If you know me, you know anything with the word ‘Batman’ in the title is going to gain my attention. Batman: The Animated Series, which aired in the early 90s, is in my top five favorite television shows of all time. It modernized Batman for kids in a post-Frank Miller world and piggybacked off of the success of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Since then, Batman has been shrouded in a darkness that swept the comic books, only supported by Christopher Nolan’s take on the character and a slew of Warner Brothers animated films over the past decade. Anyone growing up in the 21st century would probably have a hard time grasping the fact that before Frank Miller stripped Batman to his core, and gave him a dark side, the character was a product of 1960s camp. Old-school Batman incarnations dealt more with groovy puns and goofy plots than with the dark subject matter and grim demeanor adopted by the character since The Dark Knight Returns was published in the late 80s.
Now, Warner Brothers Animation has released another installment in their DC Animated Universe with Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar reprising their roles as Batman, Robin, and Catwoman, respectively, from the 1960s Batman Series. Return of the Caped Crusaders works sort of like an animated sequel to the live action 1966 film starring West and Ward. At first I was a fan of the animation, but thought the voices of West and Ward didn’t convince me. It sounded like an older Adam West trying to play a young Batman, something that I was worried about when I found out Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill were reprising their rolls for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). As the animated feature went on, however, I soon came to realize what I thought was a “safe bet,” casting the living members of the original series, was actually an attempt at a self-aware take on not only Batman’s history in the 1960s, but on Batman’s mythos as a whole.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) has the freedom-via-animation to pull off stunts and gimmicks that the 1960s series could never do. In that aspect, the movie was a hit to watch. Still, there are love letters here, to a time in Batman’s career when watching him wasn’t about, “How dark can we make Batman this time?” but rather about a fun Batman who was almost too much of a do-gooder. The meta humor of Batman telling Robin as law-abiding citizens, they mustn’t jay-walk in the street, followed by Robin enthusiastically punching his palm exclaiming, “Gosh, yes, you’re right Batman,” is nothing more than heartwarming and silly in the best way possible.
While I’ll be the first to admit Batman needs about a year-long break from the media (seriously, name the last year where nothing Batman-related happened), this was certainly a breath of fresh air from the gritty and neo-noir Dark Knight people have now come to accept as status quo for the character. Adam West may sound like his Mayor Adam West character from Family Guy, and Burt Ward and Julie Newmar don’t sound anywhere near the age of their young animated selves, but their presence made this attempt at rehashing the 60s all the more successful. I can’t say the same about the voice actors for Joker and Penguin, who put on half-assed impressions of Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith, respectively. I commend Warner Brothers and DC for taking a step back for a moment and reuniting with a Batman that the world is no longer familiar with, while still planting a bountiful amount of Easter eggs related to the Michael Keaton and Frank Miller era of the character as well. The only thing that could have made this better is if it came with a cape and cowl to don as soon as the opening credits come on.