Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Director: Rick Morales
Writer: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Producer: Michael Jelenic
Stars: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Jeff Bergman, Sirena Irwin, Thomas Lennon, William Salyers, Lynne Marie Stewart, Jim Ward, Steven Weber, Wally Wingert
Batman and Robin team with an unlikely ally after their greatest adversaries attack Gotham City using a dangerous replica ray.
You don’t need a review to tell you what you need to know about “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.” You only need the first two minutes of the movie. If your face isn’t immediately locked in an ear-to-ear Joker grin upon hearing the plunger-trumpeted warbles of Batman’s familiar theme while animated art recreates classic comic book covers over opening credits, your nostalgia meter is improperly tuned to feel the full effect of the film’s astronomically high fun factor.
It’s still 1960-something in Gotham City. The somewhat-soviet nation of Belgravia and the USA are locked in a contentious space race. Billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is busily encouraging the ballet studies of his teenage ward Dick Grayson. And letterman-jacketed local teens are politely fired up for a performance by Hector and the Hoe-Daddies on everyone’s favorite TV variety show, “Gotham Palace.”
Unfortunately for the studio audience, as well as for the Dynamic Duo, the Hoe-Daddies have been hijacked by none other than the mocking mountebank of malice, the black-hearted bearer of a billion bumbershoots, the prince of perverted puzzles, and the dominatrix of deviltry herself. That’s The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman for anyone unversed in the mouthful metaphors of this Batman and Robin’s characteristically colorful conversations.
It seems these top four fiends of Batman villainy are conspiring to steal an experimental replica ray with which they plan to create a duplicate Earth. That’s not their endgame, however.
Impersonating a mop top Beatles band is only the first step setting in motion a dastardly diabolical scheme featuring all of the signature staples that made the 1966 Batman TV series a charming camp classic. This means plenty of ridiculously oversized setpieces, vertical wall-climbing sequences, impossibly absurd repellent sprays, and of course, bad guys being hit so hard that words describing their impact spontaneously materialize in the air.
“Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” is the antidote for any fan lamenting that live-action Batman movies are too grim, gritty, or dark. For better or for worse, here is the brighter Batman who memorably made his mark on the mainstream with go-go dancing, greasepaint mustaches, and exploding sharks, brought back to life in vibrantly animated fashion.
This is a brilliant format for revisiting that era by having Adam West and Burt Ward take up cape and cowl for an unexpected installment of their series as cartoon versions of heroes who were caricatures to begin with. West and Ward are engaged and energetic for their age, giving as much gusto as they’ve got to the Caped Crusaders in voice-only form as they did onscreen half a century earlier.
Julie Newmar’s Catwoman doesn’t have the same spark of spryness, but what are you going to do? Supporting actors put panache in the presentation required to keep up the pep. Steven Weber’s voice is unrecognizable as Alfred and the men tasked with taking up the mantles of Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin come as close as anyone can in both sound and style.
Animation is also appropriate for the movie’s mood of weird whimsy and sly silliness. Scripting puts a tongue in its cheek without straying far from being smart for what it sets out to do as simultaneous homage and parody. Aunt Harriet’s humorous ‘Ace and Gary’ insinuations are so precisely veiled for instance, you can’t be completely certain if the screenplay is actually going there or not.
I’m not sure how much a scene of Batman admonishing Robin for nearly jaywalking is in keeping with the spirit of the 1966 series versus being a hindsight wink at the show’s relative absurdity. Tone is additionally jostled a bit by a villainous turn for a brainwashed Batman occupying the movie’s back half, coming close to being uncomfortably off balance when he pretties up his foes’ faces with a set of brass Bat-Knuckles.
Brief hiccups are nothing that can’t be squelched by cameos from King Tut and Egghead or several stereotypically spot-on scenes of countdown cliffhangers where our heroes have to outwit a giant TV dinner tray trap or radioactive steam from a nuclear silo. About the only thing stopping “Batman: Return of the Caped the Crusaders” from being a complete retro riot of campy comic entertainment is a “same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel” VO from a disembodied narrator.
Not that we need a reminder to tune in for the “Batman vs. Two-Face” follow-up film. We don’t necessarily need “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” to remind us what made the 1966 series so special either, but I’m certainly glad we have it anyway.
Review Score: 85