My notes on the animated film.
Batman Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)
After Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil darkened the knight in the early 1970s, trying to purge the comics of camp, the 1966 Batman TV series – a huge pop culture phenomenon – went deeply out of favour with bat-fans and –creators (except Joel Schumacher, which didn’t help). However, there has recently been an effort to reclaim it as part of DC’s Batman legacy, from nods in the sweet-natured Batman The Brave and the Bold animated series through to an excellent Batman ’66 comic book series and, of course, the long-awaited BluRay release of the series after rights quirks between Fox (who made the show) and Warners (who own the Bat franchise) were sorted out.
Here’s the most sustained attempt at bringing the style back – an animated feature in the style of the show (and, visually, taking cues from the Batman ’66 artwork) with Adam West and Burt Ward back as Batman and Robin/Bruce and Dick (who have done other animated voice-over work as the characters over the years, and been in the odd likes of Legends of the Superheroes and Return to the Batcave) and Julie Newmar voicing Catwoman (with others trying to match the performances of Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, etc). It’s an enterprise which has had a lot of thought put into it – the opening credits riff on the comic covers which introduced all the featured characters and the beginning of the old TV show, a TV hostess Bruce likes is called Miranda (after a novelty record West cut in the ‘60s), there are accessible in-jokes (like Batman sneering at the notion he and Catwoman could have a happy ending in a café in Europe, or a camera in a TV studio tilting on one side as a fight scene starts) and more abstruse ones (a temporarily authoritarian Bad Batman quoting Frank Miller dialogue, the sound effect SPRANG!). However, screenwriters Michael Jelenic and James Tucker don’t really match the writing style of the old show that well (they don’t use the distinctive William Dozier narration) and West and Ward seem to coast a bit, bringing less to this prestige project than to disposable TV cartoons over the years. Newmar, however, gives it the same %100 she’s given everything she’s done in her career.
The plot is a mish-mash of several premises and excuses for set-pieces: a four villain team-up, a sequence in space including a zero-gravity fight, a drugged Batman going authoritarian and duplicating himself, an army of non-speaking TV show villains like Egghead, Shame and King Tut (the Siren also appears – though the makers seem to have forgotten that Joan Collins is still alive), a weak TV dinner-themed death trap sequence (‘the lemon tart … is acidic …). Given the potential of the medium, this feels unambitious – the trip into space aside, an opportunity is missed to take the pop art look to surreal extremes. There are incidental felicities – give the chance to steal Gotham’s greatest treasures, the Riddler and the Penguin snatch valuable artefacts but the Joker just takes a horrible cheap clown painting. The animators clearly wake up when given a chance to outdo Tex Avery’s sexpots in bringing a lithe Newmar to life. I assume the UK 12 certificate is wholly due to Catwoman’s animated jiggling bottom as she does the Batusi under the end titles – unless it’s for the very very closeted gay joke with Aunt Harriet snooping about in the hope of uncovering Bruce and Dick’s big secret or the suggestion that a hit-on-the-head Batman might contemplate a four-way with three different Catwomen (Newmar is joined briefly by animated Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt versions of the character). Directed by Rick Morales.
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