How 'Teen Titans Go!' became a Cartoon Network hit
On the way to developing one of DC Entertainment's biggest hits, animated or otherwise, the makers of "Teen Titans Go!" frequently heard the voices of doubters.
That's because the doubts were coming from the mouths of the voice actors they'd cast.
"Teen Titans Go!," which debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013, was a lighter, funnier reboot of the original "Teen Titans" animated series. That one featured DC characters Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and Cyborg, and ran on Cartoon Network for five seasons beginning in 2003. New producers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath brought in the same voice cast to reprise their roles on "Teen Titans Go!"
Scott Menville, who had voiced Robin the Boy Wonder for years on "Teen Titans," was convinced Jelenic and Horvath now had him saying things that Robin would never say.
Jelenic said to just trust them. That trust has been rewarded as "Teen Titans Go!" airs the show's 200th episode Friday and is considered one of Cartoon Network's biggest, funniest hits, airing frequently throughout the day with new episodes arriving almost every week.
"I think when you reinvent properties there's this hubris that you have thinking I'm going to do better than the person who made this an iconic property in the first place," Jelenic told The Washington Post. "I think we wanted to avoid that and at least we'll have a great cast. The show might be terrible. But at least the casting is great."
The two producers admit it took a little time for the voice cast to adjust to being silly with characters who had previously been serious. While recording an episode in Season 1, the cast became a little confused when all the characters died and became ghosts.
"We thought we were being edgy," Horvath said. "But it was also just a way to sort of let the audience know that this is a goofy cartoon now. So a character can die, but there's no continuity in the series so the next episode they'll be fine again. But (the voice cast was) very concerned that they were all dead at the end of each episode and they were like, is this what it's going to be? Are we going to be ghost?"
The DC Comics property had always been serious, dating back to the original 1980s "The New Teen Titans" comic book run of Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Cartoon Network gave Jelenic and Horvath a lot of freedom to make it more fun.
"We didn't get a lot of direction from anybody in terms of what it had to be," Horvath said. "It was like, well these are your characters and it's got to be funny and that was pretty much it. So it was up to us to figure out what that meant. It just led to us taking it to more absurd, strange and self-indulgent places."
Jelenic and Horvath attribute much of the success of "Teen Titans Go!" to a production crew that has been able to produce a new animated episode almost weekly over the past four years.
"We want a break, but we also don't want to get canceled," Jelenic said with a laugh.
As for the always-popping-up-out-of-nowhere Easter eggs that "Teen Titans Go!" episodes are known for, Jelenic and Horvath credit art director Dan Hipp, a fan of comics, who has slyly placed the "Suicide Squad" version of the Joker, a Darkseid doll and the bloody button of "Watchmen" in various episodes. The cast's favorite Easter egg? A crowbar next to an urn in the Batcave, a nod to the second Robin the Boy Wonder, Jason Todd, dying at the hands of the Joker.
"(Dan's) probably the biggest comic book fan on the crew and probably looks down on the rest of us," Horvath said.
Both producers admit that for all the success of "Teen Titans Go!" there are many "hardcore" comic book fans that don't like the show's comedic take on some of DC's most classic characters. But they also are proud that they're responsible for introducing a lot of young eyes to the world of DC's heroes.
"A lot of comic book fans maybe look down at our show for not being so serious," Jelenic said."But at the same time it's all these younger fans (of "Teen Titans Go!") who are what's going to keep comic books going for the next generation."
For now, Jelenic and Horvath can celebrate Friday's 200th episode, in which they star as animated versions of themselves taking a break from writing, forcing the Titans to write the episode themselves or fade from existence. The pair also recently announced a "Teen Titans Go!" movie arriving in theaters in 2018.
It's called "Teen Titans Go! The Movie."
"Maybe we should have put a little more effort into naming that title," Jelenic said.
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