A crossover that many thought unfathomable has finally made its way to an actual film adaptation in the quite literally the Golden Age for superhero films, with DC holding the front on the animated side of things. This crossover, however, melds properties from two distinctly flavored companies with two targeted demographics that are nearly leaps and bounds away from each other, DC itself and Nickelodeon with Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Fortunately, this unique crossover, adapted from the comic book series, revels in how ludicrous it is, solidifying itself as an irresistible treat of both franchises that left massive, Joker-like grins on every Wonder-Con attendee present in the Anaheim Convention Center.
This latest film from DC Animation is easily one of the most delightful. For one, it is filled to the brim with excellent easter eggs and references, as we see these two incredibly varied yet perfectly composed rosters of characters, clash in several notable, crowd-pleasing moments. These references are littered throughout and never become the focus or take away from what is at the core of this film-sheer wish fulfillment of what if this happened. It’s every ten-year-old’s dream as they play with their action figures. What if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were to fight against and with Batman and his fellow allies? What if Leonardo had to face against the Caped Crusader himself? These are the questions that propel the film along at a snappy, exciting pace, always keeping the audience on the edge of their seat in just sheer questioning as the filmmakers churn out every idea they have and not once does it feel overstated.
Even though the film is mostly centered around Batman, rightfully so as it was his 80thAnniversary this past Saturday, what impressed and stayed on my mind the most, even hours after the world premiere, were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themselves. Writer Marly Halpern-Graser and director Jake Castorena capture their childish mannerisms and flairs with such grace that it felt like an old-school cartoon at times, complete with the infuriating yet nostalgic puns and one-liners. On the other hand, admittedly only at certain times, Graser smartly implements lines of dialogue that implicate that these characters are in fact in a modern world. Juxtaposed against the bonkers characters and story, it grounds the film in some sort of foundation, preventing the story from falling into an endless abyss of logical fallacies.
As for actual flaws, it’s hard to pinpoint any outside of the general complaint that the film isn’t innovative in its structuring. With the screen time leaning so heavily in Batman’s favor, the traditional sequence of events occurs with little surprise or differentiation. It weakens the third act a smidge as it is so traditional, taking the focus away from Graser’s simply genius humor and dialogue. In addition, under the same category of plot structuring, the film has so much time spent in the third act, with there practically being twoof them, that its middle act feels spliced. It relies so heavily on prior love and care for these characters that it bolsters past properly introducing eitherBatman or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But in the larger scope of things, these are, at worst, minor gripes.
Regarding the animation, it is unfortunately uninspired and looks shockingly low-budget. At the Q&A following the premiere, writer Marly Halpern-Graser said that 30 artists, just in America alone, worked on the film and this final product looks unfortunately outdated. This could be to inspire and activate our nostalgic nerves but its style is so contemporary that it’s hard to pinpoint that as the actual reason. Nonetheless, there are still some fantastic shots for fans to chew on, courtesy of the direction and the artists still inspired of the creativity and imagination of the earliest forms of DC animation.
On a similar note, the cast of voice actors is similarly chosen to provoke a rare mix of nostalgia and contemporary themes and styles. Troy Baker, seemingly the peak of the voice acting industry, portrays not one, but two characters in the film, both Batman and The Joker, with the latter, admittedly having little screen time and purpose. On the other hand, TMNT legend Eric Bauza turns in a classic and instantly familiar performance that will be recognizable and distinguished by any longtime fan of this franchise. It merges the new and the old, an element that I wished the rest of the film strived for more.
In the end, Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is everything that someone could have wished for and more. It’s a childhood dream, exploring every corner of the potential of this crossover, leaving nothing on the table, an act that should be rewarded by a sequel as agreed by a legion of fans at the premiere. It’s not particularly deep in its themes and messages with there being little under all the humor and bravado, but it’s still a treat for fans of either property. The animated feature is something rare and special and could be the very kick in momentum that DC Animation so desperately needs right now.