Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
I liked it! It’s fun! Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is my new favorite original DC animated movie, because it kept my interest throughout.
In case you missed seeing the trailer, this feature-length cartoon is set in the “Batman ’66” world, based on the TV show, with the original voices of Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, and Julie Newmar as Catwoman.
This film is, as is typical of those in the past, 80 minutes or so long, but it kept going in unexpected directions and providing amusing new visuals. Things that seem thrown in just because turn out to mean more later on. About halfway through, the plot takes a ridiculous but oddly scary turn with a pairing of unusual allies. As written by Michael Jelenic & James Tucker, the different plots make the movie feel like a mini-marathon of episodes, and I liked the way it all came back together. I couldn’t help seeing some of the events as a comment on how wrong some takes on Batman have been over the years.
The opening credits nicely evoke both classic comic covers and the original cartoon-style credits — although these are actually animated with movement and such.
It’s so great to hear the familiar voices. Sure, they sound older, but heck, so am I. And the new voices hit the key points, too. The Joker (Jeff Bergman) has the giggle down. The Penguin (William Salvers) has the wac-wacs. The Riddler (Wally Wingert) has the demented laugh. We even see Aunt Harriet (Lynne Marie Stewart)!
The movie opens with Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson settling down to watch “Gotham Palace”, “everyone’s favorite variety show”. “Even crime fighters need mindless entertainment sometimes,” says Bruce. However, a quiet evening at home is not to be. The four big Bat-villains — the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman — have teamed up for a nefarious scheme.
As you might guess, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is full of kitsch, both from the original TV show — as when they climb the walls by walking sideways — and the culture of the period — including TV dinners and a mod club with dancers in cages.
The movie fetishizes the details, with extra-long glamour shots of the Batmobile, and the world’s longest driveway out of the Batcave (with echoes of Get Smart).
Still, I loved the many nods and homages. For instance, when Batman faces off with the bad guys and gets hit in the head, he temporarily sees three Catwomen —- inspired by the different actresses who played her.
The original show was talky, because action was expensive and difficult, but here, they have the opposite problem. Getting the limited animation to match up to the dialogue is what’s tricky.
Likenesses are great, but the movement is jerky. And because no one has to pay stuntmen, there are more fights, and those involve the villains themselves instead of henchmen.
Stick around for the credits to see the Batusi done over a jazzy version of the TV show theme.
“Those Dastardly Desperados” (10 minutes) covers the villains, including clips from the voice cast and panels from the Batman ’66 comic. It’s surprisingly interesting.
“A Classic Cadre of Voices” (10 min) elaborates on the voice work and building the right tone for the characters and material. Weirdly, I never saw casting director Wes Gleason identified on screen when he talks, but good for him getting all these folks together.
Also included are sneak peeks for Batman vs. Robin and Son of Batman (10 minutes each). The disc starts up with a trailer for the Suicide Squad movie, which, like these promos, is a mismatch in tone and audience appeal. That’s the biggest problem with liking this movie — I can rewatch the TV show, but I wish there was more new product with the same light-hearted appeal.
That’s why I’m excited to hear a sequel is on the way, with Two-Face played by William Shatner. (The studio provided a review copy.)