Bat-Mite had better watch his back, because Judge Mike Rubino is gunning for him.
Holy Flashbacks, Batman!
Come, travel back to a time when Batman wasn't the complicated, emotionally-challenged playboy of '90s Hollywood fame; back before he fought Superman in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns; back to a world of slide whistles and limited animation! Welcome to the world of Filmation's The New Adventures of Batman: a world where Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson could live together without anyone thinking twice about it, and a world where Batman, Robin, Batgirl, and Bat-Mite roam the nights keeping Gotham City safe.
Facts of the Case
The New Adventures of Batman revives the cheesy world of the 1970's Saturday morning cartoon. It's part of the DC Comics Classic Collection, which, aside from being hard to say three times fast, features some of the campier moments in the comic company's history.
The show is the spiritual successor to the original live action Batman television series from 1968. While there aren't any "Bam" explosions, the show does feature Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their respective roles as the Caped Crusader and Robin, the Boy Wonder. Joining them in the fray is Batgirl (voiced by Melendy Britt) and Bat-Mite (voiced by Lou Scheimer) who try their best to help thwart evil doers.
The show, like most cartoons of the time, follows a pretty basic formula. Each episode begins with the introduction of a villain, who is usually trying to steal something or capture Batman. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are in the den playing board games or some other weird pseudo-father-and-son activity when the iconic Bat-signal flashes in the window. They leap into action, slide down the fire poles, and emerge in the Bat Cave as Batman and Robin. They hop in the Batmobile and make their way over to Commissioner Gordon's office for the briefing (couldn't they just do this over the phone?). The rest of the episode is spent foiling the schemes of villains while keeping Bat-Mite in line. At the end of the day, everything is summed up via the "Bat Message." This usually comes in the form of some moral lesson and a weird slapstick joke involving Bat-Mite.
The New Adventures of Batman was created by Filmation, and was one of the rare instances where a comic book character was on two different shows, on two different channels, at the same time. The show competed with Hanna-Barbera Productions' Super Friends, which featured Batman and other DC heroes. Filmation didn't have the budget or the staff of Hanna-Barbera, but they did insist on having all American animators.
The show only lasted 16 episodes on its own, and then it was merged with the Tarzan cartoon to form the Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour. This DVD release only features the show while it was by itself.
I can't think of a way to talk about this show without first talking about the character of Bat-Mite. To put it frankly, he's one of the worst creations in animated sidekick history. He's awful, and he practically kills the show. He should really be put on trial for homicide.
Bat-Mite seems to have been created out of that "annoying little-guy sidekick" trend that can be seen in many of the Saturday morning cartoons of the time. Think of him as a combination of Scrappy-Doo, Orko, and Curly from the Three Stooges. He was originally created in the comic book series during the Silver Age of Comics (he first appeared in 1959). Bat-Mite is essentially a big fan of Batman, and hopes to some day be just like him. That's sort of hard considering that he's an imp from some distant planet called Ergo. But you don't really need to concern yourself with that, because they barely explain his existence in the show. All the viewer knows is that he's annoying and constantly screwing everything up.
What's more interesting is the fact that Batman and Robin seem to hate the guy. Every time he shows up, Adam West utters what we're all thinking: "Bat-Mite…what are you doing here?" If every character in the show hates Bat-Mite as much as I did…why did they insist on putting him in the show? The only answer I can think of is that the episodes would only last about 10 minutes if he wasn't there complicating things.
Okay, now that I have that out of my system, onward with the review.
The New Adventures of Batman is a strange bird. It seems to be aimed at a very young audience, while constantly referring back to the '68 live action series. It becomes very apparent, unfortunately, that Filmation just doesn't have what it takes to compete with Hanna-Barbera. Unlike Super Friends and other shows made in the '70s, The New Adventures of Batman did not survive the test of time.
The show's animation, while all-American, gets blatantly repetitive. Usually Filmation just reuses the same action, like Batman doing a flip off of a flag pole, and applies it on top of different backgrounds; but sometimes the show just flat out uses the same scene. Every time the Dynamic Duo rush to the Batcave, Filmation uses the same exact footage. As a kid, this stuff isn't very obvious, but watching this show now…it's painfully so.
