs the red gem that we’ve seen on her forehead. It cracks and black goo flows out, forming a very angry monster. It spews something at the Ghost, about which Cyborg wonders aloud, “Uhhhh…is this good or bad?” The Ghost is destroyed and although Raven doesn’t remember anything, Cyborg provides a helpful GIF.

Raven meditates and she discovers that the cracked gem has unleashed her inner demon. Her father Trigon (Kevin Michael Richardson), an evil four-eyed demon, shows up and offers to relieve her stress by taking her powers. I first became aware of Trigon in the great Teen Titans OS episode “Nevermore,” where Beast Boy and Cyborg enter Raven’s mind and encounter a massive, terrifying version of Trigon that nearly destroys her. This TTG! version is still bad, but a bit more humorous.

Robin, who is constantly training, straps on a virtual game headset. The only foe who could ever be a match for Robin is…Robin. He fights himself in a very good Street Fighter riff. The gang loves to mess with him, so Cyborg manhandles Robin while he tries to fight his virtual self. A portal opens and a giant ship hovers above Titans Tower. Starfire stares at it. “It is the menacing and the sparkly. I am conflicted.” Five masked figures smash through the roof and drag the titans onto the ship. There, they meet the Master of Games (Rhys Darby, the leader of the werewolves, not swear wolves in What We Do In The Shadows), who explains the multiverse theory and gives them a chance to battle another team. Cyborg and Beast Boy, best friends forever, excitedly imagine alternate versions of themselves as steampunk and mermaids. The Master waves his Worlogog, a magical orb that can gain access to the different portals of the multiverse, and presents the Teen Titans’ challengers.

The masked figures return and there’s an amazing reveal as their disguises fade away. It’s the original Teen Titans. An angry fan boy wearing a My Little Pony shirt screams his approval while claiming the new Teen Titans ruined his childhood. There’s even a slight reference to the TTG! “The Fourth Wall” episode in which Control Freak shows them the original show. It’s even pointed out the way the show ended, which wasn’t exactly a cliffhanger, but Beast Boy did go after a Terra lookalike. The TTG! Titans call them the “serious versions of us,” mainly due to their height and the way big Robin doesn’t have “tiny baby hands.” The game begins and they run at each other, yelling at the top of their lungs, except the Ravens, of course. All of them collide, with the capper being Raven and Raven meeting. “Hey.” “Sup.”

There’s a lot going on in the fantastic fight scene. It’s a real treat to just see each of them interact with one another and you forget that the same actors are playing both roles. The animation between the two styles works well here, with the contrasts being smooth and not choppy. Robin asks if he should call his tiny version “Bobble head Robin.” The Starfires are hilarious together and barely even fight, instead asking how much food they consume. “As much as will fit in my nine stomachs.” They get to action when little Starfire whispers something to her larger counterpart. “Glorious!” exclaims Starfire. “One, two, three, four, we declare the THUMB WAR!” Very unexpected and very funny. Big Cyborg really freaks TTG! Cyborg out with all of his weapons, but big Cyborg doesn’t expect to get a shot from a glitter gun. Even after a water balloon disables the little Cyborg, he detaches his head and attacks. “Is there anything you do that’s not horrible?” asks big Cyborg. Little Beast Boy tricks the big Beast Boy’s dinosaur by changing into an adorable kitten, then crushing him by turning into a whale.

Each of the heroes are eliminated until only the two Ravens are left. The Master of Games seems to be very interested in letting TTG! Raven lose control. She becomes the black monster again and a large red gem begins absorbing her powers. Before she’s completely depleted, OS Raven disables her, causing the gem to only partially complete. “Close enough,” claims the Master. He transforms into TTG! Trigon and resurrects the more fearsome Trigon who, due to the demon power transfer failing to complete, is missing an entire leg. The two demons kidnap the Ravens and the rest of the team jump out of the self-destructing ship. The TTG! Titans scream as they fall while the OS Titans utilize their various flying abilities.

Although they find each other baffling, Starfire insists that “It is time for the cooperation!” We get a fantastic rap scene that’s very meta, including references to the difference between the TV ratings of the two series. It’s equal to the “Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life” song sung by Michael Bolton in TTG to the Movies!. Things get weird again when the TTG! titans fly off to save Raven only to be informed that they just picked a random direction and flew off. It’s decided that OS Robin will come up with a plan, much to the chagrin of TTG! Robin.

