Warner Bros. Animation (2016), Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (August 23rd, 2016), 1 DVD, 76 minutes plus supplements, 16:9 1.78:1 ratio, English 5.1 Dolby Audio, Not rated, Retail: $19.98


Superhero High is getting ready for its annual “Hero of the Year” award ceremony. But when the sorcerer Dark Opal arrives and starts stealing the school’s most powerful possessions, it’s up to the students Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy (yes, you read that right), Harley Quinn (again, yes, you read that right), and Bumblebee to save not just their home, but possibly the entire planet.


The Sweatbox Review:

Let’s get this out of the way first: DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year’s target audience is children. It turns all of your favorite characters into not just teenagers, but high schoolers. And it takes Poison Ivy–usually one of Batman’s most formidable foes–and gives her the timid personality of My Little Pony’s Fluttershy. All of these things, needless to say, might not sit especially well with certain adult fans, but they aren’t who this movie is trying to please. DC Superhero Girls is attempting to serve a market that is usually ignored by the comic book genre: girls. And in a year in which female Ghostbusters inexplicably became the subject of “controversy” (for reasons that are still beyond me), that’s enough to earn it a compliment in my book.


Still, if you’re a newcomer to this franchise (as I was), you might be a tad confused going into this. Hero of the Year is clearly a sequel to another entry in this series, one which, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to get a disc release. And despite premiering on DVD, this film was rather obviously intended to debut on television, complete with numerous cuts to black for non-existent commercial breaks. With that being said, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Hero of the Year feels more like a double-length episode of a cartoon show rather than an actual movie, especially since it begins with a theme song and ends with a brief credit crawl.


Of course, all of those things are really just observations, not criticisms, and the “Saturday morning feel” is ultimately what gives Superhero Girls its charm. It’s light on its feet, fast-paced, and full of appealing characters. In a striking contrast to the more “serious” content that DC Entertainment is normally associated with, everything here is warm, colorful, and reassuringly non-threatening. Sure, there is a little drama involving a subplot which has Supergirl becoming convinced that her parents are still alive, but for the most part, Hero of the Year never allows for itself to get too heavy. Most parents probably have nothing to worry about here (even though the movie is ominously “not rated”), although it’s possible that Dark Opal’s army of shadows might be enough to frighten the film’s youngest viewers.


This isn’t to say that DC Superhero Girls isn’t offering anything aimed directly at the “big kids” who might be watching. While the sophistication and adult-pleasing humor of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or Nick’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot isn’t really to be found here (though the line “I never should’ve become a super villain! I should’ve followed my heart and become a theater major!” is good for a smile), there are Easter Eggs and cameos galore for longtime DC fans. I got a big kick out of Gorilla Grodd being Super Hero High’s vice principal (especially when Lois Lane tries to squeeze an interview out of him), and a location called “Booster’s Gold Mine” is also a nice touch. Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are still BFFs, and appearances by Giganta, Commissioner Gordon, and Johnathan and Martha Kent are appreciated.


The movie does also manage to have a little fun with its high school concept (which does seem to be lifted from Disney’s very underrated 2005 comedy Sky High, but I digress), even though its main characters don’t appear to spend much time in class. Wonder Woman’s mother, for instance, is now overbearing and anticipating for her daughter to win every major school competition. And it is pleasing that the film has no shortage of action, something I was worried might be an issue given the “women don’t care about this stuff” mentality that studios unfortunately seem to go by when making so-called “girls entertainment.” Still, part of me wishes that there was slightly more ambition being shown here, as DC Entertainment has produced much stronger “children’s entertainment” in the past (Batman: The Animated Series, this ain’t). But at the end of the day, Warner Bros. has seen a need and filled it here, finally giving some of their female heroes a chance to shine in the spotlight. And that’s just super.


Is This Thing Loaded?

DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year opens with a trailer for Scooby-Doo! & WWE: Curse of the Speed Demon (which looks…not as bad as it sounds?), while previews for LEGO Friends, LEGO Nexo Knights, LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League: Gotham City Breakout and the quite fun-looking Storks can be accessed from the main menu. The only true special features are seven DC Superhero Girls animated shorts (curiously labeled on the DVD packaging as “featurettes”) that were previously released online. They are All About Super Hero High, Fall into Super Hero High, Hero of the Month: Poison Ivy, Clubbing, Hero of the Month: Bumblebee, Saving the Day, and Hero of the Month: Wonder Woman. Like the movie itself, they are all cute enough, and run about three minutes each.


Case Study:

I was pleasantly surprised that DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year arrived in a slipcover, complete with “texturing” that makes the cover appear to be 3D. A sticker apparently added at the last minute proclaiming this an “All-new original movie” does look a bit out of place on the cover, presumably there just to let buyers know this isn’t the pilot movie that aired on television. Supergirl also dominates the packaging, appearing on both the front and the back. No inserts of any kind are included.


Ink And Paint:

DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year is bright. Some might say too bright. Colors are extremely crisp, and since this is a brand new title, there are naturally no notable flaws to be found anywhere. No problems here (unless you have an issue with bright colors).


Scratch Tracks:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Warner Bros. DVDs over the years, it’s to always have your remote control handy when watching them, as the volume will constantly need adjusting as it alternates between too soft and too loud. DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year is no different, although it’s still a serviceable audio track, with dialogue and audio never overpowering each other. As an aside, I’m not sure if this was because my disc was faulty or because my player was acting up, but the audio and animation seemed to not quite be syncing correctly at certain points. Still, since it could’ve just been my laptop, I won’t lower the score by much for that. French and Spanish language tracks are also included.


Final Cut:

I love these characters, and while DC Superhero Girls: Hero of the Year might not exactly be a “home run” per se, it’s still breezy fun that should easily get top marks from its target audience. The high school setting–which could’ve been terrible if handled the wrong way–actually works for the most part, and heck, by the end of it, I even kinda liked “nice girl” Poison Ivy. It is unfortunate that more extras aren’t included (from what I’ve heard, there are several shorts that aren’t featured here), but children are unlikely to mind, and the disc’s visuals and audio are decent if not nothing to write home about. I’m not sure if this franchise will have staying power or not, but going by toy sales, it seems as though DC will keep it going for at least a while (the movie’s ending is already teasing another sequel). And given how little female superheroes have taken center stage in the past, that’s more than fine with me.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?