Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Anyone who knows me, probably knows my weakness for cartoon movies. Even at the age of 22, I find myself drawn to animation in an almost childish way. Pair that with with my fanatical obsession with Batman (check the ribs, folks) and you’ve got yourself an addiction.

As a kid, my parents always tried to do right by us, but that included a strict limitation on how much TV I could watch and what movies I could see. On school nights I was allowed only 30 minutes of what my dad ingeniously called “TV time”. So much to choose from when you boil down the entire cartoon lineup down to a mere 30 minutes. But, let’s be real, it was never a fair fight. Batman had won me over, every day after school at 4 PM, I would huddle in my basement to watch what The Joker or the Riddler had in store for the Dark Knight this episode.

So imagine my delight, and my dad’s horror, when an animated movie came out in theaters. Mask of the Phantasm. If you haven’t seen it, I’m honestly not sure if I can do it justice. It was everything I could have hoped for in a movie as a kid. Years later, and 22 years old, not a whole lot is the same. The value of the dollar, fashion, but there is one thing. That movie still holds the same childlike fascination it did when I dragged my dad to the movie theater that day.

I loved Batman the Animated Series, but there was always something in there that was lacking. “What’s that? Bruce was trained as a samurai?” Things like that would pop up every so often (well, not if you read the comics, but that was another thing that was strictly verboten in my house). This movie seems to take itself more seriously than that. There’s actual character development with some of these characters who went on to become staples in the animated series. Even as a kid, I was dying to know why these people did what they did and surprisingly enough, even at my age now, this movie provides some accessible answers for its younger audience.

Even more surprising, they embraced their dark side. The traditional dark animation is made even darker for the film, as is the tone. The animation itself is some of the finest hand-drawn I can recall in a long time. There’s such precision to it and it looks like they cleaned it up more in post than they would’ve been able to do for the show. As an animation fan, I’m pretty particular about the animation that I’ll watch, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm does not disappoint. However, the darkness in animation isn’t the only dark I’m talking about.

Everyone knows the inciting incident for why Batman became Batman (and if you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be reading this…) and this tragic event is revisited at length in this movie. It deals with a lot of emotional material such as love and loss, which was probably lost on me at the time. This dark tone is fitting for the movie and helps establish Batman as not just a physical force to be reckoned with, but a man whose heart is breaking behind the cape and cowl. It’s sad stuff and probably not even for kids, but if you were ever a fan of Batman the Animated Series, i recommend re-visiting Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Not only for old time’s sake, but because it holds up, in presentation and in story, beautifully.

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