When it was revealed that Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar would reprise their roles as Batman, Robin, and Catwoman for a brand new animated adventure, well, you might not have known what to expect. While the 1966 Batman TV series was a pop culture phenomenon on the level of James Bond or The Beatles during its three season run, it never quite matched the heights of its earliest, smartly satirical episodes, and attempts to replicate its magic (notably with two dreadful low budget superhero TV specials in the late ’70s) have always fallen flat.
But c’mon, 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the show, we finally got an official complete release for the series (it’s almost unthinkable to believe that a show that was inescapable in syndication for nearly 40 years after its conclusion never had a proper home video release), and DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. have spent the last few years finally celebrating the show with comics continuing the show’s adventures and a line of collectibles that fans had dreamed about for years.
And while it’s tough not to get excited when you hear that unforgettable theme song or the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward, I can assure you that the trailer does this project no justice. This is more than just an exercise in nostalgia, but rather a sly update of the show’s visual style and sense of humor, with the added bonus of animation allowing it to go places that a TV budget never would have allowed. Written by James Tucker and Michael Jelenic, who brought fans the ’60s-flavored Batman: The Brave and The Bold animated series, and directed by animation vet Rick Morales (of countless storyboard credits, but who also directed episodes of the moody Beware The Batman and the tremendously underrated Green Lantern: The Animated Series), Return of The Caped Crusaders is one of the best looking, most ambitious, and genuinely funny pieces of DC animation we’ve seen in years.
What’s often forgotten about the Batman TV series is just how sharp and occasionally subversive the humor was, particularly during its first season. Once you get past the undeniable nostalgic appeal of seeing familiar versions of these characters resurrected, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders sneaks in some decidedly modern humor, as well as some pointed commentary about how Batman has been portrayed for the last 30 years or so. And while its 80 minute running time is perhaps a little longer than strictly necessary, it’s easy to imagine shorter sections of this feeling perfectly at home on Adult Swim or an FX animation block alongside similarly retro shows like The Venture Bros or Archer.
While the familiar theme song is in place, this isn’t simply a recycling of Neal Hefti’s music, but rather a brand new recording. From the sound of things, it’s not some synthesized approximation, but a new recording by actual musicians. The rest of Return of the Caped Crusaders is soundtracked by original compositions, all of which are perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the original series. It’s one of the many pleasant surprises the movie has to offer.
After a series of recent missteps (often lost in the controversy that surrounded the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke was just how poor the animation was), Return of the Caped Crusaders should give DC animation fans hope, and fits nicely with some of the best work they’ve done since they launched their line of direct to video animated movies. With the promise that future installments will feature characters that never made it to the show (the sequel is already confirmed and will feature special guest villain Two-Face, voiced by William Shatner), the spirit of ’66 is alive and well.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders arrives on Blu-ray on November 1st. You can order it on Amazon.
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