Joel Schumacher should have been taking notes.

Cast

Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred

Mark Hamill as the Joker

Richard Moll as Harvey Dent/Two Face

Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze

Several other writers and directors, who can be found
on this IMDB
page
.

Past TV reviews can be found here.

Original Airdate

This series launched in 1992. The episodes reviewed
on this
DVD release

were mainly shown in production order, which differed
dramatically
from the original broadcast order. Also, two-part
episodes are shown
back to back, which doesn’t fit the production order.
For a complete
list of which episodes are on each of the four DVDs,
check this
TV
Shows on DVD page
, which also lists the special
features. (The
commentaries are great.)

Synopsis

After Tim Burton showed how profitable Batman could
be, Warner
Bros. decided to make a Saturday morning cartoon
about him. There’s
some great stuff here, which is superior to the
sequel films in almost
every respect. The first season was 52 episodes,
with all four
seasons totalling 85 episodes. This DVD release
contains 28 of those
episodes, which leads most people to believe that the
entire series
will be released in three boxed sets of four DVDs
each.

High Point

Heart of Ice is a very well made episode,
and probably the
best in this set. Looking at that, the two part
Two Face
episode, and Pretty Poison, I realize that
the problems of
the last two Batman films weren’t just jamming too
many villains into
too little screen time. These four episodes bring in
Two Face,
Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy, and they do it in less
run time than
either movie, with far more effective results. This
series has things
the movies just plain lacked: notably, a focus on the
characters that
demands sensible motivations. The look and feel of
the Gotham
presented here is even more feasible than the
Schumacher films,
creating a more submersive world. Schumacher was
outclassed in every
respect I can think of. Of course, Schumacher was
also the one who
decided to cast Jim Carrey as the Riddler instead of
Robin Williams,
so I suppose class isn’t really a high priority for
him.

Low Point

Batman’s narration of the first half of Dreams In
Darkness
.
The character is just too private and quiet to
justify any
narration. It felt like a gimmick to get the viewer
involved in the
story at the outset because the chronological opening
would just be
too slow and boring. The fix is to tidy up the
opening, not to make a
quiet character yak for ten minutes.

The Review

The originality here is mixed. On one hand,
it’s an
adaptation of existing material. On the other hand,
it may be the
most significant landmark in televised animation art
in my lifetime.
True, it doesn’t have the cultural impact of The
Simpsons
as
a cartoon alone, but The Simpsons didn’t
change the rules as
drastically as this did. This is film noir that
children chose to
watch; find me another example of that! This is the
first instance I
know of where animated characters cast shadows that
they don’t
interact with. The action sequences are extremely
well done, and new
backgrounds are prepared for every episode. The
camera angles are
many and varied, unlike the standard “spectator point
of view” that
The Simpsons and most other cartoons thrive
on. There are
ambiguities in the lines between good and evil, as
well as some
content that you wouldn’t find in most cartoons.
I’ll try to restrain
from further comment until I hit the “production”
category. I give it
5 out of 6, marred only by the use of existing
characters. (Harley
Quinn is only in one of these episodes, and it’s on
the last DVD.)

The animation isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty
damn good. The
aspirations were high, and the work in the chase
sequences is
incredible. There are, however, enough mistakes to
irritate. Colours
can be irregular, Batman’s insignia colours reverse
on occasion (as is
pointed out in the commentary on Heart of
Ice
), the Batmobile
can hug the road too well (in Beware the Gray
Ghost
and
Dreams In Darkness) and some of the early
episodes have
frequently off-model characters. However, in the
truly key sequences,
the attention to detail was there, and it worked
very, very well. The
blimp chase in On Leather Wings, the shadows
cast in
Christmas With The Joker, and a number of
other portions look
absolutely fantastic. The style is distinctive,
making it possible to
immediately recognize this (or any other Bruce Timm
DC cartoon
adaptation) with a glance. I give it 5 out of 6.

The stories told all have excellent ideas.
Some stumble
slightly in the execution, but even those aren’t bad.
The worst
offender was mentioned above, but the only other real
problem was in
some of the kid-oriented jokes in the very early
episodes. I give it
5 out of 6.

The voice acting was very well done. Kevin
Conroy was the
perfect choice for Batman. Mark Hamill is
unrecognizable as the
Joker; he was hired for ability, not for name. In
fact, there’s
nobody involved that I felt dissatisfied with. I
give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response was very strong.
This feels more like
Batman to me than several of his other
representations, including the
Schumacher films and Super Friends alike.
Now that I know
more about where animation has been and where it’s
going, I have far
more respect for the way the show was made, too. The
film geek in me
gets just as engaged as the super hero geek, which is
really saying
something. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production, as I have said earlier, is
incredible. I
knew it was darker than any other cartoon I’d seen,
but it wasn’t
until I listened to the commentaries that there is a
legal limit to
how dark a show can get, and that this was cutting it
close. The
commentary sums up the entire approach very nicely:
they were aware
that children would be attracted to the show, but
that wasn’t
necessarily the audience they were trying to bring
in. They painted
the show on black paper instead of the tradition
white. They painted
characters onto the background in many of their first
appearances.
The characters cast shadows that they didn’t
end up boxing!
This show was, and still is, a landmark of production
in televised
animation. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, it’s an excellent set that I’d
recommend to most
people. If you’ve enjoyed DC-based animation or the
Tim Burton (or
even Schumacher) films, you’ll almost certainly enjoy
this. I give it
5 out of 6.

In total, Batman: The Animated Series: Volume
1
receives 38
out of 42.

Additional Question

Speaking of the other DC cartoon adaptations, I have
this
DVD
collection
of the first 11 Justice
League
episodes. Do
you want to see that reviewed as this boxed set, or
should I wait
until I have the whole first season and review those
26?