Saturday, May 4, 2019

Stubs - Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) Starring the voices of Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Steven Weber, Thomas Lennon, Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert Directed by Rick Morales Produced by Michael Jelenic Runtime: 78 minutes USA Color Animated, Superhero

You hear all the time about actors being typecast in a particular role. Adam West will forever be associated with his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman on the Batman TV series from the 1960s. While the actor is hardly what we think of as Batman now, he was, for an entire generation, the only Batman there was.

Burt Ward, who played the sidekick, was also typecast. It’s hard, if not impossible, to think of anything he’s done before or since, save appearances at conventions. I do remember looking for a condo at one time and one development used Ward’s residency, and his role as Robin, as a selling point. That’s how closely associated he is to that character.

The series also had a unique twice-weekly format, where the Caped Crusader would be left in harm’s way one night and you’d have to wait until the next to see if he managed to escape, which, of course, you knew he would. “Same Bat time, same Bat channel.”

Unlike portrayals of Batman from Michael Keaton to Ben Affleck, the 1960s version was made for comedy and camp rather than drama. Batman wasn’t an overwhelming brute, but bordering on pudgy. His outfit was colorful, almost effeminate, and his side-kick, running around in bright colors, would surely have made crooks laugh more than cower.

Well, if you’ve missed the good old days, Warner Bros heard you and revived the old series in a new way. Since it had been 50 years since the TV show's run, and even Batman ages, doing a live-action film using the original actors, those that are still alive that is, would have been impossible. So, they brought back the surviving cast members: West, Ward, and Julie Newmar, as Catwoman, back in animated form.

Premiering at New York Comic-Con in 2016, the intended for direct-to-video release had a one-day theatrical release on October 10, 2016, though it is really meant for the little screen.

The hostess of Gotham Palace, Miranda Monroe (Sirena Irwin).

The film has a TV series feel to it, starting with the narration by Jeff Bergman, mimicking that originally done by William Dozier, the series creator. The story opens with Bruce Wayne (West) and his ward Dick Grayson (Ward) watching their favorite show, a variety hour a la Hollywood Palace called, what else, Gotham Palace. A Marilyn Monroe-type host, Miranda Monroe (Sirena Irwin), introduces the latest pop band, which turns out to be four of Batman’s greatest villains in disguise, at least per the TV show, Joker (Bergman) originally acted by Cesar Romero; Riddler (Wally Wingert) originally acted by Frank Gorshin; Penguin (William Salyers) originally acted by Burgess Meredith; and Catwoman (Newmar), the only villain to play herself.

Riddler (Wally Wingert), Penguin (William Salyers), Joker (Jeff Bergman)
and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) surprise the audience.

The villains, of course, capture the crowd of mostly young people and Riddler leaves a date as a clue for Batman and Robin to interpret. Down at police headquarters with Commissioner Gordon (Jim Ward) originally acted by Neil Hamilton; and Chief Miles Clancy O'Hara (Thomas Lennon) originally acted by Stafford Repp, Batman and Robin take the date and determine from that it was referring to a shipment of prize-winning Goose Eggs, which means they stand for nothing, which means the villains are going to attack the Acme Atomic Energy Laboratory where the Replication Ray has been invented by Dr. Nichols. The Replication Ray has the power to make a perfect duplicate out of anything.

Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Bruce Ward) figure out the clue while
Chief Miles Clancy O'Hara (Thomas Lennon) and Commissioner Gordon
(Jim Ward) look on haplessly.

Of course, Batman and Robin arrive on the scene to thwart the villains and there is a brief fight between them and the villains and their costume-wearing minions.

Batman chases the villains through the streets of Gotham City.

But, in the end, the criminals get away with the ray and, of course, leave behind another clue as to their hideout, a piece of foil. There is a brief chase, but Riddler uses the gun to replicate the potholes in the road and prevent the Batmobile from following them.

The foil is analyzed in the Batcave.

