Led as always by Superman (voiced by Peter Jessop), Batman (Diedrich Bader) and Wonder Woman (Grey Griffin), the Justice League foil the latest attempt by Lex Luthor (Fred Tatasciore) to take over the world alongside the Legion of Doom, leaving him stranded in the Arctic. Meanwhile in the 31st Century teenage superheroes-in-training Dawnstar (Laura Bailey) and Karate Kid (Dante Basco) visit a museum dedicated to the exploits of the JLA only to inadvertently let a cryogenically frozen Luthor loose upon their future utopia. Luthor immediately allies harnesses the time-travelling powers of a powerful entity known as the Time Trapper (Corey Burton) to enact an evil scheme to destroy his nemesis Superman. It falls to Dawnstar and Karate Kid to leap back to the twenty-first century and somehow convince a sceptical Justice League to stop Luthor before all their futures are destroyed.
At fifty-two minutes JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time is barely feature length. Indeed its cheerfully one-dimensional good guys vs. bad guys punch-up plot plays more like the pilot for an ongoing television series. Generally dismissed as one of the weaker DC animated films it lacks the sophistication of the much loved Justice League TV show from back in the early 2000s but is not without its charms, coming across like a throwback to the Silver Age antics of the Super Friends cartoon show.
Aside from the odd, unappealingly angular character design (Superman and The Flash both look a little off) the animation supervised by veteran Giancarlo Volpe (who worked on such acclaimed shows as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star vs. the Forces of Evil) is pretty decent. Plus the plot goes beyond the obvious iconic DC characters to cram in a lot of cult favourites. Nevertheless characterization proves an issue. Voiced by Dante Basco, formerly Rufio in Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991), Val Armorr a.k.a. Karate Kid (DC beat Ralph Macchio to the punch by almost two decades) sorely strains the patience of both poor, long-suffering Dawnstar and the viewers with his relentlessly abrasive attitude. But at least Val has a successful character arc. Contrast that with this film's infuriating incarnation of Robin (Jack DeSena). Seemingly modelled on the current comics incarnation of the character (Damian Wayne) but skewing perilously close to Chris O'Donnell's similarly annoying live action version (in terms of personality, not design) the film presents us with a Robin defined primarily by a childish need to constantly prove himself and outdo every other hero on the scene. Including Batman. A need the plot ends up inexplicably validating. During the obligatory misunderstanding leads to the superheroes fighting scene, Robin punches a pleading Dawnstar multiple times in the face. Then upon learning she is a good guy never apologizes. What the hell kind of lesson does that teach kids?
In terms of its humour Michael Ryan's screenplay is similarly hit and miss. Some nice character based gags (Solomon Grundy (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Bizarro (Michael David Donovan) prove an amusing dim-witted double act) sit awkwardly alongside misfires such as Karate Kid and Dawnstar's encounter with a borderline offensively caricatured Indian cab driver. The plot, while often absurd (as when a poorly-disguised Cheetah (Erica Luttrell) and Grundy trick Ma and Pa Kent into handing over baby Superman), is nonetheless quite snappy and inventive. Plus the brief run-time means the film never gets bogged down in laborious back-story or side-plot shenanigans unlike the live action DC movies. Ryan's plot resolves itself with a level of convoluted ingenuity that, in evoking the hoariest of Silver Age comic tropes, is actually quite charming. It ends with a setup for a direct sequel that never came although there were plenty more Justice League cartoons.