I was a bit too young to watch the Batman animated series as a kid, specifically on a regular basis. During it’s early years, anyway, I missed a lot of the show while it was airing. It wasn’t until its later Fox Kids years that I started catching the show after school.
I remember seeing those episodes as a kid and them seeming so epic. There wasn’t a lot like it, until Gargoyles, that felt like an adult show I was getting away with watching. Those later episodes introduced me to Ra’s al Ghul and the forbidden romance between Batman and Talia, Killer Croc’s inability to reform and the Riddler’s obsessions. I still wasn’t able to watch the show on regular basis, but I knew it was out there and was telling stories that were cooler than any of the other shows I had been following. Images like Ra’s hand reaching out of the Lazarus Pit, Babydoll shooting a shattered mirror or that kiss between Batman and Talia have stuck with me for years.
When Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was released on VHS, my mom rented a copy for me. I don’t know how it all worked out but I ended up watching it alone one night when everyone was asleep. At the time, I couldn’t have been much older than seven and I knew instantly that I was getting away with something.
As people were dying, kissing and dealing with these huge issues on screen, I kept checking to make sure no one was coming. If my mom saw a mobster getting crushed underneath a tombstone, that tape was going back to the video store pronto. When the Joker was on screen, it was terrifying but thrilling. The clown was killing people! Everything about that movie felt dangerous and it was an eyeopener for my young self. It might be one of the best movie experiences I’ve ever had.
Years later, when the show moved to the WB and became an after school block with the Superman animated series, it became something I watched religiously. That block became a refuge for me. I looked forward to getting to it on time after another terrible school day and it lasted until my parents came home and life became slightly less ideal.
That rebooted version of the show, with it’s updated animation style, was the coolest show in the world for me. It introduced me to Nightwing, a Robin that I was actually jealous of and a Batgirl I would follow to the ends of the earth. Episodes like “Over the Edge”, “Mad Love”, “Growing Pains” and “Joker’s Millions” left huge impressions on me and influenced my view on all the characters. When I started reading Batman comics, starting with No Man’s Land, I was confused by any differences between the elements of the show and what was on paper. But, without the animated series, I would have never picked up the comic.
Batman Beyond and the Justice League series really deserve their own blog, as well as the Superman show. They all became important to me at different times in my life and kept the continuity started by the Batman animated series alive, as well as the character of Batman himself.
I was finally able to watch all the episodes I had missed when the series was released onto DVD. Those collections were wonderful and I’ve watched through them multiple times, always excited to restart the series. It’s the easiest show in the world to binge because it’s quality is so high and the characters are so compelling. It’s also one of the few shows I watched as a kid that stands up to watching as an adult. This anniversary has given me the bug again but it’s not something I’ll fight. The show is a treasure to Batman fans. It introduced me to so much of that world and influenced my tastes in huge ways. No other Batman series has topped it in quality, even though Batman: Brave and the Bold found it’s own identity and works on it’s on level. Only Batman Begins has ever come close to being such a faithful adaptation. Twenty-five years later and the original 90s show still has all the vitality of a much younger series. It’s timeless, it’s iconic, it’s Batman.
I haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on Arkham, Justice League Dark and the second half of Batman: The Killing Joke. But everything else has left little impression on me. I miss the days of adaptations that brought different styles to each film, like All Star Superman or Wonder Woman. The new continuity driven films are stuck with boring stories and uninspired voice casting.
Considering my disdain for the Suicide Squad’s take on Harley Quinn, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of interest in this new entry. But, when I looked up pictures of Batman and Harley Quinn, I found myself getting excited. It looks like the WB years of The Batman Animated Series! They got Kevin Conroy back as Batman and they brought Loren Lester out of mothballs to play Nightwing! Wow! And Bruce Timm is involved? I’m back in, baby!
The biggest mistake I made with that excitement was actually seeing the movie. I should have watched my dvds of the animated series or read a new Batman comic. Instead, I drove ninety minutes to the nearest theater showing the movie and saw what poison (ivy) can do to nostalgia.
Batman and Harley Quinn doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s trying to be call back to the great, genre-defining show of the 90s. Sometimes, it’s wants to be the Adam West Batman show with the old cartoon’s setting. Sometimes, it wants to be a comedy. Sometimes, it wants to be a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited. Most times, it’s just bad.
As a comedy, it falls so flat you’d have to think it’s intentionally not being funny. Barely any jokes land and the ones that do are stretched out too far. Melissa Rauch plays Harley Quinn almost as a parody of the Arleen Sorkin. It’s a DOA portrayal, living in the same space of the original character but not breathing the same air. I’d be willing to accept it’s not Rauch’s fault though, as the writing is lazy throughout the whole movie.
Really, Batman and Harley Quinn is a shadow the 90s show, taking the goodwill from the past twenty years and punishing us for it. It makes me wonder if Bruce Timm isn’t as talented as I thought he was. Maybe, he needed all those other writers and artist to keep him from raveling in his inherent tackiness.
We spend far too long in a dive bar with a bunch of extras, watching two twins sing “Don’t Pour Your Love” on stage, only for Harley to then do the same thing with “Hanging On the Telephone“. And, both songs are played in their entirety, because this movie is looking to waste as much time as possible.
The animation looks cheap throughout and closeups are worse. It really does look like a lazy episode of a cartoon from twenty years ago, if that was it’s intention, I don’t know what was. The ending is a dud, but, by then, what was I expecting? The whole affair can’t decided if it’s for adults or kids and is never fun for either. Considering that the 90s show did the whole thing better with “Harlequinade”, it’s hard to understand why anyone thought this movie needed to happen. There were no extra scripts lying around?
Look, if this is canon, I won’t accept it. I’m going to be unreasonable about this for the rest of my life. I’ve long ago said goodbye to the DC Animated Universe of old and I don’t need more of it in my life. Batman and Harley Quinn made sure of that by being the Superman: Braniac Attacks of it’s series. I won’t mourn again.