Back at the Batcave, the foil is analyzed and there is a trace of gravy found on the piece. This, of course, points to an abandoned TV Dinner factory, which is even labeled as such.

Batman and Robin gain entrance to the factory by scaling the outside wall.

Meanwhile, back at the factory, the villains discuss their plans on how to use the Replication Ray. Catwoman reveals her plan to bring Batman to their side by scratching in his skin a substance she calls “Batnip”. Once Batman and Robin enter the factory, after climbing up the outside of the building, another fight ensues. The Dynamic Duo are defeated and placed in a huge foil TV dinner tray on a conveyor belt headed to a giant oven. (Logic goes out the window here as it doesn’t make sense why a frozen food plant would also have a giant oven.) Catwoman scratches Batman’s face but he apparently has too much moral fortitude to fall victim to its effects. Resigned to her failure, she flees with the other villains as the food tray rolls slowly to the oven.

Catwoman tries to change Batman before he and Robin are rolled into a giant oven.

But leaving the Dynamic Duo alone turns out to be a mistake (again) as Batman and Robin manage to free themselves in the nick of time.

Batman always finds a way to escape.

But back at Wayne Manor, Bruce starts to show effects from the Batnip. He becomes more aggressive in his conduct. When Dick’s nosey Aunt Harriet Cooper (Lynne Marie Stewart) originally played by Madge Blake, enters Bruce’s private den, Alfred (Steven Weber), Bruce’s long-time manservant, is fired on the spot and is forced to wander on skid row picking through trash to survive.

Alfred (Steven Weber) is fired when Aunt Harriet wanders into Bruce's private den.

After days of not finding Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman in Gotham, Batman figures out that the four crooks are no longer on Earth and have hijacked a space station. The two heroes go into space with the help of the Bat-Rocket which launches from the Batcave.

Batman and Robin go into space to track down the villains.

At the space station, the other villains turn out Catwoman, due to her affection for Batman, and set her adrift in space. She is rescued by Batman, who has just arrived. With her help, they defeat the other three and recover the Replication Ray. However, Catwoman manages to escape in an escape pod.

Always good to know where the Gravity Setting is when you're in a space station.

Back home, Dick tells Bruce of his concerns about how he behaved in space and at the Gotham police station, where he left Robin without a ride home. Bruce summarily kicks Dick out of the house and takes a break from being Batman, resulting in a crime wave in Gotham City.

Batman creates his own clones to take over running the police.

Batman shows up at Police Headquarters and gives the Commissioner and Chief a hard time for them not doing their duty and the rise in crime. He then uses the Replication Ray to make copies of himself and replaces them. But Batman doesn’t stop there. He replaces judges and other city officials with his replicas and has plans to take over the world.

Batman replaces the Mayor of Gotham City. Luckily, the nameplate was already made.

Dick, living on his own, realizes that the Batnip has had a delayed reaction. Dressed as Robin, he goes to visit Catwoman to elicit her help. She agrees that the Batnip has had more of an effect on Batman than she intended and agrees to help.

On the way to the Batcave, Robin puts Catwoman to sleep.

The two take the Catmobile to the Batcave, with Robin driving and putting Catwoman to sleep so she doesn’t know how to get there. Inside the Batcave, they are confronted by Batman and she tries to give him the antidote, but, of course, Batman had anticipated this and had taken the Bat Anti-Antidote. He defeats them in battle and leaves them to die, being lowered into a nuclear reactor inside the Batcave. When he leaves, the two survive the blast thanks to Robin having anticipated this happening and sprayed them both with Bat Anti-Isotope Spray.

When Catwoman and Robin confront Batman he tries to kill them.

