In a strange move, Warner Brothers
has repackaged two of its animated Batman films. The Batman
Superman Movie (1997) is a re-edited version of the three-episode
story arc "World's Finest" from Superman: The Animated Series.
As such, it is part of Bruce Timm's DC Animated Universe.
The Batman vs. Dracula (2005) is a direct-to-DVD feature by the
creators of The Batman, Duane Capizzi and Michael Goguen.
I say the pairing is strange because the two films have already been
released on DVD, and if fans are waiting for any repackaged animated
Batman material, I'd guess that would probably be a nice boxed set
of the four acclaimed animated features with the Bruce Timm version
of the Dark Knight. As for this disc, the films themselves are
good, but their pairing here is jarring and arbitrary.
The Batman Superman Movie
opens with the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) breaking into an antique
shop with Harley Quinn to steal a "jade" dragon. The statuette,
however, is made of something of much greater interest to the Joker.
Batman (Kevin Conroy) discovers that the Joker is headed to Metropolis
with the Kryptonite dragon, and follows him to warn Superman.
The Caped Crusader (Tim Daly) is initially put off by Batman's vigilante-like
approach to crime-fighting and resents his "assistance" - to say
nothing of Bruce Wayne's advances on Lois Lane. But when push
comes to shove, the two team up to fight the Joker and thwart his alliance
with Lex Luthor.
Visually, we are in the world
of Superman: The Animated Series, which is a bit lighter and
brighter than that of Batman: The Animated Series. Storytelling
is swift here, and voice performances are good. The canonical
antagonism between Superman's righteous do-gooder and Batman's dark,
conflicted brooder is given only glancing attention here. This
is a fast-moving story that spends a lot of time with the villains and
Lois Lane. Not a lot of character development here, but the pacing
is propulsive and overtakes the thin plot.
The Batman vs. Dracula
opens inside Arkham Asylum, where a heist is being planned. A
mass breakout finds the Joker and the Penguin pitted against each other
in search of the loot, which is located in a graveyard. The Batman
(voiced by Rino Romano) steps in and heads off the Joker while the Penguin
proceeds to break into a crypt and inadvertently awaken Dracula (a perfectly-cast
Peter Stormare), who has been "dead" for centuries and somehow vaguely
transported to Gotham City. The count begins assembling his army
of the undead, and soon the battle is on to decide who will be the last
This film, which was created
out of whole cloth and not assembled from series episodes, is most notable
for its stunning design work. The animation per se is not
much better than average, but the backgrounds and character design -
along with skilful editing - combine for a wholly unique Gothic look
with a lot of flair.
The combination of the Batman
mythos with the Dracula legend blends ideally at times, and at other
moments comes across as forced. In all, the story, while terribly
predictable, moves fast - but not so fast that we aren't allowed
a few judiciously-placed glimpses into Bruce Wayne's troubled side.
A dream sequence that casts the Batman and Dracula as one and the same
is visually arresting and thematically compelling. More importantly,
temptations to evil and questions of crime-fighting ethics are a major
part of what makes Batman an interesting character. It's nice
when those aspects of Bruce Wayne/Batman are handled honestly, instead
of glossing them over or whiting them out - even in an animated film
geared toward children.
Bat-fans will enjoy both of
these features. Although each has a distinct style and different
creative teams, they both hew to the basics of the Batman story and
the world of Gotham City. There is nothing particularly exceptional
here, other than good entertainment and, especially in The Batman
vs. Dracula, some wonderful visuals.
The single flipper disc is housed in a standard keepcase.
Both features are presented in their original full-screen aspect
ratios. The Batman Superman Movie is twelve years old,
but hasn't aged a day. The image is solid and bright, although
blacks waver just a bit. The Batman vs. Dracula is just
four years old, and looks even better. The blacks - and all
of the other colors in the movie's dark palette - are dark and dense;
the excellent design is well-represented.
The older film is in Dolby
Digital 2.0 stereo - a perfectly clean, serviceable track.
Dracula is in Dolby Digital 5.1, and offers a fuller, more robust
soundstage. The soothing, moody sound of rain sets the aural tone
for most of the movie. Well-placed surrounds and an excellent,
enveloping reproduction of the musical score by Thomas Chase Jones make
this an engaging track.
This disc replicates the special
features included on each film's prior DVD release. They are
very slim, kid-oriented, and not terribly interesting. On The
Batman Superman Movie, things start out with a Cast & Crew
list, then a point-and-click game called The Joker's Challenge.
A short Conversation with Bruce Timm (5:07) is interesting but
basic. The Art of Batman & Superman (2:58) is a brief,
pointless montage. Get the Picture: Batman and Get the
Picture: Superman are two very short time-lapse video lessons that
show how to draw the heroes in the style of the movie. A selection
of Warner Brothers Animation trailers round things out.
The Batman vs. Dracula
offers up Science vs. Superstition (4:25), a featurette in which
the Batman himself (in voice-over) discusses the nature of vampires.
City of Knight is an interactive map of the film's locations.
Voices in Close-Up (5:49) goes behind the scenes of the movie's
recording sessions. Finally, another group of Warner Animation
These two very different Batman
films really don't belong on the same disc, and Warners' decision
to release this double feature wastes resources that would have been
put to better use planning a boxed set of Batman animated films.
Still, each of the two is entertaining in its own way. For fans
who own the previous releases, skip it. Everyone else should
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.