The short answer is obviously as a straight-to-video production, a simple diversion for younger fans of DC Comics’ iconic superheroes. And while that’s true, I can’t quite figure out where this idea came from. This 52-minute feature is a stand-alone production, even if its title suggests a whole series. Granted, it ends with a sequel hook befitting the style of that title. But, this seems more like a failed pilot for a TV show.
If you watch, it becomes clear that Trapped in Time has lower ambitions than other DC animated productions. Much of it is presented in broad strokes, in particular plot points meant to be more exciting than complex. The basic setup is the black-and-white dynamic of a team of superheroes fighting a team of super villains – the Justice League versus the Legion of Doom, the exact same setup as the 1978 cartoon series Challenge of the Superfriends.
But what’s more, this movie shares the same premise as one particular episode of this show. Lex Luthor comes across a time traveling device and ends up using it to alter history so the Kents never find baby Superman. The Legion of Doom does the same thing in “Secret Origins of the Superfriends”, Challenge’s eighth installment.
In many ways, Trapped in Time seems like a throwback to the Superfriends cartoons of yore. If you try and compare it to the standard modern animated DC fare, yes it does seem like a lesser, safer production. But if you actually compare it to the much older cartoons, significant differences do come up. I recall “Secret Origins of the Superfriends” also crammed in Wonder Woman and Green Lantern along with Superman, and even then the Justice League was merely inconvenienced. Here, the Justice League ceases to exist just because Superman does. And on top of that, all of existence is threatened because two heroes from the future’s Legion of Superheroes tried to create a paradox. There are higher stakes here than in the Superfriends show. And because of its quicker pace, there are more twists and turns, including the afore-mentioned paradox.
The point I am trying to make is, there is only so much a 2014 animation team can do to emulate a 1978 cartoon. And yet, Trapped in Time still feels like a lighter, more kid-friendly production. It was meant as a counterpoint to stand out from the style the Batman animated series influenced as the standard. There is only brief explanation for each plot point, but nothing particularly complex.
While I can see merit in making a series of DVDs from this, I can’t help but think this would work better as a TV series. This would provide middle ground between the likes of the Adult Swim-bound Beware the Batman and the straight-up Nickelodeon antics of Teen Titans Go! If this were a show, I think it could nudge the DC cartoons in the right direction, potentially reversing the damage the more serious shows have taken as of late.