WARNING: The following contains mild to moderate spoilers for Justice League vs. Teen Titans.
WonderCon may have ended, but our coverage continues! Saturday was the first world premiere screening of the new DCAU feature film Justice League Vs. Teen Titans, and it did not disappoint. I got to sit down with the cast and producers of the film, and got a little insight into how it came together.
For those familiar with the works of DC across all media platforms, you know that animated feature films have always been their strong suit. Highly acclaimed titles like Batman: Under the Red Hood and Wonder Woman (2009) have garnered praise from both critics and fans alike. Similarly, DC’s animated television series have also received positive reviews, including the first Teen Titans series in 2003.
“It helped, having that kind of template for us,” says producer James Tucker. “Not to mimic, but we knew, OK, that’s the team we kind of want to resemble. That’s the one most people know now. But with that, we didn’t want to exclude the comic book continuities.” Tucker has worked on a number of DC Animated Television projects in the past, including Justice League: Unlimited and Static Shock, but emphasized that working in the film-verse is very different. “We get two movies in continuity a year, so you have to be very careful about how you use that time.”
Heroes fighting heroes has been a staple in the comic book genre for decades. (Just ask the two superhero films coming out this year that follow generally the same plot.) In JL vs. TT, it’s the rookies versus the veteran heroes as the Justice League (or a good portion of it) is possessed by the demon Trigon, which forces the Teen Titans to battle their friends and family to prevent the end of the world.
A strong theme throughout the film is relationships. Romantic, friendly, and familial bonds are touched on and tested. The film begins with Robin, Damian Wayne (Stuart Allen) being sent by his father Batman (John O’Mara) to train with the Teen Titans after disobeying orders on a mission with the Justice League. While being quite a bit darker, fans of the original Teen Titans cartoon like myself get plenty of treats throughout the film; such as the team’s giant ‘T’-shaped home entirely intact, and the team now being lead by Starfire (Kari Wahlgren).
“They really were going for a darker tone with this movie than the TV cartoon, and it’s definitely targeted towards kind of a more mature audience,” says Wahlgren, “so we get to see a lot more sides to Starfire. I love Hynden [Walch, original voice of Starfire]’s portrayal, there is a sweetness, and an otherworldly quality, kind of an alien quality there that they wanted to keep; just because of who Starfire is. There’s definitely that same kind of vibe to her, but we definitely see a lot more of her as an adult.”
Also making their return from the 2003 series is Raven (voiced by Taissa Farmiga, American Horror Story), daughter of Trigon. Raven serves as sort of a centerpiece to the film, as she is the only one who can either prevent her father’s rise to power, or put it in motion. She too has her relationships put to the test; either with her demonic father or new teammate, Damian.
“I feel like [Damian] connects a little bit more to Raven, because he, like Raven, is a little bit more of an outsider, a bit of a lone wolf, doesn’t exactly trust many people, and Raven has her reasons for not trusting many people, and for kind of staying out,” explains Damian’s voice actor Stuart Allen. “In a sense I feel like they latch together a little bit, they have a common ground.”
Raven and Damian do have a good amount of interaction in the film, and, as with most of the character interactions throughout, it’s generally freaking adorable. Over the course of the film we see many characters outside the costume, interacting with their teammates in a human, friendly way. Without giving too much away, there’s a Skype date, a DDR tournament, and a series of carnival rides that add a delightful sense of levity, despite the dark story line. It keeps the movie highly enjoyable throughout, and not bogged down with the “dark, gritty realism” that most superhero properties feel obligated to inject these days.
“I think, for the Teen Titans, they’re regular teenagers,” suggests Jake T. Austin (The Fosters), the voice of Blue Beetle, “they do have a lot to face, and it’s an uphill battle trying to defeat the ‘evil’ Justice League, but they do have moments of humor, they get along, they share laughs. It’s not all serious, not all 100% action. But I think a lot of the action that’s created from this is the fight between good vs. evil, the fight between the Justice League, and what would happen if some of your favorite superheroes were corrupted.”
Brandon Soo Hoo (From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series), voice of Beast Boy, agrees, and recognizes the significance of the Titans and their place in the DCU. “As the Teen Titans, we kind of have shoes to fill, like, we’re kind of the next generation coming up that will be having to save the world. It’s their coming of age a bit, it’s them proving themselves as legit heroes.”
“It’s inspiring, too,” adds Austin, “I was a fan of the series, and Justice League in general growing up, and to have that motivation that anything is possible sometimes.” Most of the cast, in fact, confesses to being huge fans of their characters (and DC comics in general) growing up. “Teen Titans was probably my childhood when it was on the television,” says Soo Hoo. “I don’t think I missed an episode.” Kari Wahlgren as well had collected Wonder Woman comics as a kid. “I probably have like forty coffee mugs,” she laughs.
The cast of the film, despite never appearing on screen, do their best to get in the mindset of their powered counterparts. “I do go to the gym more often,” jokes Jerry O’Connell (voice of Superman/Clark Kent), “When I play Superman, and it’s a real honor to do it, I find myself getting in better shape, really watching what I eat, and actually going and trying to pump some iron. Also, I cannot let Jason be more muscular than me,” he laughs. It’s sort of a real-life mimic of the friendship between Batman and Superman themselves, which O’Connell describes as “contentious”. “I guess it’s an ego thing,” he adds, “but I really don’t like to see them fight.” Stuart Allen, similar to Damian Wayne, also takes martial arts lessons, and is a candidate for a black belt.
The movie, from beginning to end, had the crowd delighted. Every five minutes there was a collective gasp or cheer at a small reference or throwback to the original cartoons, which had just as much as a presence in the movie as the traditional comic book lore. The mixing of all the previous media incarnations is a huge draw to any DC fan, be it a hardcore comic collector or one who was simply brought up on JLU cartoons way back when. DC managed all their properties in a way that was digestible to any viewer even slightly familiar with current or recent-past projects.
Overall, as a fan of comics and these characters in particular, I felt like everyone had their justice done. While there were one or two aspects that I didn’t personally enjoy (they’re definitely doubling down on Super/Wonder, but really, what can you do?), the movie on the whole will please comic and cartoon fans of all ages. Nothing sticks out as OOC or does disservice to longtime fans of these characters; and there’s even one or two small tidbits at the end that garnered a sound-barrier-shattering cheer. I personally had a goofy smile on my face for all 78 minutes, and all the joy I derived from the movie was worth the crippling jaw pain. I’ll definitely be picking up this DVD, and I recommend you look into it as well.