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Friday, 11 November 2016

Animation Of The Week: Batman - Return Of The Caped Crusaders (2016)


Like many of a certain age, the 1960s Batman TV series was my first exposure to live-action comic book superhero antics, so I've always had a great, nostalgic, fondness for this particular iteration of the Bat-mythology.

And I've recently, belatedly, discovered the joys of the Batman: The Brave And The Bold animated series, which is clearly intended - on one of its many levels - to serve as a bridge between Batman '66 and the Bronze age of DC Comics.

So, the announcement that Adam West and Burt Ward would be returning to the roles that made them household names, albeit in cartoon form, had me hooked from the first moment I heard it.

However, for the first ten minutes or so of Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders I couldn't help but wonder what I was watching.

Not only did the script, from Michael Jelenic and James Tucker, seem initially quite random and forced, and the animation distractingly rigid, but the most jarring aspect was that although Batman/Bruce Wayne was drawn as a 30-somethng playboy millionaire, when he spoke Adam West's voice sadly sounded so much older.

It was most disconcerting to have a voice that sounded in its 60s or 70s (Adam West is actually in his 80s, I believe), even out of breath on occasion, coming out of Batman's mouth.

However, something strange happened as the 78-minute film got into the meat of its story, when it became clear that the initial "villains playing a game with Batman" set-up (that included a trip into space with a magnificent zero-gravity fight scene) was possibly just a piece of bait-and-switch misdirection.

It was also almost as if the voice actors got more into their characters as the plot got more and more gonzo, thanks to a duplicating ray-gun and an attempt to mind-control Batman, and even this all takes another dramatic turn for the film's final act.

Not bad for such a comparatively short movie!

While I was never sold on the animation, Jelenic and Tucker's script very quickly won me round with its blend of hilariously bad puns, so much innuendo that even perfectly innocent statements sounded like they could have been smutty double entendres, and an Adam West Batman who turns increasingly Frank Miller-like.

Having initially given the impression that the villains' main motivation was simply the thrill of pitting their wits (or lack thereof) against the Dynamic Duo, Return Of The Caped Crusaders evolved into a devilishly devious storyline that was certainly bigger (and darker) than anything that would have been seen in the '60s show... and yet felt like a convincing extension of the established oeuvre.

And I never get tired of endless alliterations, Robin's Holy proclamations ("Holy Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" being a particular stand-out), or simply putting the word "Bat" in front of a device's name to personalise it to The Dark Knight (Bat-ignition and Bat-Anti-Antidote being two of my favourites here).

But where was the voice-over man? The only thing (besides better animation) that Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders really needed to make it complete was the disembodied voice announcing: "Meanwhile, in stately Wayne Manor..."

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