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Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: October 11th, 2016 - Digital; November 1st, 2016 - Blu-ray, DVD

Synopsis: Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment take Batman fans on a journey into the iconic past with the full-length animated Batman feature film – Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. It’s back to the 1960s as Batman and Robin spring into action when Gotham City is threatened by a quartet of Batman’s most fiendish foes – Penguin, The Joker, Riddler and Catwoman. The four Super-Villains have combined their wicked talents to hatch a plot so nefarious that the Dynamic Duo will need to go to outer space (and back) to foil their arch enemies and restore order in Gotham City. It’s a truly fantastic adventure that will pit good against evil, good against good, evil against evil … and feature two words that exponentially raise the stakes for both sides: Replicator Ray. Holy Multiplication Tables!

Rick Morales (LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes – Justice League: Cosmic Clash) directs from a script by Michael Jelenic (Teen Titans Go!) and James Tucker (Justice League vs. Teen Titans). Tucker and Jelenic also serve as Supervising Producer and Producer, respectively, on the film. Sam Register is Executive Producer. Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan are Executive Producers.



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Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Feature Review
By James Harvey

A continuation of the 1960s live-action Batman series, the Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders animated movie is an unabashedly fun time and a celebration of the beloved original TV series that's also way more insightful and smarter than it has any right to be. While it playfully continues the adventures of Batman and Robin in the universe established in the classic Batman TV series, it also serves as a commentary to how Batman has changed over the years, particularly how much darker the character has become. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders brings back all the camp and humor from the original series and updated it with a healthy dose of meta, self-aware humor that fans should really dig.

Confident right out of the gate, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders firmly sets itself up with the classic- set-up we all know and love - the opening act basically plays out like a standard Batman episode, and then takes more than a few twists and turns and does something completely different and genuinely surprising. And boy, the chances the creative team take here work out in spades. Their clear love of the source material is apparent in every moment, every bit of dialogue and every gag. And while something like that could so easily backfire, the creative team absolutely nails it. Every joke, every bit of commentary, every action, all of it works out so perfectly. Never once does this movie feel like an imitation of its source material, but rather a continuation of it (or, at the very least, a love letter to the Batman that countless fans grew up with).

It's a testament to the strength of the original Batman series that, even after it's 120-episode run, there's still so much that can be done with it. And given that, fifty years later, there can still be some surprises wrung out of the property shows there's legitimate staying power to it. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders doesn't even miss a beat, nor does any of it feel forced or like some pale imitation. And given the time that's passed since the series first aired, using this animated movie to comment on what's transpired since it left the airwaves in 1968 is a no-brainer.

Before this review continues any further, please note there are spoilers, so proceed with caution. After the film sets itself up in the first act, things positively go off the rails in the most insanest ways possible. After our villains steal a ray capable of duplicating matter, they head off into space, eventually tracked down by Batman and Robin in an abandoned space station. However, Batman is acting a little differently. After being drugged by Catwoman via a small scratch to the face, he seems to be acting just a shade more serious and just a little more violent. Quickly, after vanquishing his foes and sending them off to prison, Batman decides that one of him just isn't enough and proceeds to start using the aforementioned duplicating ray to make an army of Batman in order to take over Gotham. And, folks, it still gets crazier.

Among all this craziness, the film never forgets to pay homage to its roots. In fact, this film is full of all the homages you'd expect, such use of Dutch angles, dancing, Robin's countless "Holy" exclamations (including what could easily be the best one of all time), the multiple actresses who played Catwoman, the hilarious gadgets, the terrible police department, and that's just a smidgen. The film even includes our heroes walking up the side of a building (twice, no less), though the lack of a cameo is a bit of a surprise. These little touches are peppered in at just the right amount so, when the movie really takes off and does it's own thing, it all feels right. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders takes a few chances in that regard, especially as it essentially turns our beloved Caped Crusader into a bad guy, but it all works because of the care put in by the creative team to make sure everything works within the world established by the old TV series (plus the nods and homages to Batman's history in comics, film and more - including a nice subtle nod to Batman: The Brave and The Bold - are fantastic). Instead of just rigidly sticking to the established formula, they take some daring chances that pay off in big ways.

