Batman: The Animated Series – 25 Years Later
With its 25th anniversary coming up, we look back on Batman: The Animated Series for what it is: a stone cold animated classic.
The best animation of the 1990s? Not many cartoons could make that claim, but Batman: TAS was – and still is – a cut above almost anything else that graced our screens at that time. The Emmy winning, 1995 Batman film defining classic has remained at the forefront of many fan’s minds as one of the best superhero programmes to have ever graced the silver screen.
The 1992 iteration glided onto our screens at a time when most cartoons were colourful, cheery little things that offered simplistic stories, bouncy characters and soft stories. Think DuckTales, Rugrats, or Doug. Hell, even the two lead animators jumped on the project after having previously worked on Tiny Toons.
Batman: TAS was dark and never shied away from showing – or hinting at – violence. Many of the best episodes focused on the causes that lead to these ‘villains’ becoming warped, emotionless psychopaths or characters hell-bent on vengeance.
Whether it is domestic violence, death, a disability, or multiple personality disorders, the creators allocated enough time during short, 22 minute episodes to thoroughly delve into their motivations. In many ways, the series excelled not due to the action, but because it knew how to drum up tension by challenging simplistic binary genre archetypes of good and evil.
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Batman was never holier than thou. “I’m not here to pass judgement” was a phrase that the caped crusader used, but even he realised that he may have unintentionally led some of them to a life of villainy. This was explored in one of the series’ best episodes where a ragtag assortment of villains pleaded their case for why they felt Batman was partly to blame for them pursuing a life of villainy.
Another stellar episode involved Mr Freeze, a character who became evil because of the trauma he suffered after he tragically lost his wife. The episode paid great attention to why he became a villain and how it impacts his every decision, rather than making him a trinket character who mindlessly kills for pleasure.
Similarly, Harvey Dent, Baby Doll, and Harley Quinn all have depth that ascends them from one dimensionality to being fully realised characters that were as interesting as the protagonist.
Harley Quinn, a character who was created for the show, has appeared in numerous comics, cartoons, and the recent Suicide Squad film, since debuting in 1992. Equally, the way Mr Freeze’s backstory was adapted from the comics had such as big impact from the comics that this change was later used for the 1995 Batman film.
However, it wasn’t just the stories that made this a great show. No. the animation, the voice acting, and the sharp orchestral score all contributed to its unique, immersive charm.
Dark-deco, the series’ famous art style, masterfully achieved its sombre look by animating on black paper rather than white, overcasting the Gotham in exquisitely gloomy hues of dark reds, greys, and blues. Almost every second is visually stunning, stylistically consistent, and capable of elevating each scene to greatness. The 1940’s noir style provided an element of timelessness and a serious overtone that juxtaposed the lighter, colourful cartoons of the time.
The voice acting may be the most important part of the programme, though. Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker were inspired choices that have led to both actors continuing retain these roles through later series’. Other character actors include Robert Costanzo and Bob Hastings, who were equally powerful and have become ubiquitous for their respective roles.
Interestingly, the legendary actor Tim Curry was turned down for the role of Joker as he was deemed to be too scary for young children. Curry would be, perhaps, one of the few actors who could have improved on the almost flawless voice acting.
The last 25 years has seen animation evolve a lot, but Batman: TAS remains a genre classic and the fact that the film, The Mask of Phantasm, is still widely considered one of the best animated films of all time is testament to the quality of Batman: TAS.