Saturday, April 2, 2016

Review: Teen Titans Go! "Legendary Sandwich"

When looking at this episode, or indeed any episode of this show, there's a question that has to be addressed.

What is this show?

It's not really a superhero show, when you get down to it. It's more along the lines of all these "random humor shows" that have been popping up in recent years. One that just happens to have superheroes in it. And that's not a bad idea in and of itself, but reuniting the cast of a beloved cartoon in order to simplify the characters and put them in silly situations... well, it's working uphill to win over the old fans.

The one thing I will not fault this show over is the concept. Because judging Teen Titans Go! for not being more like Teen Titans is like judging Inglorious Basterds for not being more like Schindler's List.

Teen Titans Go! is more about having fun than telling an actual story, which helps to explain why many episodes of this show don't really have an "ending," per se. The action just kind of stops.

It's a goofy quest to find a silly treasure, and I can at least say that it delivers what it promises. Actually, I have to say that after having watched later episodes of Teen Titans Go!, I was actually surprised with how subtle this episode was. Relatively speaking. The idea of a Legendary Sandwich is silly, but not as outright weird as later episodes' plots.

Dance fo' yo' bees, Robin.
And yet, that kind of works against this episode, in a way. Sure, the idea of questing to find a Legendary Sandwich is certainly creative, and something that could surely be made funny, but this episode never really finds its footing. I feel like this is because (as I mentioned in an earlier post) the writers were sort of stuck in this weird bubble between zaniness and semi-seriousness. It's almost like the episode keeps reigning itself in, stopping itself from going too far with the silliness.

But it contains a perfect visual metaphor for its attempts to balance semi-realism with zanizess.
This isn't the only episode of Teen Titans Go! focusing on food. Not by a long shot. Apparently, the writers gather around lunchtime to pitch ideas, and one of the showrunners, Aaron Horvath, tends to get pretty hungry.

And I just realized how hard analyzing themes for these 11-minute frenzies is going to be, since there's really no underlying message to a lot of these stories. What with the focus on humor, and all.

Robin (Scott Menville) 
From the get-go, it's clear that Robin is more high-strung and defensive than the character is usually portrayed in general. He's also particularly violent, as shown by how he passed the time in the supermarket. There isn't much time for the character to be fleshed out, though.

Raven (Tara Strong)
Out of all the characters, Raven is definitely has the most in the way of three-dimensional characterization. At the very least, her love of Pretty Pretty Pegasus shows that she has more than one layer, unlike the other Titans. Many have criticized Teen Titans Go! for trying to be topical and relevant by having a character enjoy a thinly-disguised My Little Pony pastiche, but I welcome this idea. Not only does it defy expectations for the character, but her softer side prevents her from simply being an emo stereotype. Which has happened to the character before.

Oh, DC. sometimes, you try way to hard to be hip with the kids. Nice Spider-Man font on "DC Special."
There isn't much time for the character to be fleshed out, though.

Starfire (Hynden Walch)
An alien princess who acts in randomly odd ways. And only for this episode. Wanting to put a sandwich in her hair is the most illogically random thing she does in this show, and I can only imagine that the writers still hadn't nailed down her characterization yet. Which also explains why she gets a lackluster entrance, as opposed to Raven being revealed to be a Pegasister, or the boys munching on their sandwiches.

More so than any other character, there isn't much time for the character to be fleshed out.

Cyborg (Khary Payton)
He's loud. There isn't much time for the character to be fleshed out, though.

Beast Boy (Greg Cipes)
He's a laid back bro. Also, he seems to be willing to eat bacon, despite being a vegetarian. I get that the writers have admitted to never watching the original show, but you'd think that Beast Boy being a vegetarian would be in the character bible, right alongside Raven being the daughter of Trigon, which is something they actually did remember in a later episode. Along with Beast Boy's vegetarianism, so it looks like this characterization hiccup is merely growing pains.

Also, there isn't much time for the character to be fleshed out.

As you might have guessed, the episode doesn't really do much in the way of... well, characterizing these characters. But for better and for worse, each character starts getting fleshed out after this episode. They might not necessarily get any character depth, but their individual quirks become much more prominent.

The biggest problem with this episode isn't that they changed the characters' personalities from what they were in Teen Titans. It's that they barely have personalities here.

As of yet, I can confirm that they like, repeat, like sandwiches.
All things considered, the aesthetic design is pretty sleek, and the technical quality of the animation seems to be about average for shows animated in this style. The greatest strength of the animation is its energy, which is thanks to the efforts of the show's animation director, Ron Doucet. I read an interesting interview with him on Animdesk where he elaborated on the methods he uses to get the show's unique style of animation. The low frame rate compared to shows like Gravity Falls or Adventure Time is completely intentional. From that same interview....

"Getting the most out of every drawing is an art form by itself. Less animation = funny is what I've been learning, but it still needs to move from scene to scene and pose to pose, so how to get from one key pose to the next in as few frames as possible is often more difficult than it would be to just in-between it as normal straight-ahead."

And this results in action moments looking pretty good, with movements that look dynamic and can feel like there's real weight behind the objects involved, like with Beast Boy landing on his feet, or Robin's bo staff demonstration.

There's a "pop" to the animation, not unlike the pop of Robin breaking your hip.

There's a downside. Flash animation can look inherently cheap. And this tends to crop up when the characters are just standing around talking. There's not much you can do to make talking interesting, and as a result, it doesn't.

Aside from that, while there are a few moments that feel dynamic, there are never really any moments that I'd call "memorable." Not just with the writing, but also with the animation. There's no scene that looks like any sort of labor of love, or technical masterpiece.

So while I just praised some of the animation's qualities, the final result is simply okay. Although both this episode as well as the series has some nice Easter eggs in the back ground, such as a Darkseid plushie, or Batman's skull appearing as a hieroglyphic in Raven's text. The sneaky little references in the background are definitely the best part of the entire show and the one thing I can actually say is consistently well done.

Final Thoughts
It's okay.

That's really all I can say about it. Other than the show's general concept, this episode really has nothing in particular to invite the ire of critics, and it also lacks the elements of later episodes that some people praise.

The whole thing feels like the writers aren't really sure how far they're willing to go, and by all accounts, they weren't. If the entire series were like this, I feel like it would have fewer fans as well as fewer detractors. It's hard to get upset at something so "meh."

There are far worse episodes. And far better episodes. I guess the real question is whether or not there are more good episodes or bad ones.

Next time, it seems that Aaron Horvath was still hungry, because we get an episode all about pie. See you then!

No comments:

Post a Comment