One of the high points in the show is its art direction. While the animation isn't so hot, the character and background designs are great. The settings are often extremely detailed, and the whole show has a colorful, comic book feel to it. The great artwork makes me want to forgive the bad animation.
The show's campy nature is hit or miss. Part of me can appreciate it, given Batman's tongue-in-cheek history on television, but the other part of me looks back to how Batman is best portrayed in the comics: as a serious, loner detective. This show essentially gives the Dark Knight three sidekicks to juggle and new (lame) bad guys like Sweet Tooth and Moonman. People who grew up with the Adam West live action show will more than likely appreciate this cartoon. I, however, grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, which is the complete opposite of this show.
Further dooming this show into the world of camp was Filmation's decision to cast Adam West and Burt Ward in the roles they played a decade prior. West and Ward ham it up big time in this show. It seems like they didn't even bother rehearsing the lines, as West constantly emphasizes the wrong word and dips in to this Shatner-esque cadence. Plus, it's hard not to think of West in Family Guy while watching this (of course, not everyone will have the same reaction).
The bulk of the other characters in the show are voiced by Lennie Weinrib, a legend in the field of children's cartoon voice acting. He plays every villain in the series and manages to make each one sound wholly different. He's definitely a professional when it comes to this sort of thing, and his work remains one of the show's high points.
This DVD release comes with one special feature, which is oddly placed on the reverse side of the second disc. Titled "The Dark Knight Revisited," the feature delves into the history of Batman on television, and how this show compares to the comics published at the time. I wish I had watched this special feature before watching the show. "The Dark Knight Revisited" features interviews with a number of individuals involved with Batman over the years, including comic writer Dennis O'Neill, DC publisher Paul Levitz, and voice actor (and Jedi) Mark Hamill. They don't just spew a bunch of positive talk about the show, but honestly dig into the pros and cons of the series. The Bat-experts made a good case for why I should at least appreciate the campy Batman, even if I still like the dark and brooding one.
The featurette talks about the show's influences and development, as well as DC's relationship with Filmation. They even talked to Lou Scheimer, who is one of the founders of Filmation on top of voicing Bat-Mite. Scheimer tried to explain his reasoning for putting Bat-Mite into the show, and said that Filmation always liked to put little annoying sidekicks into their series because it was something to laugh at. He's also responsible for putting Orko in Filmation's He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
I would have enjoyed a full-length documentary on the subject of Batman's television evolution over the past fifty years. Unfortunately, the featurette lasts about 20 minutes, and is the only special feature anywhere in the set. (Although websites advertising the DVD have listed two episode commentary tracks, these are nowhere to be found on this review copy).
The video quality in the show is pretty good. At times, the show still looks grainy, and retains some of the defects from the its original airing. But Filmation did a great job making the show colorful and well-drawn, and thankfully the DVD release keeps that in tact.
The sound of the show is also more than adequate. The New Adventures of Batman has a rather strange soundtrack that mixes the usual symphonic score with some strange Shaft-like guitar riffs. There's a little too much bow-chicka-wow-wow in this kids show, if you ask me. But the quality of the sound is good for Dobly Digital mono, and the voicework comes in nice and clear (and loud, thanks to Adam West's insistence on yelling every line).
The DVD release comes in a cardboard digi-page booklet. Both discs share the same side of the case thanks to some well-designed plastic molding. The design of the box does a nice job of infusing some new artwork in with the old design of the show. It all feels very classic and campy, and really doesn't misrepresent the show one bit—aside from the fact that Bat-Mite only appears in small screenshots of the cartoon, and nowhere on the outer box. Suspicious.
This show is designed for a certain kind of audience: that group of Baby Boomers who grew up with the campy television Batman. It's for nostalgic cartoon-watchers with the patience to put up with Bat-Mite. I don't have that patience, however, especially when I can go back and watch the Hanna-Barbera DC cartoons from the same time and enjoy those way more. This show is just a little too childish and cheesy for this Bat-fan.
Bat-Mite is guilty for murdering what could have been a fun Batman cartoon.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Retrospective Featurette "The Dark Knight Revisited"
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