BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM

I was going to skip writing about this movie because I wasn’t sure if I would have anything of substance to add. No one needs me recapping the events of the film. We have enough people here doing that. It’s an animated film set in the Batman animated universe and tells the tale of his origins. I’ve watched the movie a handful of times and enjoy it as part of the series. In fact, the film was originally meant to be the show’s finale, which is why the Joker seemingly dies at the end. But let’s face it. How many times have we seen that happen in the show?

But alas, the show didn’t end and actually ran for three years before being reformatted as the NEW Batman Adventures for Kids WB. Odd that they were planning on ending the show so early. Even stranger is that this film was meant to be a straight to video release, like most DC animated features. Yet Warner Bros. thought it would be a great idea to release the film in theaters. And the filmmakers were equally excited to see their work on the big screen. Unfortunately, audiences weren’t that enthusiastic about it and the film ultimately bombed.

And it’s not because the film was terrible. The film is great, as a standalone tale and as an expansive part of the series’ mythos. I guess casual audiences just weren’t that interested in seeing an animated Batman film in theaters proving that, despite a solid track record, Batman isn’t always a sure thing. But at least the film found a following on home video, where it should have stayed.

The film is led by its strong cast. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are the ultimate Batman and Joker. There’s a reason we continue to hear their voices in other animated projects set outside of this series and even video games. They’re just so damn good. Dana Delany knocks it out of the park as Andrea Beaumont, so much so that this gig landed her the role of Lois Lane in the adjacent Superman animated series.

And Efram Zimbalist Jr. always had a wonderful voice for Alfred. He was even a favorite of mine in Spider-Man: The Animated Series playing the nefarious Doctor Octopus. Shirley Walker’s score reflects her work on the series, but more bombastic giving it that gravitas needed to feel like a film. She’s even been quoted as saying this is one of her favorite compositions.

Shirley Walker

While the story of the film borrows heavily from Batman: Year One and Year Two, there’s one behind-the-scenes story that is more compelling to me and I wanted to share it. During the writing of the film, series co-creator and one of the writers of this film, Paul Dini, was attacked by two muggers. The attack was so severe that he required reconstructive surgery on his skull. During his months long physical and mental recovery, he seriously contemplated quitting work on Batman. Ultimately, he chose to press on and thank god he did.

His best work stems from Batman: The Animated Series. Just look at the episodes of that or any other show he’s written for and I promise you it’s a solid episode. Batman animated series: Mad Love. Superman animated series: World’s Finest. Batman Beyond: Rebirth. Hell, he even wrote the stories for the Batman video games Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, but not Arkham Knight which speaks volumes when you consider most criticisms of that game are targeted towards the narrative.

Dini chronicled his recovery in the beautifully written and illustrated graphic novel, Dark Night: A true Batman story and I would recommend to all of you listening to check it out. But yeah this film ranks up there with some of his best work and recommend it as well.

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