Teen Titans

  Five superpowered youths fight evil.
  Original Airdate: July 19, 2003
   Episodes #2, 3
   Rating: * * * *

Credits Cast

Written by Rob Hoegee ("Final Exam"),
     Amy Wolfram ("Sisters")
Directed by Michael Chang ("Final Exam"),
     Alex Soto ("Sisters")
Theme by Puffy Ami Yumi
Music by Michael McCuistion ("Final
     Exam"), Lolita Ritmanis ("Sisters")
Animation by Dong Woo ("Final Exam"),
     Lotto ("Sisters")

Greg Cipes as Beast Boy
Scott Menville as Robin
Khary Payton as Cyborg
Tara Strong as Raven
Hynden Walch as Starfire, Blackfire
Ron Perlman as Slade

Rind Romano as Kai
David Sobolov as Cron
Kevin Micahel Richardson as Mammoth
Andrea Romano as Headmistress
Lauren Tom as Gizmo, Jinx

Teen Titans is a triple-decker hot-fudge/butterscoth banana split sundae with whipped cream, sugar sprinkles, chopped pecans, maraschino cherries and five flame-splitting roman candles on top, all floating in a jumbo cup of double-bubble burpa-cola. If Willie Wonka opened a cartoon studio, this is the kind of show he'd produce. You don't just watch it, you gobble it down fast and then bang your spoon on the table demanding seconds.

It is nominally based on the DC Comics title of the same name and is produced by Glen Murakami, the art director-turned-coproducer of Superman, Batman Beyond and Justice League. But don't let the pedigree mislead you. Teen Titans is like nothing the DC animated universe has seen before. It's an ultra-retro, anime-inflected, whizbang pop cartoon fiesta that riffs half a dozen genres by way of slapping together its own unique style. It's a Wayback-with-a-Stepsideways Machine into an alternate universe where Sixties superhero cartoon shows were done with a budget and without a censor. It's the cartoon show you always wanted to see when you were ten years old but which they never made.

The series has no backstory and only the barest of conceits. It's about five quasi-teenagers who have superpowers and get into fights with aliens, monsters and supervillains. And that's about it. I call them "quasi-teenagers" because there is nothing that distinctively identifies them as being between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, and because I've known plenty of college and post-college guys with the same group dynamics and inability to keep the house picked up. Only the Titans' sunny equanimity and short attention spans set them apart from their adult counterparts; if comics X-Force/X-Statix were shorn of their Marvel angst they might have much the same feel.

That absence of psychological turmoil may disappoint some viewers. We are now so used to superheroes whose struggles have social and political implications, or which are the outer manifestation of their inner pain, that some may have trouble recovering the innocent delight in shiny, fast-moving surfaces that is Teen Titans' great strength. The show deosn't disdain story and character development, exactly, so much as it simply doesn't dwell on them. The Titans are not grown up and they're not growing up, either. So you have to take them as you would take Fry and Bender, or Scooby and Shaggy, or Pinky and the Brain--characters who are defined by their quirks and who are not going change or examine themselves. As for story: There is, I suppose, a "plot" to "Final Exam" and "Sisters," but the producers treat it as you would a Christmas tree, as something that's only there to hang a bunch of dazzling ornaments on.

And those ornaments do dazzle. The show is almost absurdly baroque in its detail. Oddball inserts, quick, radical design shifts, and playful sound effects explode every few seconds, and if you watch it on tape you'll find yourself stopping and backing up every few minutes to get a closer look or hear at something. Did the blue fuzz really growl when Starfire opened the refrigerator door? Did Robin's eyes really turn into spinning spirals when Blackfire threw him to the ground? Did that rocket-propelled squid really beep like a bus as it zoomed past our heros? Yes, yes, and I sure think so.

At every level the show's genius lies in the brilliance of its execution. What could have been laboriously drawn-out action scenes are as well-shaped as if they were timed to the microsecond, cut with a diamond-tipped chisel, and pieced together under a jeweler's loup. The dialogue may fall well short of brilliance, but the lines are delivered with such speed and zest (especially by Beastboy and Cyborg, the most talkative of the group) that they all gain a little corkscrew twist to them. (The cast, by the way, is uniformly excellent, especially Tara Strong, who as Raven takes "deadpan" around the curve so far that it gooses "manic" on the other side; she makes Wednesday Addams seem like Shirley Temple.) And even those of us who were impressed by the ability of composers Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuistion to cross musical lines from Batman to Beyond will be astonished by the tracks for Teen Titans: A promotional video showcasing the skills of Titan adversaries Gizmo, Jinx and Mammoth is scored to what crazily sounds like a narcoleptic garage band doing a cover of a Mozart adagio.

The danger for a show that so ingeniously fuses and creatively confuses its styles is that it might also wind up confusing the audience. Certainly, this is not a show to be approached with preconceptions or a closed mind, or else, like a tornado, it will blow the mental doors off their hinges and the walls off their foundations. Teen Titans has so much jazz and snap, and such blithe self-assurance, that it makes most other cartoons look dead. If the series is not the smash hit it deserves to be, it will be because the audience is less brave and daring than the network that produced it.

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