Warner Bros. // 1998 // 67 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kevin Lee (Retired) // May 16th, 2002
When Mr. Freeze returns to Gotham, things are going to get chilly.
When Batman: the Animated Series debuted in 1992, Warner Bros. Animation had an instant hit on their hands. The series brought a dark, stylish feel to Gotham City and to its caped hero as he fought crime every weekday. With the success of the television show, Warner Brothers decided to try something a little different and bring the animated Batman to the big screen with Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm. The film combined computer graphics with pencil and ink animation and garnered critical acclaim, which became significant considering the live-action Batman franchise was about to take a pretty hefty downward tumble. Batman: the Animated Series went through a variety of name changes as well as changes in the art style, but not before Warner Brothers was able to bring Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero to video stores. It's four years later and the WB has released "SubZero" on DVD.
Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) has taken his cryogenically frozen wife Nora to the Arctic Circle in order find a cure for her terminal illness in solitude. His world is shattered, however, when a submarine surfaces in his cave and destroys Nora's confinements. After exacting revenge on the submarine crew, Freeze heads to Gotham City to find a former colleague, Dr. Gregory Belson (George Dzundza), who informs him that Nora will die soon if she doesn't receive a transplant. The problem is that Nora has a rare blood type and finding a suitable match could take years. Freeze's solution is to find a live donor and take what he needs, a plan that Belson is bribed into carrying out. Belson's target is Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl (Mary Kay Bergman). When Barbara is taken while on a night on the town with Dick Grayson, AKA Robin (Loren Lester), Batman (Kevin Conroy) quickly gets involved to uncover Freeze's plot. It then becomes a race against time to find Barbara before something nasty happens to her, but Freeze also soon discovers that he may have gotten more than he bargained for.
When evaluating an animated film meant for younger audiences, there are certain allowances you have to make. For example, the creators have probably at some point bent the rules of physics in order to create dynamic action sequences, and they've also likely simplified the plot as much as possible. While the former is certainly true in this case, the latter is not. Granted this isn't a Hitchcock thriller we're talking about, but the writers made sure that Batman would be able to showcase his detective skills. He is, after all, the world's greatest detective. The story remains pretty simple -- girl gets kidnapped for nefarious purposes and Batman needs to rescue her -- but it's the small details that shine. Everything comes across has a glorified comic book, but that's okay with me.
One of the best charms of Batman: The Animated Series was the excellent casting of the vocal talent, and that certainly still holds true for SubZero, with all of the regular cast members returning to their roles. Kevin Conroy has easily usurped the Michael Keatons and George Clooneys of the world as the preeminent voice of Bruce Wayne and Batman. There's something about his raspy-throated delivery that I'm certain would, without a doubt, strike fear and terror into the hearts of villains. And while Batman always had a terrific slew of guest stars to take on the roles of the villains, one of the more eerie voices comes to Mr. Freeze, with Michael Ansara's voice being given a metallic twang that makes Freeze sound even colder than his frozen body. My other favorite was always Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Bruce Wayne's butler and lifelong friend Alfred, who was given something of a wise guy attitude and plays as a perfect foil for Batman's dark and determined attitude.
The animation in Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero is quite a bit more advanced than Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, with a great deal more in the way of computer graphics being used. Vehicles and interactive backgrounds are rendered with computer animation and combined almost flawlessly with pencil and ink drawings. You can still tell the 1s and 0s from the brushstrokes, but the efforts are impressive.
Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio, and the transfer is a decent one. All of the colors are vibrant and are properly displayed and there is no edge enhancement, though there wouldn't be with a flat image provided by the animation. The sound is only a 2.0 stereo presentation, which is unfortunate since the various explosions, revving engines, squealing tires and polar bears would have been incredible in a 5.1 surround presentation. For extras, Warner Brothers has provided as cast and crew listing and a variety of theatrical trailers for other Batman products along with the teaser trailer for Scooby Doo. We're also given a musical montage called "The Art of Batman" that features production artwork, storyboards and design sketches interspersed with action from the film. An artist briefly demonstrates how to draw Batman in the "Get the Picture" feature, and finally there's a relatively lame "The Hunt for Mr. Freeze" game.
What do Barbara Gordon, Nora Fries, and The A-Team's B.A. Barracus all have in common? If you said "gorgeous, flowing hair," you'd be very wrong. But if you said "they all have the same rare blood type," you'd be correct. There are tons of bad movies and TV shows that have set some sort of weird precedent with having various characters share the same ultra-rare AB-negative blood type. I understand that this is to create a sense of dramatic tension, but it's become a horrible cliché. With all of the fictional characters out there that have AB-negative blood, I'm beginning to think an O-positive such as myself would be the one having a hard time finding a proper donor.
The only other thing I should mention is the issue of whether or not Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero is suitable for children. Clearly this was created with children in mind as the principal audience, but parents will probably need to decide what's best considering that some of the action depicts various acts of violence and at least one death (though no body). It's really no worse than violence depicted in various Disney animated features like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast.
SubZero is probably the weakest of the Batman animated movies, but that still doesn't mean that it's not enjoyable. Children, animation aficionados, and Batman fans will enjoy this DVD.
There's certainly no reason to call upon vigilante justice here; Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero and everyone involved is free to go.
Review content copyright © 2002 Kevin Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 67 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "The Hunt For Mr. Freeze" Game
* Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman
* "The Art of Batman" Music Montage
* Cast and Crew