Friday, April 1, 2016
Stuff I Grew Up With: Batman: The Animated Series (The Adventures of Batman & Robin) (1992-1995)
Before we get into this, I think I need to mention a few things about how this review's going to go. First off, there is a lot to talk about with this show, and I'm going to try my best to cover everything, but it's possible that I could miss some stuff, so don't get upset if I do because I'll more than likely be upset at myself. Second, this review is absolutely enormous (I'd be shocked if it's not the biggest one I ever wrote), so you best not try to read it all in one sitting because you could very well burn out. Third, I'm not at all an expert on comic books, including Batman, so I may get some facts wrong when it comes to the interpretations of various characters here, but I'm going to do my homework and try to be as accurate with it as I possibly can. And finally, this is going to focus on just the original animated series; I'm saving the 1997 sequel series, The New Batman Adventures, which is sometimes referred to as a fourth season, for another day since I consider it to be its own thing due to the different artstyle, the set-up, and its place in the timeline.
A big plus for this series is the voice-acting. Not only did they manage to get a number of really good, even pretty big, actors whose voices and performances fit their roles to a "T," they also recorded them in an interesting and effective way. Instead of recording each actor separately, as is the norm with animation, all of the actors sat in a room together, with microphones in front of them, and recorded their lines in a manner similar to a radio play, which enabled them to actually play off each other and, as a result, make the performances feel more real (that method has become the norm for most DC Animated Universe productions). Speaking of which, that's the best thing about the acting: it feels real. The actors (save for Mark Hamill, who really goes nuts as the Joker) don't overact or come across like cartoon characters or caricatures; instead, they talk like real people, with some of the performances being quite subdued and subtle, to the point where you can easily forget that what you're watching is animated.
While the series is very episodic, with there being no big, arcing story to the way it flows and the episodes often not having any major connections with one another, save for recurring characters and whenever a story is broken up into two parts, there is something of a progression in regards to the villains. At the beginning of the series, the Joker and the Penguin are the only larger than life, truly comic book-like villains who have been at large in Gotham City for some time (they're the only ones who don't have origin episodes), while all other crime is mainly due to typical criminals and thugs, crime-bosses like Rupert Thorne and Arnold Stromwell, and corrupt businessmen like Roland Daggett. However, as more and more monstrous baddies like Two-Face, the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and others show up, they eventually become the root of Gotham's problems, with the "normal" criminals slowly but surely edged out, to the point where they're virtually non-existent by the end of the show.
Just like everything else, another aspect of the series that helped give it its identity is the music score. The main theme that you hear during the show's opening sequence and end credits was composed by Danny Elfman himself, which is a variation of his amazing theme for the first Batman movie and helps set the tone for the show very well (the version he composed for the opening sequence fits those images to a "T"). Elfman, however, initially turned down the offer to work on the show and, to that end, Bruce Timm hired Shirley Walker, who worked with Elfman as a conductor on some of the movies he did scores for, to do the main theme. The theme that she composed, which is very similar to Elfman's music, was used in the opening for the episodes that carry The Adventures of Batman & Robin title and she also retooled it as Batman's main theme in the show itself. The score, as a whole, has a very old-fashioned feel to it, often sounding like what you would hear in films from the 1940's, and a lot of the characters, especially the villains, have their own individual leitmotifs. For example, the Joker has a silly, carnival-like tune, Two-Face has an eerie, whistling-sort of theme with a low, ominous melody behind it, the Penguin has a dumpy sort of theme that goes, "Dun-dun dun-dun, dun-dun, dun, dun), and Clayface has two themes: one that's very poignant and melodic, and another that's just loud, bombastic, and nasty. While Walker, Lolita Ritmanis, and Michael McCuistion were the main composers on the show, over 24 different composers provided music for it, which resulted in a lot of the episodes having their own unique music, enabling them to really stand out from each other. Just to give you some examples, The Forgotten, the episode where Bruce is taken to a work camp, has a harmonica theme that fits with the idea of imprisonment; Prophecy of Doom, about a fraudulent prophet who sees to it personally that his destructive predictions come true, has a very loud, overbearing, "Dun, dun-dun, dun-dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun," that really reminds you of something from the 30's or 40's; and Paging the Crime Doctor, where Matthew Thorne is forced to enlist Leslie Thompkins in helping him operate on his brother, has a distinctive, strong string theme that's followed up by a higher-pitched, almost innocent-sounding melody.