Title: JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time
Director: Giancarlo Volpe
Writer: Michael Ryan
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Home Video
Starring: Laura Bailey, Dante Basco, Corey Burton, Peter Jessop, Diedrich Bader, Grey DeLisle, Jack DeSena, Fred Tatasciore, Liam O’Brien, Jason Spisak, Avery Kidd Waddell, Erica Luttrell, Kevin Michael Richardson, Tom Gibis, Michael David Donovan, Travis Willingham
Release Date: January 21st, 2014
MPAA: Rated PG
DC Comics and Warner Bros. have apparently decided to try their hands at this whole “Stealth Release” marketing gimmick, by releasing their latest DTV movie, JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time, without any sort of advertising whatsoever. I don’t know how this works, or how any company could think it’s a good idea NOT to advertise your product and just hope that it will sell on its own. All of that aside, this movie was released as a time-exclusive to Target stores all around America, but don’t worry because soon it’ll apparently release everywhere worldwide. This is great news, because this movie is pretty great and everyone should get a chance to watch it!
In this newest animated adventure from DC Comics, Lex Luthor teams up with The Time Trapper and sends The Legion of Doom (LoD) back in time to prevent The Justice League of America (JLA) from ever being formed. It’s up to Karate Kid and Dawnstar (from the Legion of Superheroes) to go back in time to fix the timeline, save the Justice League, and save the world! Featuring the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg, with rogues such as Luthor, Cheetah, Solomon Grundy, Black Manta, Bizarro, Gorilla Grodd, and Toyman, this story pulls out all the stops as heroes and villains clash in a millennia-spanning battle of the ages!
In a bit of a switch-up from DC’s latest releases, both live-action and animated, JLA Adventures is a much more light-hearted outing, designed to be more family-friendly. It’s more kid-oriented, but not in a childish way. It comes across as something more akin to a Saturday Morning kids show from the 80s and 90s, not as dark as Batman: The Animated Series, but not as wacky or zany as Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Think of it as something like a bright and shiny version of the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited TV series. The story is penned by writer Michael Ryan, whose credits include Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, and The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, so it’s easy to grasp the sort of tone this script is going for.
This movie is brimming with in-references and nods to other DC incarnations that fans will get a kick out of. For instance, Superman’s “S shield” is a combination of his 1941 and 1944 shields from what I can tell, but there are a few shots where the ‘S’ is drawn off-model so it’s hard to tell exactly. Also, our two main characters Dawnstar and Karate Kid are redesigned to resemble Apache Chief and Samurai from the old Superfriends cartoon. And the film’s title sequence is a wonderful homage to Challenge of the Super Friends. Speaking of Superfriends, Wendy and Marvin and their pet Wonder Dog make a brief cameo, as well.
In regard to all the old-school touches, this movie really does feel like a throwback to cartoons of days long past, and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways. The movie really does feel like the old Superfriends cartoon, not the embarrassing early seasons, but more in line with the Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians.
Don’t let any of that scare you off, because the film is pretty great, with an enjoyable plot. The only major annoyance with the plot comes from the time-travel. And that has nothing to do with the fact that it was written for children and everything to do with time-travel plot lines being nearly impossible to write well. For instance, if Lex stops the JLA from being formed, wouldn’t that mean that the LoD, which was created to combat the JLA, would also vanish from the timeline? Also, the film shows the JLA vanishing from existence, but shouldn’t that just mean the TEAM and not the MEMBERS? Though they never team up in the altered timeline, shouldn’t individual members like Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc., still be around fighting crime? I suppose it’s best not to think about these sorts of head-scratchers in time-travel movies.
The art and character designs are pretty fantastic. I especially love the designs for Batman and Robin. Batman sports a design that looks like a cross between Neal Adams and DC’s New 52, while Robin’s design looks like a stylized anime combination of Tim Drake’s two Robin costumes. The ONLY gripe I have is with Superman. His face and body are a bit too over-exaggerated for my tastes. Thankfully, not as disproportionate as he was in Superman: Unbound, but still overly muscled with a pretty big chin, though not as big as it was in Superman VS The Elite. Everyone else looks great, with the two standout designs being Aquaman and Wonder Woman! Aquaman wears a sleeveless muscle-tee version of his traditional costume, adding to his beach-bod/surfer look. And Wonder Woman features the best design of the bunch, wearing a cloak and a slightly more armored version of her traditional costume, dropping the modern bikini in favor of a more battle-appropriate skirt, making her look like a true Warrior Princess.
While on the subject of characters, Dawnstar and Karate Kid are the stars of the film, with the JLA pushed to the sidelines, but don’t worry, each and every character gets a moment to shine. Characters like Cyborg, Aquaman, and Flash are given plenty to do, and are just about right up there with the Big Three (DC’s Trinity, you know: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman). All of the JLA members get nice individual moments in the two big brawls, and during the final showdown when the Big Three and our two starring heroes face off against the film’s real villain, the other Leaguers get to show off by saving the day elsewhere. The LoD is pretty nicely showcased, with each character getting a moment or two of their own, with Bizarro and Lex getting the most screen time out of the group. The Time Trapper is the main baddie in this story, and he’s worth the price of admission on his own, a cool and mysterious villain who manages to be entertaining while still being just a little bit creepy.
Having mentioned the brawls and showdown, I realize that it would be remiss not to address the action. Well, it’s fan-friggin-tastic! It’s as simple as that. The action is engaging and frenetic, and the animation is nice and smooth. The fights are very fast and very flashy, which should be obvious, considering the younger target demographic. The best part about them is that unlike some other entries in the DC animated movies, they never go on for too long, giving you just enough to satisfy your own need for action and never overdoing it.
A special bit of praise needs to be given to one of the battles in the second act, wherein the LoD goes back in time to kidnap Superman as a baby, and they get chased down by half of the JLA. This crazy brawl in the middle of a huge Kansas corn field turns into a frenzied and chaotic free-for-all resembling an insane game of football, where the super-powered super-baby is the ball.
This movie isn’t without flaws, with some already addressed. Another complaint comes from a scene just before the aforementioned super-baby football scene, where Solomon Grundy and Cheetah “disguise” themselves as simple country folk looking for their baby. Clearly a giant zombie and a walking humanoid cheetah, the scene is played for laughs, and I suppose the kids will get a kick out of it, but it’s just bothersome for anyone else. Another tiny bit of confusion stems from the fact that Jonathan and Martha Kent already refer to each other as Ma and Pa Kent, even though they don’t have a child.
This movie actually feels more like a pilot for a show, especially the ending, which has this cliffhanger that clearly sets up for further adventures. As a stand-alone movie it still works, because with the JLA you would expect more adventures to immediately follow, since saving the world is an everyday occurrence for them. The tone, pacing, and the cliffhanger ending really give this movie that Saturday morning show feel. In fact, if this got picked up as a show, I wouldn’t mind watching.
With the action, light-hearted humor, and in-references for fans, it’s the kind of movie where parents can sit with the oldest and youngest kids, and everyone can find something to enjoy. If you’re looking for a fun adventure with some real heart to it, and something not as heavy as recent DC movies, this is for you. JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time earns a solid 7 out of 10.