Ever since a post-credits scene at the end of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies last year that unambiguously teased the return of the 2003 Teen Titans cartoon, fans have been eagerly anticipating for some sort of official announcement. As they wait for a sixth season of Teen Titans to pull a cartoon Lazarus à la Young Justice, hopefully a Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans animated direct-to-video film is some consolation. During SDCC weekend, The Beat had the fortune to sit down with the TTG vs. TT cast and crew to discuss the genesis of this movie that sees worlds collide as the five Titans voice actors play double duty as both the Go versions and the original 2003 iterations.
Elseworlds and parallel universes are the bread and butter of the DC Universe so having the OG Teen Titans meet the Go Titans isn’t that much of a stretch. As the filmmakers will be the first to admit, the basic kernel of the idea grew out of an art piece depicting both groups of Titans facing off against each other that was among the 2017 SDCC exclusive bags. Seeing the tremendous fan reaction, it was thus a no-brainer to bring this crossover to life. Stepping up to the plate to draft a script was writer Marly Halpern-Graser. With credits that include the Batman vs. TMNT animated feature earlier this year, crossovers are clearly his forte. “Warner Brothers came to me and asked me if I wanted to work on this. And I came up with Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath the premise. They knew they wanted it to be the two groups of two Titans at odds in some way. For me the two villains that I thought would be most fun to play off each other were the Go version and the 03 version of the two Trigons. And so it made sense to me. They’re powerful enough to be behind a multiverse thing.”
Inspired by the 2003 Teen Titans episode “Winner Take All” written by the late/great Dwayne McDuffie, Halpern-Graser used a Tournament of Heroes as the basic catalyst to get the Titans to meet, creating a new Go version of the Master of Games character voiced by Rhys Darby in TTG vs. TT. When Halpern-Graser was unable to finish the script due to other projects, Jeremy Adams swooped in and helped put some finishing touches such as fleshing out the emotional storyline for the two Ravens and figuring out logistics. A fan of both iterations of Teen Titans and a father of two children, Adams felt TTG‘s trademark scatological humor was well within his wheelhouse.
Comparing the film’s approach to the “Scoobynatural” Supernatural episode he co-wrote, TTG vs. TT was comedy gold for him. “When we did ‘Scoobynatural’ that’s the same sort of thing where you have Supernatural which is serious but then you have Scooby-Doo which is very silly. In that is the joy and the magic. You put in something semi-serious with something funny that’s what we all want to watch. It only really works if you have a straight man like Abbott and Costello. So it’s like as long as somebody is being serious then it makes it even funnier to see somebody be outrageous.’
Adams called it a delicate balancing act, a sentiment also expressed by his co-writer. “By Teen Titans Go! standards this movie is pretty serious. There are real stakes,” Halpern-Graser said. “This is a slightly more straightforward action blockbuster story because we wanted to honor what you’d expect from the original Teen Titans. So we really are meeting in the middle. It’s sillier than a Teen Titans movie would be. But it’s taking itself more seriously than a Teen Titans Go! movie.”
With a script in place, it fell to director/producer Jeff Mednikow to marry the two seemingly incongruous visual styles. “We wanted it to feel like the original Titans were from their world which is a different world than the Go Titans,” said Mednikow. “So in terms of the animation we had a great studio, Snipple, that worked very hard with us and tackled a lot of things. My friend Matt Girardi was the animation director. We really went in even with line quality, film grain touches, dropping frames here and there. Anything we could do to kind of make the original Titans feel as original and close to themselves as possible. And we utilized a program called Harmony where you can do traditional animation or you can make something look kind of Flash friendly as well.”
Adams joked that he believes the Teen Titans actors have such a strong connection to their characters that they could be given blank pages and come up with an entire episode themselves. It’s probably not surprising then to learn that Hynden Walch, the voice of Starfire, wrote a Teen Titans Go! episode recently. She obviously enjoyed that foray into writing since she hinted at the possibility of scripting other episodes in the near future. Moreover, entire sections in scripts that simply say “Titans argue” or “Titans discuss your clothes” allow for substantial ad-libbing from the actors that can only come from years of vibing off each other.
What may have initially began as another acting gig has evolved into deep a friendship mirroring the bonds of the Titans themselves. From an ongoing Teen Titans group text to hanging out at each other’s houses, it’s more than just a byproduct of working together after nearly two decades. I’d go so far as to use the word family to describe the Titans voice actors.
