Campy days of Batman revived in animated tales
Holy animated nostalgia trip, Batman! The Guardians of Gotham City celebrate their 1960s live-action television roots in “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Rated PG, aspect ratio, 1.78:1, 78 minutes, $24.98).
With a conspicuous tip of the cowl to the Dynamic Duo’s glory days on ABC back in 1966, this cartoon homage finds the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman looking to steal a replicator ray gun, conquer space and end the meddling of Batman and Robin.
The key trio of original actors provides the tongue-in-cheek voice-over work — Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin and Julie Newmar as Catwoman — making it a dream scenario for fans.
Tapping into the original series throughout, the toon resurfaces such fun details as the Shakespeare bust in the Wayne Manor study (cracked open to expose a button to get to the Bat Poles), the pair of heroes casually chatting as they climb up walls (no guests pop out of the windows) and the appearance of George Barris’ awesome Batmobile.
Better yet, an abundance of alliteration (“This is patently preposterous, you pretentious poser”), combined with those pop-art onomatopoetic visuals for every punch and kick (Whomp! Boff! Umph!), and the Nelson Riddle-inspired jazz themes cement the homage to the original.
If to create a new episode of the old show was the goal, then this toon is a success. But writers Michael Jelenic and James Tucker concoct a devilish second act that finds an army of Bizarro-style Batmen taking over Gotham while Catwoman and Robin team up to try to stop them. The epic finale features not only the principals in battle but also appearances by villains such as Shane, Mr. Freeze, King Tut, Egghead, Bookworm and the Mad Hatter.
I was even delighted with the animation style, which looked like an early “Scooby Doo” cartoon.
However, I have a few minor beefs. First, the voice-over work of the three older legends is strong and playful, but the vocal impersonations of the late original actors Cesar Romero (Joker), Frank Gorshin (Riddler) and Burgess Meredith (Penguin) are not consistent.
Wally Wingert offers the best homage to Gorshin’s frenetic inflections, including that insane laugh. Jeff Bergman as Romero’s Joker has the laugh but not the vocal style, while William Salyers is least effective with Meredith’s aural creation of Penguin.
Also, part of the absurdity of Romero playing Joker was he refused to shave his mustache, so bristles were visible under his pasty white facial makeup. The bristles are missing from the Joker’s animated counterpart.
Despite those minor gripes, “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” delivers a retro celebration of a 1960s classic.
Best of all, it inspired me to dig out Blu-ray discs of the live television show and even the 1966 “Batman” movie to relive the campiest moments of a bygone pop art era.
Best extras: A pair of featurettes (about 20 minutes combined) offers interviews with the cast and crew as they gush about adapting the old series to a cartoon and the great voice-over work. I appreciated words from Mr. West, Mr. Ward and Miss Newmar, but I could have used much more content for this trip back in time.
Specifically, DC Comics has plenty of issues of the recently concluded digital comic book series “Batman 66.” A few could have been offered via download codes for hard-core fans.