Merry Little Batman (2023)
Superhero fatigue has been discussed long enough that superhero fatigue fatigue might actually be a real thing by now. It’s clear from the record-setting lows of Marvel’s The Marvels and the brace-for-impact path that DC’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom appears to be on that the live-action superhero extravaganza, the surest thing in Hollywood for at least fifteen years, is in danger. What that means for superhero animation, which boomed on television ahead of and in tandem with the genre’s golden age on the big screen, remains to be seen. If Merry Little Batman is any indication, it appears to be business as usual on that front.
This diminutive Warner Bros. Animation holiday movie was announced back in 2021 for HBO Max and Cartoon Network. Since then, Warner Bros. spun off from AT&T, merged with Discovery, Inc. to form Warner Bros. Discovery, killed and recalled a number of projects for the tax benefits, rebranded HBO Max simply Max, and tried, yet again, to make their live-action DC Extended Universe something that was relevant and lucrative, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe had been until this year.
Amidst this upheaval, Merry Little Batman ended up at Amazon Prime Video, where it is a throwback to Saturday morning cartoons with minimal nostalgia, a clear and stark contrast to the ambition and grandeur of Sony’s blockbuster Spider-Verse movies (which Paramount/Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem tried shamelessly to emulate.
There is a long tradition of modestly-budgeted, animated Batman works that go unnoticed even by large chunks of fans who will rant and rave about the nipples on the Batsuit in the Joel Schumacher movies or George Clooney’s surprise cameo in this year’s The Flash. Merry Little Batman adds to the tradition with about the lowest stakes and least imagination I’ve yet to encounter in a movie set in Gotham.
In this movie, Batman/Bruce Wayne (voiced by Luke Wilson) is a bearded single dad. Eight-year-old son Damian (Yonas Kibreab) is excited to follow in his father’s footsteps, but Gotham has been crime-free for some time, so his youth is just one thing standing in the way of his dream. For Christmas, Bruce gives Damian a utility belt of his own, only one which is filled with a security alarm, bandages, and other First Aid supplies.
On Christmas Eve, Batman gets summoned away to Nova Scotia, leaving Damian home with the butler Alfred (Babe‘s James Cromwell). Damian stealthily scarfs down all the marshmallows he can find, so that Alfred needs to go out for the final ingredient of the cheer-up cocoa he’s making him. Unsupervised, it’s all fun and games around Wayne Manor, until a pair of thieves break in and take what they can, including Damian’s prized new utility belt.
Damian decides he has to retrieve his gift to prove to Dad he’s ready to be a superhero. Aided by a form-fitting Batsuit and an intelligence system voiced by his erroneously presumed-dead father, Damian inevitably runs into a bevy of out-of-work Batvillains including The Joker (David Hornsby), The Penguin, Bane, Poison Ivy, and Mr. Freeze.
The target audience for Merry Little Batman appears to be quite young. There are some gags thrown in for the comic book nerds: a highway named after creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, even a reference to the Batnipples suit. But there is not nearly enough to keep an adult engaged or excited here. One of my adult guests at my Saturday morning advance theatrical screening fell asleep. The 9-year-old boy in my party didn’t seem wildly enthused.
The lore of Batman’s universe is extensive and familiar enough to yield great comedic value when tackled with wit. The Lego Batman Movie is better than any Batman movie that Christopher Nolan didn’t direct. Even the underseen, underappreciated Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018) was a blast at playing with the caped crusader’s tragic past. Merry Little Batman never finds the right approach to distinguish itself or entertain you in the process. It’s fine in the way that the Saturday morning cartoons you grew up adoring are still fine in adulthood.
But it never once feels like the TV veterans at the controls — director Mike Roth (“Regular Show”) and writers Jase Ricci (“Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure”) and Morgan Evans (“The Teen Wolf After After Show”) — are treating this as an opportunity to create something special and lasting that the nostalgic will revisit regularly at Christmases Yet to Come. The more accomplished scribe in their midst, Etan Cohen, does nothing to inject the proceedings with the vitality he brought to lapsed sequels Men in Black 3 and last year’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.
And that’s fine. It’d be unusual if a straight-to-streaming animated movie swung for the fences. Merry does not, its goals never seeming any loftier than to lay the groundwork for a new series, which — surprise, surprise! — is in development at Amazon with the working title of “Bat-Family.” Assuming the series sticks to the broad visual style and juvenile sense of humor of this feature-length movie, it will need to come as soon as possible to prevent fans of Merry from aging out of the target demographic.
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DVDizzy Top Stories
- The Golden Globes are Sunday. Read up on the nominated films: Oppenheimer, Barbie, The Holdovers, Saltburn, Across the Spider-Verse.
- Now in theaters: The Boys in the Boat, Wonka, Wish, Napoleon, Hunger Games: Songbirds & Snakes, Trolls 3, Next Goal Wins.
- Now on home video, #1 movie of 2023: Barbie 4K reviewed.