As tight-knit as the group is, there’s still room for other actors to join in on the fun. Just ask Grey Griffin who despite working with her co-stars in other animation projects is only now getting to play in the Teen Titans sandbox. In the film, Griffin gets to bust out her “mean old lady” voice in her portrayal of a villainous Mrs. Claus. Griffin wasn’t hesitant to concede that she loves playing bad guys, joking she doesn’t have to pretend to be a nice person. Plus, as a Mad Men fan she got to record with Bert Cooper himself, Robert Morse, who plays her hubby Santa Claus.
If there’s one cast member who’s the heart of the team it’s undoubtedly Greg Cipes, the voice of Beast Boy. Considering Beast Boy is green like the color of the heart chakra, it makes sense. With his canine companion Wingman (be on the lookout for Wingman’s own show Beastie’s Besties currently in development at Cartoon Network in the near future!) in tow everywhere he goes, Cipes is practically the living embodiment of Beast Boy to the point that he’s played the character in different animated projects outside of Titans such as Young Justice on the DC Universe streaming platform. Cipes actually recounted the unusual role he played in getting Teen Titans back on the air. “I started a rumor in Australia at an Australian Comic Con. When we were in the dark ages of no shows being made between Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!,” Cipes explained. “There wasn’t like a show greenlit or anything yet but I said there was! Cartoon Network received more actual fan mail than any other show in the history of Cartoon Network. Actual handwritten fan mail for the show to be brought back that Sam Register developed the shorts and now here we are.”
In differentiating the two Beast Boys, it’s not a complete shock that Cipes is inspired by the personality traits of animals. Cipes taps into a hyena for the wilder Go Beast Boy, whereas he likens the original Beast Boy to a dog. He’s still figuring out the spirit animal of the Young Justice Beast Boy, but is quick to equate that iteration with a young stallion or lion.
Playing opposite themselves actually came fairly naturally for the rest of the Titans cast. “I’m just a little more schizophrenic than most so it doesn’t feel so weird,” confessed Khary Payton, better known as Cyborg. “Switching between Cyborgs is kind of switching between me with a lot of caffeine versus me with just a half of cup of sugar or maybe a nice bottle of a Manhattan on the rocks. They’re just different versions of myself as far as Cyborg is concerned.”
“I talked to myself a long time back because I played Blackfire on the [original Teen Titans] show as well,” recalled Walch. The entire script was me talking to myself. Whoa, boy! But now I’m very rather fond of it.”
“Well the playful side of Go [Raven] gets even more playful in this movie. If you were going to relate it to the OG maybe some of the colors of Raven come out. It’s just fun to be able to explore that side of her,” said actress Tara Strong. Because she spends so much time being dark and tragic, to explore other parts of her personality is a great gift. And I had a great time doing this movie. Vocally, what happens in the situation determines how it sounds. So it’s not like I consciously say, ‘I’m going to be deeper now because I’m OG.’ It will be deeper because the situation is more authentic and she is more authentic.”
Having been in voiceover since he was eleven and jesting that he’s still waiting to hit puberty, Scott Menville relished the chance to dive back into the OG Teen Titans Robin. “It’s been amazing to go back and revisit a character that we played before. It’s pretty awesome. Anytime you get a chance to do that it’s a gift. I got to go back on the show Fuller House. They called me back to play a character I played 20 years ago. It’s always fun when you get to do something like that.” Nevertheless, according to Menville, OG Robin does not suffer fools like Go Robin, particularly his baby hands!
Though fans of the original Teen Titans were hesitant to accept Teen Titans Go! when it debuted, many have since come around to appreciate the offbeat humor of this unique interpretation. As Mednikow said, a major goal of the film was “to make something that would appeal to all parties.” It’s especially meaningful for Strong seeing not just Raven but all the Titans transcend demographics and be embraced by all groups of people through cosplay.
— tara strong (@tarastrong) July 14, 2019
Strong said it best, “Fans of the original will be happy because the stakes are very high and the danger is very real. It’s the perfect dichotomy. Both fandoms get to come together and appreciate each other.”
In Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans, the comedic modern-day quintet takes on their 2003 counterparts when villains from each of their worlds join forces to pit the two Titan teams against each other. They’ll need to set aside their differences and work together to combat Trigon, Hexagon, Santa Claus (that’s right, Santa!) and time itself in order to save the universe.
Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans features the beloved multi-series cast of the past 17 years: Greg Cipes as Beast Boy, Scott Menville as Robin, Khary Payton as Cyborg, Tara Strong as Raven, and Hynden Walch as Starfire. The cast also spotlights Kevin Michael Richardson as Trigon/Hexagon, Robert Morse as Santa Claus, Grey Griffin as Mrs. Claus, Rhys Darby as Master of Games, Sean Maher as Nightwing, and four-time Grammy Award winner “Weird Al” Yankovic as Gentleman Ghost and Darkseid.