As 2016 becomes ever more horrifying, the demand for the safe, cosiness of nostalgia grows ever more insatiable. Taking a break from propping up the faltering DCEU, Batman joins in the trip down memory lane by making a colourful and light-hearted return to the DCAU, this time reliving his 1960’s heyday.
When Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s favourite TV program is interrupted by The Riddler, The Joker, The Penguin and Catwoman, the dynamic duo waste no time in donning their capes and cowls to Zap! and Kerpow! the bad guys. But when Catwoman manages to scratch Batman with her patented ‘batnip’, she unleashes the worst threat Gotham City has ever faced: Batman himself!
While the cartoon makes a game attempt at recapturing the spirit of the zany sixties TV series, it seems constantly torn between faithfully recreating it and lampooning its campy excess. In a funny way it’s harder for it to reach the giddiness of the TV series because as a cartoon, it’s automatically already halfway there. There’s also a weirdly knowing aspect to the dialogue, a Meta awareness of the series’ own foibles and the wider Bat universe so the film is peppered with in jokes and references including throwing a fair amount of shade directly at the end of “The Dark Knight Rises”. One of the weirdest moments occurs early on where Aunt Harriet glibly implies that she either knows their secret identities or – with an anachronistic casualness – that she knows they’re secretly not into titties (nudge nudge wink wink) but it’s all harmlessly and innocently wrapped up in the end.
Truth be told, Adam West is closer to his “Family Guy” Mayor West persona than authentically recreating his Bruce Wayne but Burt Ward does a reasonable job of delivering Robin’s (still thanklessly exclamatory) lines. Sadly, Julie Newmar’s voice has noticeably changed and her mature tones simply don’t match the slinky, youthful portrayal of her animated counterpart. As for the other trio of villains, the actors playing The Riddler, The Penguin and The Joker don’t even try to recreate the performances of Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith or Cesar Romero, which ends up being disappointingly distracting. It’s not that I was expecting perfect renditions but they could have at least tried.
It’s not quite the bright, breezy caper that “Batman: The Movie” was, its plot feels more like two separate draft ideas jammed together to get the project across the ‘feature length’ finish line and the animation lacks the polish you’d expect from a feature film but there are enough smart jokes and fun moments to make it worth a watch even if it’s not quite the same Bat time or the same Bat channel.