Holy Retro Trip, Batman! | 8 Ways Return of The Caped Crusaders Takes Us Back to The Past
Nov 1, 2016   •   Mikhail Lecaros
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Nov 1, 2016   •   Mikhail Lecaros
By Mikhail Lecaros
Campy, colorful, and unabashedly ridiculous, Batman premiered on US television in 1966 and quickly became a phenomenon. When pop culture historians point to the 60’s as the era of (James) Bond, Batman and The Beatles, they weren’t kidding: twice a week, millions would remember to tune in at the, “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel,” to catch the latest adventures of the titular hero (Adam West, who currently plays a bizarre version of himself on Family Guy) and his sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder (Burt Ward). Together, the Dynamic Duo fought to keep Gotham City safe from a dastardly cadre of villains played by a revolving door of the day’s A-list talent.
With its whimsical palette and camp sensibilities, detractors frequently cite the show as an embarrassment that delayed the recognition of comic books as a legitimate literary art form. What they tend to forget, however, is that if it hadn’t been a success, Batman probably wouldn’t have remained popular long enough for the later, more realistic interpretations to be created at all – Batman creator Bob Kane was once quoted as saying that the show actually saved the character’s comics from cancellation due to declining sales.
At any rate, showrunner William Dozier (who would also serve as the narrator) and writer Lorenzo Semple’s (Three Days of the Condor) decision to combine a razor sharp pop culture sensibility with a classic character proved to be a case of lightning in a bottle, putting Batman in the global spotlight, spawning inordinate amounts of merchandise, and becoming the very definition of a pop culture milestone.
With the 2013 announcement that Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox had finally put aside five decades of differences (ie. figured out how to divide the money), there came a slew of new merchandise based on the old show, including a first-ever home video release of the entire series in fully-remastered HD glory. But nobody could have predicted the next announcement: an actual feature-length animated film based on the classic TV show that would reunite the surviving stars.
The result, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a deliberate return to the halcyon days before the Caped Crusader got angsty, and you know what? Coming after this year’s so-so reception of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the disaster that was The Killing Joke, and yet another sequel to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, this throwback to a simpler Bat-time is the Bat-gift we never knew we needed.
Here are 8 reasons why:
It’s not often you’re able to reunite a cast fifty years after the fact, but apparently, Christmas came early for Bat-fans, as Return of the Caped Crusaders features the fine folks who originated the roles of Batman (West), Robin (Ward), and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) on television reprising their classic characters. Sure, they sound noticeably older, but there’s so much enthusiasm behind their performances that you’ll forgive the disconnect – it would be a crime to imagine anyone else in their places.
One noticeable omission here is the omnipresent narrator (portrayed on the show by producer William Dozier) whose breathless descriptions did wonders in setting the scene back in the day. Aside from a couple of instances here introducing a TV show the characters are watching, the narrator never actually gets to, well, narrate. Too bad, too, as Jeff Bergman (also playing the Joker) does a great job mimicking Dozier’s delivery.
Curiously, while Batman, Robin, and the villains are clearly patterned after the actors who originally portrayed them, supporting characters like Alfred and Commissioner Gordon seem to have been modified to appear more like their modern day representations.
What most people don’t realize when dismissing the classic show due to its campiness is just how intelligent the entire thing was. Seriously, once you got past the cartoon colors, crazy camera angles, and overall silliness, you’ll find a remarkably self-aware satire on superhero conventions as a whole – decades before such things were fashionable!
Later seasons would be less sophisticated as Semple became less hands-on, but Return of the Caped Crusaders replicates much of the intelligence from the show’s first season and builds on it, throwing in good-natured digs at Batman portrayals from the last fifty years (Robin’s response to Catwoman’s inviting Batman to retire in favor of sipping tea in a European café a la The Dark Knight Rises is priceless). In fact, the entire plot is itself a commentary on the trend towards grim and gritty heroes, but It’s presented in such a way as to surprise you by the time you realize the method behind the film’s madness. Brilliant.
Now this is something you probably wouldn’t have noticed when you were younger, but aside from the obvious bits of sexiness (Julie Newmar’s form-fitting costume), the dialogue on the old Batman show was positively dripping with double-entendres and innuendo, especially whenever it came to scenes involving Catwoman. Seriously, watch the first season again, and you’ll be amazed by how much they got away with. Return of the Caped Crusaders is definitely in on the joke, and if there’s another animated feature this year where a female supervillain lectures the hero on the impoliteness of rubbing his masculine superiority in a woman’s face, we certainly haven’t heard about it.
After the dreary, generic-looking mess that was The Killing Joke earlier this year, the animators at Warner Bros. Feature Animation have stepped up their game for Return of the Caped Crusaders, delivering a far worthier visual successor to the Batman TV show than the cheap cartoons of the 70’s that followed it. While liberties have been taken with some of the sets, iconic elements such as Wayne Manor, the characters, and props have been reproduced with obvious care. Even the onscreen sound effects that pop up during fight scenes make the transition from live action intact. Make no mistake, the quality of the animation is light years removed from a polished Disney production (or even the now-classic Animated Series from the 90s), but it’s clear Return of the Caped Crusaders was a labor of love from everyone involved.
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