Knowing they would need an Army to defeat Batman, Robin and Catwoman go disguised as prison inspectors to Gotham State Penitentiary. There they help a rogue’s gallery of Batman villains to escape, including Archer, Black Widow, Bookworm, Clock King, Egghead, False Face, King Tut, Louie the Lilac, Mad Hatter, Minstrel, Mr. Freeze, Sandman, Shame and Siren. The only prisoners they leave are Joker, Riddler and the Penguin. However, the three of them turn into a pile of dust in front of the prison guard’s eyes.

Miranda gets replaced as the host of Gotham Palace.

The confrontation takes place on the set of Gotham Palace, where Batman has, of course, replaced Miranda Monroe as the host. In the fight, Catwoman, Robin and their band of criminals lose to the Batmen. Batman plans to kill both Robin and Catwoman but before he can, a disguised Alfred arrives with antidote strong enough to counter the Bat Anti-Antidote. Batman quickly returns to normal and tells Robin that this was the predetermined course of action that he and Alfred had pre-arranged should this sort of thing ever happen. The Batman clones try to fight but one by one they all turn to dust since that is the fate of the replicas.

Batman realizes that his behavior has been used by the Joker, Penguin, and Riddler as a distraction and that the ones arrested were also fakes. The real villains are robbing the Gotham Art Museum. Batman, Robin, and Catwoman catch up to them on the Penguin’s blimp. There the villainous trio is defeated and each fall from the blimp into easy custody of the police.

Catwoman plans her escape with the artwork.

Catwoman, true to her villainous ways, tries to steal the paintings and escape, but Batman thwarts her. Unwilling to be put back into a cage, she lets herself drop into a smokestack.

Nosey Aunt Harriett (Lynne Marie Stewart).

Later, Bruce and Robin throw a birthday party for Aunt Harriet and are called away by the Bat signal.

The film has the feel of an episode of the original series but it also takes that a step or two further, the upside of animation over live-action. There are not the same constraints on an animated retelling such as sets. I don’t recall the original series going into space but I certainly don’t remember them all nor do I care to relive that part of my life. There are very few TV shows that I would want to reinvest the time to watch again. While I remember enjoying the series as a kid, I don’t think I would feel the same now as an adult.

That is not to say that it wasn’t fun to step back, as it were, to those days through this feature. It is a good, though illogical, time to be had. The film takes everything about the series and sort of amplifies them. All of the hard to figure out clues, all of Robin’s excited alliterations, and all of the anticipations by Batman that were hallmarks of the original series get their due and then some here. There is even a passing reference to the two other actresses who played Catwoman in the series, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt.

Batman briefly sees three Catwomen, an homage to the other actresses who played the role on the show.

The clues seem even more tenuous than normal. I saw it but I’m not 100% sure how you go from a date regarding Goose Egg deliveries to Replication Ray, but they do in only a way that Batman can. Overall, though, I think the script does a pretty good job of telling the story in the same way the series would have, even though there is no break in between. I’m guessing this is more in line with Season 3 when they abandoned the two-night a week programming.

The voice acting is pretty good as well. While West, Ward, and Newmar seem to pick up where they left off 50 years ago, the new voice actors do very passable takes on their characters. While not 100 percent the same, they are more than close enough and capture what is most memorable about the original actors’ deliveries.

The Batmobile gets loving attention in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.

The animation also does a very good job at capturing what was the essence of the show from the Batmobile to Wayne Manor to the Batcave with loyal details. There are even the comic book sound effects that the series used for almost comic relief during the fight scenes. (Is Smok even a word?) Also, the color palette seems to match that of the 60s series with its bright colorful costumes that are true to the original series. They seem even more vivid, which I assume has more to do with modern TVs rather than the cathode ray tubes of my youth.

Can't leave out the comic book sound effects, used in the 1960s series and here as well.
If you’re like me and you don’t want to rewatch the original but wouldn’t mind spending some time back in the nostalgic past, then Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a perfect reminder of the good and the bad of that time. The show, if nothing else, was supposed to be fun, something that more modern takes on the Caped Crusader oftentimes sadly lack.

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