Starring: Kevin Conroy, Michael Ansara, Loren Lester, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, George Dzundza, Robert Costanzo, Bob Hastings, Mary Kay Bergman
Directed By: Boyd Kirkland
Since I enjoyed the theatrically-released Batman: Mask of the Phantasm animated movie, I figured I might as well check out the straight-to-video animated Batman movies as well. Kids DVD rentals are only 99 cents for seven days, so I wasn't risking much anyway. Plus, it's not like this community can have too much Batman content.
Released a year after the Batman-movie-that-shall-not-be-named, this movie was obviously conceived as a way to cash in on the attention from that movie. Which obviously backfired big-time, since that movie killed the franchise and everyone involved quickly disavowed any knowledge of it (including the audience). A sequel of sorts to the first animated Batman movie (Phantasm), this movie also serves as a bridge between the original Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures, featuring Dick Grayson as Robin (he would go on to become Nightwing in the second series) and Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, along with the usual cast of characters: Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Detective Bullock, etc. The villain of the piece is obviously Mr. Freeze, who is still looking for a cure for his cryogenically-frozen wife Nora Fries.
When the film begins, Nora's frozen state is disturbed, threatening her life unless she receives an organ transplant. Unfortunately, she has the rare AB negative blood type, which makes her a poor match for any available organs. Fortunately for the plot development, there are people living in Gotham that match, one of which just happens to be Barbara Gordon. Unsurprisingly, the villainous Mr. Freeze captures Barbara, much to the chagrin of her father, her boyfriend (Grayson), and Batman. Action ensues.
One of the reasons that I wasn't as excited to see this movie as I was Phantasm is that it's not done by the same team that did Batman: The Animated Series. Series creators Paul Dini and Alan Burnett's only involvement is as script consultants, as Boyd Kirkland takes over both directing and writing chores for this one (to be fair, Kirkland also worked on TAS, just in a lesser capacity than Dini, Burnett, or Bruce Timm). The film also fails to replicate the "dark deco" animation style of TAS, instead producing animation that is a poor blend of 2D and 3D rendering. A lot of the characters look like Scooby-Doo level animation, and the 3D rendered sequences involving vehicles looks like an early version of Reboot, that looks really poor when juxtaposed with the rest of the 2D film. Basically, the whole movie plays exactly like what it is: a straight-to-video knock-off of the original series. It's an above average straight-to-video feature, but certainly doesn't exceed market standards.
On the plus side, most of the voice actors from the series return to reprise their roles from the series, including Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Loren Lester as Dick Grayson/Robin, Efrem Zimbalist Jr as Alfred, Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Robert Constanzo as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. Sadly, Sara Gilbert does not reprise her work as Barbara Gordon, and I have to say I didn't really like Mary Kay Bergman's higher-pitched voice as Barbara/Batgirl. It's probably a voice that would've been fine were I not so used to the original.
Ultimately, I didn't really get into Subzero as much as I have the series or Phantasm. This movie was clearly designed more for children than the earlier works, complete with a unnecessary child character (Koonak) for the kids to identify with. Obviously, as an animated video, children are the key demographic and I'm not necessarily faulting the movie for going that direction. However, one of the strengths of TAS is that it was suitable for children, yet could be appreciated by older fans of the character. This movie lacked the maturity of the early film and show, and is a by-the-numbers adventure designed for those not old enough to appreciate nuance or complexity. Also, like the Batman-movie-that-shall-not-be-named, the movie was too Mr. Freeze-centric, pushing Batman to the side, almost in a supporting role. I got my dollar's worth of entertainment, as I'm a fan of the character, and it was nice to see a movie with Batman, Robin, Mr. Freeze, and Batgirl that didn't completely suck, but, I don't think I'll be seeing it again. It's an above average kids movie, but I'm not a kid.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)
Batman: The Animated Series - Volume One
Batman: The Animated Series - Volume Two