Warner Bros. Animation takes the old Teen Titans characters in a totally new direction in the upcoming Cartoon Network series.
It’s a well-known fact that some of the more recent superhero movies and TV shows have a tendency to get a bit too ponderous and brooding. Luckily, you can always rely on the funny folks at Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network to add some much-needed humor to the otherwise dreary lives of characters burdened with saving the human race over and over again. This spring, viewers will get a chance to see a completely different side of Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and Cyborg—the feisty team known as Teen Titans, who had their own popular show for five seasons (2003-2006) on Kids! WB and Cartoon Network.
Created to play well with Cartoon Network’s other humor-driven toons such as Adventure Time and Regular Show, Teen Titans Go! zeroes in on how our teen heroes spend their time when they are not on duty. You can rest assured there are lots of opportunities to play elaborate pranks, eat junk food, go for joy rides and use their superpowers in silly ways. As the show’s exec producers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath tell us, the new toon is going to be worlds apart from, say, Chris Nolan’s heavy Batman movies!
“The show was born out of the DC Nation shorts, which were made by some of the crew from the original series,” says Jelenic. “They were really successful and people seemed to love them, so [Warner Bros. Animation’s exec VP of creative affairs] Sam Register brought me and Aaron over to work on the series. We weren’t involved with the original production, but we totally get the flavor of the show. We also wanted to push it in a new comic direction.”
Jelenic also points out that he and fellow exec producer Horvath come from backgrounds that seem to be polar opposites.
“I’ve worked on traditional superhero shows such as Batman: The Brave and the Bold and ThunderCats, and Aaron has done lots of comedies such as MAD and El Tigre, and he has little knowledge of superheroes, except Batman.” he says. “So this project allowed us to merge our sensibilities and to filter these characters through a hipster millennial look.”
The producers both admit that they enjoyed the freedom they had to play with characters that were loved by fans worldwide.
“The shorts were very successful, but they were inside. You wouldn’t get some of the jokes if you didn’t know these characters and the world they live in,” says Horvath. “We wanted strong characters that we could put in any comic situation. Since we’re going from script to production and following a less traditional storyboard pipeline—straight to animatic—we’re able to really take advantage of the situations and the personalities, and fine tune the jokes.”
According to Jelenic, Teen Titans Go! is one of the least traditional superhero shows he has seen.
“I feel very comfortable saying that since we are going for some really out-of-the-box material here. We try to stay true to the core of the characters, but we try to put them in situations that we haven’t seen DC superheroes in before.
So who is the real audience for this new Warner Bros. toon?
“Our core audience is six- to 11-year-olds, but the show’s humor and spirit has a lot in common with Adventure Time and Regular Show,” says Jelenic, who began his career as an intern on Mike Judge’s hilarious King of the Hill series. “That is the type of world that our characters exist in, rather than a traditional superhero show. If you’re coming to the show to get some traditional DC superhero action, then you are going to be surprised. Our challenge is to make sure people get the tone and understand the show in terms of its comedic elements.”
As the producers explain, the show creators tried to stay away from the old “gang goes on a mission” storylines and focus instead on the teen heroes hanging out at Titan Tower.
“They are constantly doing stupid things and try to have fun, just like college kids who are hanging out at the dorm, and exploring their freedom like students do during their freshman year,” says Jelenic. “They’re constantly doing stupid things, or fighting over things that have very low stakes; for example, Raven tells them about a mythical sandwich, whose ingredients are split up across the galaxy, and they have to collect all the individual items to make this amazing sandwich.” And yes, there are episodes in which meatballs and tacos play major roles.
Horvath says the success of MAD convinced the studio brass that it was feasible to do a weekly Flash-animated series that has a fast turn-around.
“MAD is visually all over the place, and with Teen Titans Go! we have the benefit of putting together tight animatics before it’s animated. We get a sense of what’s working and what’s not working before we send it to Canada [Bardel in Vancouver and Copernicus in Halifax]. The awesome thing about the process is that I can really dig into a storyboard or a scene, and do a lot of retakes in the house before we send it outside.”
Jelenic and Horvath both emphasize the fact that the show has been a labor of love for the animation team.
“The series’ directors and their team have come up with ways to really push Flash animation and make it even more complicated,” says Horvath. “Seriously, we’re very happy with the way the show looks—every background, every character—a lot of work has gone into all the details to make it a great-looking show.”
Of course, the team is quite aware of the fact that some old die-hard fans of the DC characters may not be too pleased with this brave, new approach.
“We know that some of them are very concerned about what they’re going to find in the show,” says Jelenic. “We hope they are going to be in for a pleasant surprise.”
Horvath says that it’s obvious that he and Jelenic aren’t going to imitate what Glen Murakami, the creator of the original show, did 10 years ago.
“That series had a great anime influence, but I was personally never influenced by anime. I am a huge Looney Tunes fan…Listen, if you like these characters, you are going to find that they are pretty much the same, but we’re pushing for comedic effects. This show is about hanging out with these characters, so it’s dramatically different from the old version. However, the same characters anchor both projects, so we’re hoping that will bring back the old fans, too. Maybe for the season finale, we’ll wrap up all the loose ends left over from the old series to make everyone happy! You never know!”
Cartoon Network will premiere Warner Bros. Animation’s Teen Titans Go! in April.