Description: When young Damian Wayne finds himself alone in Wayne Manor on Christmas Eve, he must transform into “Little Batman” in order to defend his home and Gotham City from the crooks and supervillains intent on destroying the holidays.
Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and based on characters from DC, Merry Little Batman features the voices of Yonas Kibreab, Luke Wilson, James Cromwell, and David Hornsby, and is directed by Mike Roth (Regular Show) from a screenplay by Morgan Evans (Teen Titans Go!) and Jase Ricci (Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham). Roth also serves as executive producer, alongside Sam Register (Looney Tunes Cartoons).
By James Harvey
A total treat for Batman and animation fans, Merry Little Batman is a fantastic festive jaunt that also surprisingly doubles as the best DC Comics-based animated movie of the year. With its delightful characters, adorable and quirky humor, and striking visual style, not to mention the top-shelf animation quality, Merry Little Batman is a heartfelt romp that offers up a fun, all-ages spin on the Bat-mythos. A jolly time awaits those willing to join Damian Wayne for the holidays!
Merry Little Batman finds a young Damian Wayne home alone at Wayne Manor on Christmas Eve after Batman is called away on a mission by the Justice League. Though when crooks bent on disrupting the holidays descend on both the manor and Gotham City, stealing Damian’s new Bat-belt in the process, Bruce Wayne’s son must transform into “Little Batman” in order to save the season!
As usual, spoilers will be kept as light as possible.
Standing out with its Ron Searle-inspired visual style, Merry Little Batman immediately sets itself up as something quite different compared to most animated projects based around the Dark Knight. There’s still a good amount of fisticuffs to be found, fret not, but it’s admittedly endearing to watch Damian learn what it truly means to wear the fabled cape and cowl as he rushes to rescue the holiday season. Sweet-natured with a whimsical tone, Merry Little Batman looks something akin to a Little Golden Book title thanks to its storybook-esque art style and predominantly light-hearted approach.
Director Mike Roth spins one of Batman’s most unique holiday adventures to date, written by Morgan Evans and Jase Ricci, aimed primarily at a younger audience but still peppering in plenty of humor and gags for the adults in the room. Damian’s adventures offer comedic hijinks-a-plenty, but the film also gives ample room for Bruce Wayne’s exploits as he gets the chance to discover how he can truly be a better parent to his little crimefighter-in-training. That can be a tricky thing to balance, but the creators here make it look easy.
Arguably the most engaging aspect of Merry Little Batman is the dazzling animation and character design work. Merry Little Batman nearly pops off the screen thanks to its exuberant 2D animation, which blends together thick linework and watercolor texture to create this exaggerated-yet-still-kinda gritty look. The animation itself is incredibly slick and fluid, save for the odd blip, giving a dynamic quality to everything, from the quietest moment to the biggest set piece (I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this is unlike any other Bat-movie out there, in a super-good way).
The design work here is somehow both legitimately adorable and, at times, hilariously ghastly. One of the movie’s biggest laughs comes from Bruce Wayne lifting up his shirt to show the grotesque scars from his adventures as Batman, and it looks just so hilariously nightmarish and absurd. And that notion of absurdity bleeds to every other character design here, and it actually really helps to bring out the personality of every character in the cast. Bodies are stretched and flattened into ridiculous shapes, and it all works so well for the overall look and tone Merry Little Batman is trying to capture.
There’s an incredible segment where Damian Wayne, realizing the situation he’s in and how overwhelming it’s becoming, essentially has a panic attack. During this, all the color evaporates from the screen, leaving behind stark black and white line-work. It’s intentionally jarring and immensely effective, immediately putting the audience in Damian’s shoes and making the stakes and danger feel tangibly real. Merry Little Batman is peppered with great visually-driven moments like this, and it’s a testament to the film’s smart and creative design work.
When it comes to the film’s plot, Merry Little Batman basically takes the premise to the Home Alone films and bends it in a very Gotham City-kinda way. It’s not just robbers that break into Wayne Manor, but robbers who work for The Joker, for example. It’s a pretty basic set-up, sure, but it allows the film’s writers space to pack in some smart character work, especially on Batman himself. It’s a pretty brilliant take on Batman here who, though still driven as ever by the murder of his parents, ends up a helicopter parent determined to make sure his son doesn’t go through the same trauma.
Naturally, Damian doesn’t quite agree with Batman’s parenting style. He’s determined to be a superhero, just like his dad, and wants to prove he’s ready to join the fight. This eventually leads to a little breakdown between the two, with Merry Little Batman giving ample time to both character’s respective journeys as they learn to reconnect on common ground. It’s a pretty adorable and relatable story that just so happens to play out a comically warped version of Gotham City and one of the world’s greatest heroes.
On top of the script’s fun premise and legitimately strong character work, Merry Little Batman is also jam-packed with clever gags and hilarious dialogue and one-liners (“I don’t need some trip to Nova Scotia!”), along with a plethora of references to assorted Bat-projects of days past. Even with the odd (and expected) corny line, the movie’s still wall-to-wall entertainment that’ll have folks laughing well into the end credits.
Bringing the script to life is Merry Little Batman‘s stellar voice cast, led by Luke Wilson as Batman. Whether he’s in full Batman mode or in full overbearing dad mode, Wilson is surprisingly pitch-perfect here, bringing a warmth to the Dark Knight while making him the intimidating force of justice we all know when the script calls for it. Wilson bounces perfectly off Yonas Kibreab, who plays Damian. Kibreab is a ball of energy, and brings just that to the role, as well as giving the film its heart. Amazingly, for a character that could quickly become grating, Damian here comes off as mischievous but still good natured, making it easy to track and get invested with his arc.
Legendary actor James Cromwell is also fantastic as the constantly put-upon Alfred Pennyworth, well-deserving of a nod. The same goes for David Hornsby, who absolutely brings down the house as The Joker, and proves a slick casting choice. Other notable shout-outs include Dolph Adomian giving us a hysterical Arnold Schwarzenegger impression as Mr. Freeze, along with Therese McLaughlin and Chris Sullivan busting some guts as Poison Ivy and Bane.
Also deserving of a nod is the pitch-perfect score work by Patrick Stump. Mixing in orchestral work with a bevy of holiday tunes, including a few unexpected choices, Stump perfectly adds just the right musical touch to this awesome holiday adventure. From top to bottom, it’s almost shocking just how right every little aspect of this movie feels, from every single member of the cast and crew to how the end product looks. Yeah, it’s just that good, no hyperbole.
Bolstered by the fantastic efforts of the cast and crew, along with its eye-popping visual style and peppy story, Merry Little Batman is a fun and captivating watch. By mashing together the Bat-mythos with the usual tropes we’ve come to expect from most holiday movies, Merry Little Batman ends up as something truly special. It’s perfect holiday viewing for all ages and is unquestionably the best DC Comics-based animated movie of the year. A whimsical adventure bound to put a smile on anyone’s face, Bat-fan or no, Merry Little Batman is must-see holiday viewing. Don’t Miss It!
“Merry Little Batman – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”
Available from WaterTower Music
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