The script by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker hits all the right notes. It reintroduces the world created in the 1960s live-action series and then takes it in some considerably interesting new places, places we'd never get to see on the Batman series. Much like the Batman '66 comic series, it takes advantage of the format to do things the show could never do, but not once does anything ever feel out of place or unnatural. Within the context of the 1960s series, everything makes sense. Rick Morales does admirable work directing the feature, making sure to hit the right visual cues and recreate some of the source material's original flourishes. The animation sometimes seems a little stiff on occasion, but overall it looks solid. There's a few moments of nicely done subtle character animation, such as the slight changes to Bruce's behavior and looks when Catwoman's drug starts to take hold. It would've been nice for the budget on this title to be a little higher to get that kind of quality from start to finish, but what we get here with the finished product works. The film's color design could've used some more bright, pastel colors, but, all in all, everything looks pretty great.

The voice acting is top-notch across the board, with everyone really giving it their all. Honestly, it is a little jarring at first to hear Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar back in the roles (as Batman, Robin and Catwoman, respectively) and sounding considerably older than the characters they're voicing, but once they slip back into the rhythm of the dialogue and the film gets going, it's sounds pretty natural. Burt Ward especially stands out as he sounds just remarkably on point and youthful. The rest of the cast, doing their best impressions of the original actors who embodied these roles decades ago, do a stunning job. Wally Wingert is absolutely amazing as The Riddler, hitting every vocal cue you'd expect Frank Gorshin would. The same can be said for Jeff Bergman as The Joker, perfectly recreating Cesar Romero's The Joker to an uncanny degree. William Sayler's take on The Penguin is just as fantastic, with every "Wah! Wah! Wah!" sounding like it came from Burgess Meredith himself. Voice director Wes Gleason did absolutely amazing work bringing this cast together and making sure every single note was hit right on the head.

Once again, the score work done by Dynamic Music Partners deserves a special note. Note only do they nicely recreate the original Batman theme by Neil Hefti, but the film's entire score sounds like their tribute to the jazzy, zippy scores of the old TV series. The score evokes what we remember from the original series and then just does it own thing. Much like the movie itself, it feels like a natural extension of the source material. It's a fun, jazzy score that is just a total credit to the talents at Dynamic Music Partners. It seems like they can pull off just about anything, and boy does it sound so very, very good. The soundtrack release for Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is definitely something fans will want to own.

As solid as this movie is, it does have a couple slight issues. Most notably is the movie's pacing, which causes the film to, at times, feel a bit longer than it should be. The editing is very lax, which does allow the movie to breathe a little, but it could've been tightened up just a shade to give the movie a bit more of a zippier, quicker pace. With each act of the movie topped off with either a death trap or a major fight scene, the movie has a bit of an episodic feel. And while that does mimic the show nicely, it does seem to stretch things out just a little bit. That said, there's just so much going on in this movie, and so many things to keep an eye out for (lest the viewer misses a joke or two), that a times the pacing problems is hardly noticeable because all the jokes, gags and action scenes are just hitting so hard.

Aside from that, there are just a couple minor notes. One, it's a shame there's no narration akin to the live-action series, as it was a bit jarring to see establishing shots and scene transitions with nary a peep. The font used for the visual sound effects - the familiar BIFF! BAM! and KAPOW! effects which blasted across the screen during fight scenes - were noticeably different, but honestly, at this point, any complaints at this point are merely nitpicks. I assume most of these changes are due to any legal or rights issues, resulting in the necessary tweaks. None of that, however, takes away from the movie. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a little bit of a victim of its own success. It gets so much right that any slight changes or tweaks just stand right out, but none of that ends up taking away from just how fantastic this movie is.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a fun ride from start to finish, full of great moments, smart commentary and genuine laughs. Viewers will undoubtedly find themselves grinning ear to ear for the entire running time. While the film's pacing could be a little tighter, the film does manage to keep the multiple plot lines moving along at a solid pace, with any slow moments usually overshadowed by the humor and witty dialogue. This movie is also a testament to the malleability of the character of Batman. As long as the creative team gets the core themes of the Caped Crusader down, he can be shaped and molded to fit nearly any vision. Be it bright, colorful adventures or dark, brooding dramas, Batman can basically do it all. Out of all the Batman live-action and animated projects that have been released this year, this one is easily the best. It offers so much, says so much, and doesn't forget to have lots of fun. Now, there have been some solid Batman projects this year definitely, but this one just surpasses them. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is the real deal, and one that fans simply can't miss. Highly Recommended to Own!

[ Continue on to the Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Home Entertainment Release Review ]

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