...And Then Deglaze the Pan...
Teen Titans Go! & DC Super Hero Girls: Mayhem in the Multiverse
It's impressive how the Teen TitansStarted in The Brave and the Bold back in 1964, the Teen Titans were a supergroup formed of the younger sidekicks of the more famous heroes in the DC Comics line. Over the years the team has been reformed, rebooted, and relaunched, but always with that basic premise in place. have become an indelible part of the DC landscape. Sure, their comics have been running since 1964, but I would have thought that the group, as a whole, wouldn't have the cultural cachet of the Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold).. And yet, the group has appeared consistently in media, both television and animated films, since the Teen Titans TV series of 2003. And if we count Teen Titans Go! as a proper spin-off of that 2003 series (which we really should), that continuity (such as it is) has been running nearly constantly for two decades. The Teen Titans have clearly struck a chord.
In comparison other super-groups of powered teens that DC has tried to launch haven't fared as well. <Young Justice, which is a pretty good show in its own right, was killed by Cartoon Network because it's toys weren't selling well, this despite pretty solid ratings on TV. And the DC Super Hero Girls has already been reinvented twice, is currently off the air, and likely will see another reinvention again if DC has any hopes of keeping the brand running.
From what I've watched of the DC Super Hero Girls, it's a cute enough franchise that doesn't necessarily managed to find a niche all its own. Yes, it's designed for younger girls, tapping into an aesthetic that you might call "My Little Pony-esque", but it's stories float somewhere between Teen Titans adventure and Teen Titans Go! zaniness. I don't think that's bad, but when you currently have Teen Titans Go! on the air, and a bunch of other DC properties running everywhere, somethings all at once, I'm not sure putting a group of teen girl heroes together is creatively enough on its own to justify a long-running franchise. I'm all for representation, and I like the characters on the show, but I don't know if it's... enough.
The 2019 incarnation of the DC Super Hero Girls ran for two seasons, supplemented by a ton of web-shorts. It's fun and light and breezy, but it didn't have the staying power to get past those two seasons, not even with the help of a few crossover episodes with the Teen Titans Go! team). Their finale, then, was sent direct-to-video as another crossover, Teen Titans Go! & DC Super Hero Girls: Mayhem in the Multiverse. This is an odd choice, to be sure. There is precedent for doing series finales for animated DC shows as direct-to-video movies (Teen Titans had their own finale with Trouble in Tokyo, for example). But this isn't just a finale movie, it's also a crossover with another brand, a clear attempt to try and get two different fandoms (with only some shared interest) to watch the film. That feels pretty capitalistic and a bit cold, especially once you get into the film.
Despite the name, this isn't really a crossover between the Teen Titans Go! team and the ladies of the DC Super Hero Girls. Oh, it does feature the Teen Titans in a frame device story, and there's one whole scene were they actually appear together, but 90% of this film is entirely dedicated to the Superhero Girls team (a point even the Teen Titans comment on). You could, really, just cut out all the Teen Titans Go! material entirely and the meat of the movie would be the same. Hell, I'd argue it would even work better as the Teen Titans are a distraction here and they barely help the film along at all. Keeping the movie to one universe would have helped the flow and the story, but then I guess that wouldn't have brought in the Teen Titans Go! fans.
In the film, the Super Hero Girls catch wind of a threat. First, various villains that the girls have fought all start teaming up and working together (under the guidance of young Lex Luthor). Then, superheroes (those of the Justice League and not the Super Hero Girls' C-list squad) start disappearing, vanishing during battles with said super-villains. The girls begin to suspect something truly nefarious, with Kara (Nicole Sullivan) thinking it might have something to do with ancient Kryptonian tech. Talking to her cousin, Superman (Max Mittelman), gets them nowhere, though, so the girls sneak into the Fortress of Solitude and steal some Kryptonian crystals to try and get the knowledge they need.
Downloading the information from a crystal, the girls discover that Lex Luthor has tapped into an ancient and evil bit of Kryptonian tech, a gem that contains the essence of Cythonna (Missi Pyle), a god-like being of pure evil that had to be trapped in the gem to protect Kryptonian society. If she finds a way to get out it could spell doom for all the people of Earth... and, for some reason, Lex is perfectly okay using the gemstone for his evil plans. The girls will need to find a way to save all the missing heroes and then break into the Legion of Doom headquarters to stop Cythonna before it's too late. Oh, and the Teen Titans show up for a brief cameo.
So I have qualms about this movie, mostly due to its construction. I like Teen Titans Go! -- it's what sucked me into watching this film -- and the scenes with those characters are pretty funny. But the film is a bait and switch. It does open with the Teen Titans, but it then spends almost the entire time with them on a couch, watching the film with us. And this isn't even a Teen Titans Go! See Space Jam situation, where the characters are heckling and commenting on the film. Nope. Here we come in for some Teen Titans Go! action, and then almost immediately we bounce over to the DC Super Hero Girls and the Titans are all but forgotten for nearly an hour.
My point is that crossing these two teams over is fine. Hell, we had a number of crossover episodes between these two teams already (on Teen Titans Go!). But putting Teen Titans Go! at the start of the title, and making it look like one of their adventures, is a lie. The audience comes for one thing -- a proper crossover of the teams, a la Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans, but they get a movie with these characters tacked on rather artlessly. It doesn't work in the context of that team at all.
At the same time, the DC Super Hero Girls story would be better if the Teen Titans Go! characters weren't there. This is an adventure that is meant to tie up the arcs for a number of characters -- Kara, Diana (Grey Griffin), Babs (Tara Strong) & Harley Quinn (also Tara Strong), and Zatana (Kari Wahlgren) -- with the girls learning lessons about themselves and growing as people. But, at least in the case of Zatana, the Teen Titans actively undercut that growth. When the Super Hero Girls end up in the Go! universe, Zatana is actively working through her own fears about her dark magic. Instead of learning to embrace the powers herself, Raven has to be the one to talk to her, to tell her she should embrace who she is. An powerful internal story is, thus, controlled by an external person Zatana would likely never see again. It doesn't really work.
Also not helping is that the film is actually kind of chauvinistic towards our female leads. They try to go for help from the Justice League, and instead of being told, "yeah, you know, we'll check this out," Superman lies to them and then tells them, "you're too young" (with the implication that they're too pretty, and female), and then shoos them away. yes, the girls rise up and prove themselves superior in the end, but man does the film treat them like dirt just to get there.
With that said, there is one MVP that practically makes this film watchable all on its own: Batman (Keith Ferguson). I don't know if he regularly appears in Super Hero Girls (although I suspect not) but, man, is his performance priceless. As a parody of the "Batman Voice", Bats here mumbles through everything. You can't understand anything he says and it's hilarious. This is a gag that, frankly, feels like it belongs over on Teen Titans Go!, and it shows a level of promise for what these two teams could have been like in a much better crossover film.
DC really did a disservice to the Super Hero Girls franchise here. The company should have just put out a movie for the teen heroines without tacking on the Teen Titans. And they really should have put the script through a bit more polish to remove some unfortunate connotations. For fans of the 2019 female-led series, maybe this film is still good enough. The flaws in the script, and the weird way its stitched together, though, just didn't keep my interest. I was bored, my wife was bored, and then second it was over we agreed never to watch it again.