You would think an animated film based on a Cartoon Network show would be full of throwaway gags and pat Saturday morning storytelling—
—but with Teen Titans Go to the Movies, you would be wrong.
Taking a cue from The LEGO Batman Movie, Titans explores what it means to be your very best—and to be yourself.
Here, the problem is measuring yourself up against the greats: against Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman. Robin wants his own movie. No longer content with being the sidekick, the boy wonder wants the fame and accolades that come with a giant Hollywood blockbuster.
Conflict driven by the need to compare and measure up is conflict instigated by the narrative Element of Accurate. The justification on Robin’s part for making things more difficult emanates from this feeling that he isn’t “accurate” enough to the assumed and well-understood superhero persona.
Combine this inner conflict of Accurate with a series of externally-driven Accurate conflicts and Teen Titans sets the stage for a meaningful story.
Stories click when the internal conflicts of the Main Character sync up with the external problems found in the Overall Story. The shared dissonance created by experiencing both subjectively and objectively the same problem is where we find meaning.
It’s why we go to the movies.
In Titans, future arch-nemesis Slade (Will Arnett) uses a combination of parlor tricks and “Look out behind you!” warnings as the basis for his MIND-MANIPULATION schemes. Slade’s Doomsday Device sheds light on our collective addiction to superhero movies—quite Accurately—a weakness that features heavily in his plot to take over the world.
The Accurate and funny one-liners from Slade—gags that would play as throwaways in another film—play expertly into the Teen Titans narrative. “I’m not farting. It’s just air escaping from my butt.” That’s an Accurate statement. “What are you guys doing? I’m a giant robot with a sword, you can’t beat me.” That’s an Accurate statement.
“You guys are just losers.”
That’s another Accurate statement—
—but an accurate statement that arrives at the tail end of the narrative, and at the tail end of Robin’s growth.
The structure of a complete narrative is one where the Main Characters justifications—their excuse for doing all things they do—is torn down by an alternate perspective. This powerful and impactful point-of-view is often held by a single Player. The fact that it is the perspective, not the Player, that weighs into the narrative makes it possible for this perspective to be handed off from Player to Player.
In Titans, we see evidence of a collective Influence Character—a group of characters who all perform the same function with the narrative.
Robin’s team, the Titans themselves, are ready at a moments notice to remind the boy just how important and valuable the Titans are to the world of superheroes. With a fast beat and a ridiculous flow, the Teen Titans prove to Robin—and to everyone else around them—that they have what it takes. Their rap theme song and their ridiculous Michael Bolton piece (way too reminiscent of the sincere one in Smallfoot shine a light on what they can do to make a difference.
Quite surprisingly, Teen Titans even manages to weave in a meaningful relationship between Robin and his team. It’s nice that they’re friends, but to play into this assumed trust between them and then have that trust break when Robin chooses sides balances out the narrative perfectly.
The Relationship Story Throughline in a narrative isn’t there just because it’s lovely—the conflict in the Relationship Story Throughline balances out the conflict in the Overall Story Throughline.
When every relationship finds conflict in the Accuracy of their statements, it only makes sense and feels right that the most critical relationship should somehow explore an imbalance of Trust.
The message of [Teen Titans Go to the Movies] is be yourself (again, LEGO Batman)—even if you’re a loser. Or a misfit. The solution then isn’t to play into Accuracies but rather, be Non-Accurate. Be intolerable.
Be a joke.
We know this works because Titans show us it works. The team is there until the very end, proving their natural talents while simultaneously demonstrating their emotional bond with Robin. Instead of allowing the relationship to dissolve because of misplaced trust, they resolve their difficulties by challenging Robin to weigh in on the importance of their bond.
Teen Titans scores an impressive 91% critical rating because the film effectively communicates a complete argument. While the fart jokes are plentiful, so too are scenes of relevancy and importance. The inner conflict of the Main Character synchronizes with the external conflict of the Overall Story, and the Influence Character perspectives and Relationship Story Throughline balance out and complete the narrative landscape.
Teen Titans is more than just a kids cartoon—it’s an argument for being yourself, no matter how intolerable or off the beaten path yourself might be to everyone else.
The following are significant Storypoints found within the storyform for Teen Titans Go to the Movies:
The Goal of being yourself is a Story Goal of Being.
The fact that they achieved this Goal is a Story Outcome of Success.
Robin resolving his issues of angst surrounding his popularity, and the fact that he actually ended up with his own movie is a Story Judgment of Good.
Wanting to measure up is a Main Character Problem of Accurate.
Proving that by being intolerable and crazy is an Overall Story Solution of Non-Accurate.
The superheroes rushing in to save the day drives Robin to decide he wants his own movie. Defeating Slade their own way helps the Titans save the day. Actions drive decisions in this story, indicating a Story Driver of Action.
The unspoken and eventual broken trust between Robin and the team is evidence of a Relationship Story Problem of Trust.
Showing Robin the video and challenging him to weigh in on his feelings towards their relationship is a Relationship Story Solution of Test.