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BATMAN UNLIMITED: ANIMAL INSTINCTS (review)

Review by Clay N. Ferno

The strange Batsuits with angular black and yellow emblem we’ve been seeing at Target from Mattel have been finally been brought to life by Warner Bros Animation and DC Comics. If you were off-put by the Batman and Robin (1997) look of the things, you are not alone.

My expectation of an eventual animated property were that of a Joel Schumacher ice rocket, plummeting further into the abyss.

Expectations mean a lot to Batman fans, and we especially take note when they are exceeded.
Bat-fans may be surprised by this with the latest offering, Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts

Keep in mind though, this isn’t New 52 Batman, this movie is geared toward a younger all-ages crowd.

Roger Craig Smith reprises his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne from the video games Lego Batman 3 and Batman: Arkham Origins. Charlie Schlatter returns to The Flash role from Superman: TAS and The Batman, Green Arrow appears alongside Nightwing, Red Robin, and Alfred for an alliance that is more Outlaws than Justice League to face down Penguin and the ‘Animalitia’.

One thing is for sure, Batman: Animal Instincts isn’t the Batman story we were expecting, but it may just be the Batman story we need right now. The tone of the film is more aligned with the Justice League Unlimited than with the more current, ‘adult’ versions from DC Animation we’ve been seeing, the last of which was Batman vs. Robin.

While I may have cringed at the character designs for the Mattel toys at the time, when brought to the screen, I tossed away that feeling in the opening scenes of Animal Instincts. We are dropped to a near future Gotham, with flying cars but not as far from now as as Batman: Beyond.

Batman (contrary to my last point, with a red symbol on his chest, like Terry McGinnis) glides in to stop a robotic canine from destroying S.T.A.R. Labs.

Across town, Nightwing has a meet-cute with Cheetah knocking over a jewelry store. She’s a stand-in for this typical Catwoman scene, and they even make reference to that. Cheetah’s partner in the heist is Killer Croc, and Flash shows up just in time to save Dick’s hide.

Green Arrow takes on the other simultaneous threat, Silverback at Gotham National Bank. I can appreciate the Grodd swap-out here as well as keeping the team to relatively popular DC TV heroes for the first in the Batman Unlimited line. This movie is the kickoff for 22 more episodes, a mobile app and a sequel.

The mastermind behind all of these similarly timed attacks on Gotham is rich weirdo The Penguin, who himself takes out some thugs teasing him on the street. Man, people can’t just let a guy walk around with a funny gait these days without some sort of comment.

Penguin is in charge of this Animalitia — of course a ‘not-so-obvious-to-the-kids’ portmanteau of ‘animal + militia’.

Batman, with the help of Red Robin (certainly not the Robin we expect to see in this story, but keep in mind, there are SO many to choose from!) deduces that Cobblepot’s newest building, dwarfing Wayne Tower called The Aviary is the center of all of these attacks.

Could there possibly be a connection? Spoiler warning — yes. It was The Penguin, duh.

Kirk Langstrom, a favorite from Batman:TAS is the scientist behind the science behind the force field bubble that Penguin plans to cover Gotham with. Don’t worry, this is not another  Convergence tie-in you forgot to pick up!

Only by Batman and friends capturing the active Man-Bat (Phil LaMarr) and getting him the right serum to transform into being Kirk again is the team ready to figure out Penguin’s plan and ultimately thwart him.

Frankly, this being a kids’ movie or not, the simple plot was refreshing. We still have some great dialogue, especially from Flash and Nightwing. Batman is still the smartest and richest guy in the room, but hey maybe Oliver Queen is just bit cooler with his costume and goatee.

Director Butch Lukic has been involved with many animated shows over the years, not least of which are Batman Beyond, Batman Beyond: The Movie, Ben 10 and Justice League.  Part of the fun Batman Beyond flavor is injected here, I think the story being set in the future helped with that.

The over-the top toy tie-ins only bookmark the movie, and I hope they make Flash, Red Robin and Nightwing figures as well. I enjoyed the costume designs for those in the movie, Batman’s emblem is still a bit problematic for me to want a toy.

Flash and Batman suit up to take on the Penguin’s diabolical plan in third act, but the suits still aren’t as egregious as a “Deluxe Ice Terror Mr. Freeze” from you-know-when.

I enjoyed this one, a one-off Elseworlds kind of thing. I don’t know if I’m the market for a whole series but we’ll see how it goes. Batman shows don’t last too long as I recall.

When can we get more Beware The Batman? Oh, never? That’s cool, I guess.

One of these days I’ll rent a garage with lots of string and cork board and notes to give you my theory about how different DC deals with multiple versions of different heroes, and how Marvel is taking the opposite tack. The short version of that is that after many long shower thoughts on the difference, I may side with DC.

I think it is OK to have many different Batmen to show many different audiences.


Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts is now is available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD
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