To the delight of Bat-fans everywhere, The Lego Batman Movie is now in theaters. As we all celebrate this joyful moment in cinematic history, let’s take a look at another recent Batman animated film: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. Capitalizing on the resurgence of Batman ‘66 in the comics over the last few years, this film brings back the voice talents of legends Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar for a brand new animated adventure set within the world of the original TV series.
As you can imagine from a film like this that’s so intentionally campy and nostalgic, the experience is really the only thing that matters. The plot boils down to the villainous quartet of Joker (Jeff Bergman), Penguin (William Salyers), Riddler (Wally Wingert) and Catwoman (Newmar) turning Batman into a supervillain and using an army of Batman clones to take over Gotham City. Holy treachery Batman!
Now, the original live-action Batman movie from 1966 features a glorious scene in which our heroes are nearly devoured by a shark that looks like it was made out of cardboard. The crown jewel of Return of the Caped Crusaders is when Batman and Robin hop on a rocket ship and go to space in order to catch the fiendish foursome. Watching Batman and Joker trying to punch each other while suspended in space is like a slice of Heaven. And while the fight sequences are choreographed in the same cheesy “Bam! Smack! Pow!” fashion as the original series, the animation is nonetheless quite spectacular. Some of the more recent DC animation films have been relatively sub-par, so it was nice to see this one deliver such kinetic energy.
It also goes without saying that West and Ward effortlessly reprise their roles as the iconic crime-fighting duo. Ward retains his youthful voice so much so that it’s indistinguishable from his performance in the 1960s. West and Newmar are more noticeable in terms of how they’ve aged, but regardless it’s clear that they had as much fun returning to this universe as everyone else involved. And a special shoutout goes to Bergman, Salyers and Wingert who were faced with the unparalleled challenge of replacing the late Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin, respectively, as the Caped Crusader’s greatest foes.
With more than 75 years of material to draw from as they pay homage to the Batman franchise as a whole, director Rick Morales and screenwriters Michael Jelenic and James Tucker inject the film with plenty of inside jokes and references to other Batman films. For instance, when Catwoman tries to seduce Batman, she suggests that they run away to Europe, which is obviously a nod to The Dark Knight Rises. Aside from the movie playing out like an extended episode of the 1960s show with zanier special effects and modern animation, there are other references to things like the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton.
Return of the Caped Crusaders is a fantastic celebration of the Batman franchise and of the pop-culture significance of the Adam West series. So as you gather your friends and family this weekend to see the Lego version of the dark knight, be sure to check this one out as well.