Down in Trigon’s lair, which includes Green Lantern in a cage, the Ravens are being held in both of his hands. They trick him into thinking he needs refreshment, “Procure me a soda!,” and when TTG! Trigon can’t get the soda straw into OS Trigon’s mouth, he grabs it himself, allowing the Ravens to escape. Emerging from the sewer, they find themselves in the OS version of Jump City. TTG! Raven can’t use her powers for fear of being discovered, so she has to walk. Big problem since she gets gigantic blisters. The intriguing aspect is that the small Raven considers whether she’d be happier giving up her demon powers. This could bring about the destruction of the universe, so it’s probably in her best interest to try and ignore those thoughts.

If Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans has any weakness, it’s the very slight story. The plot is threadbare and merely acts as a conduit for gags. As OS Robin dramatically plans, TTG! Robin asks how he gets his “hair blowing in the wind like that?” OS Starfire teaches proper pet care regarding Silkie and the TTG! Titans stage an impromptu smooth groove by singing Worlogog over and over. My favorite moment is when Cyborg says Worlogog while having his face smushed. At the end of it, TTG! Beast Boy and Cyborg explain that it was a way of padding out “What? Screen time.” It’s deliciously meta, but it is true. This was a direct-to-video release that barely cracks 75 minutes.

The plan is to find another Worlogog, which turns out to be in the possession of one Kris Kringle, also known as Santa Claus. TTG! explains that they only battle him on holiday specials; sometimes even teaming up with him. There are armed elf guards and laser-shooting reindeer. Broadway legend Robert Morse (Mad Men, H2$B) voices Santa, who knew they were coming. Starfire: “We are the spotted!” While OS Cyborg is pretty excited to see the real Father Christmas, Santa warns them that his wife is a real “lump of coal.” The absolutely badass Mrs. Claus (Grey Griffin), who literally has iron claws, goes on the attack. They’re hit with a barrage of deadly candy canes and ornament grenades.

They nab the Worlogog and the Cyborgs form a ship to escape into the wormhole. We get a fabulous montage-style chase as they fly through various versions of the Teen Titans, including an old-timey 30’s version, a comic-style 60’s version, a literal baby version, and most significantly, the “super serious titans,” headed by Sean Maher’s Nightwing. They lure Santa through a wormhole and let him crash into a mall in December. A swarm of children consume him like zombies.

As the titans find their way back to their own universe, Trigon captures Raven and drains the rest of her demon power. This causes Raven to be an absolutely delightful person, even coming on to Beast Boy, who has always had a crush on her but is seriously weirded out right now. Her unnatural smile scares everyone. The OS Trigon insults the TTG! Trigon, who unexpectedly eats him and becomes the even larger villain-monster Hexagon. “Like…the shape?” He even has two butts, although that wasn’t a selling point, apparently. In a scene that ironically resembles the finale of Endgame, portals open and the other versions of the Teen Titans step out, ready for battle. Although they cause some damage, they’re taken down. Cyborg cries over a flailing turtle titan. A billboard reading “Truth. Justice. Pizza.” is toast.

OS Raven tells TTG! Raven to eat her so she’ll regain her powers. When asked why, she’s told only her mouth can animate that big. She becomes a Raven Pac-Man and eats every Raven, to which Beast Boy utters a single word: “Ew.” Now a gigantic black monster, or rather, a flock of Ravens called “The Unkindness,” there’s a satisfying Godzilla vibe to this final battle. Raven begins to lose and OS Robin can’t think of a new plan since they’re already “in three plans deep.” TTG! Robin swallows the Worlagog and gets flung at Hexagon, whose demon gem is cracked and he’s sent into a multiverse where he’s devoured by literal zombie versions of the Teen Titans. Raven learns to accept her demon side and everything is back to normal.

The multiverse heroes return to their worlds through the portals, with TTG! Robin trying to pass himself off as Nightwing to participate in “PG-13 adventures.” There are some amusing exchanges like “It’s been weird,” Cyborg’s waffle maker, and Starfire mentioning she believes Robin is a wombat. OS Robin and TTG! Robin reach an understanding before OS Robin snags the Worlogog so they won’t have to see each other again.

The titans relax at Titans Tower, then Darkseid (Yankovic again) shows up. They decide to pass and Jump City is attacked while they hang out on the couch, reading or playing on their devices. There’s some jabbing references to the very similar ending battles of most superhero movies. Are there tons of henchmen bad guys? Is there a giant laser pointing into the sky? They think it’s super lame.

The theme of friendship is one of the main reasons both Teen Titans shows work. It’s a winning combination that feels lived in thanks to the stellar work of the main cast. This film doesn’t quite reach the same level of ambition that TTG to the Movies did, but it’s lighter on its feet and fulfills the need we all have to see a daring crossover with our favorite characters.