Monday, December 23, 2013

Animation Observation: Batman The Animated Series-Christmas With the Joker

When you're a kid, nothing is more fun and exciting than Christmas. Hell, I'm an adult and as cynical and sarcastic as I can be at times, having Christmas day off to enjoy good food and relax is still something that makes me happy. And when I was six, nothing made me happier than Christmas and Batman. Combining the two can lead to...interesting results. One of them was 'Christmas With the Joker' from Batman: The Animated Series
As I mentioned in my previous post, this episode aired in the middle of November but I remember Fox Kids re-airing it on Christmas Eve that same year. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I watched it at my Oma's house when my whole family gathered at her house as is tradition.

The episode opens at Arkham Asylum where the guards are watching all the most dangerous criminals in the city decorate the prison, sing carols and set up a giant Christmas tree. Your tax dollars at work, Gotham. Among the carolers is none other than the Joker who actually sings "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" while he puts an ornament on the top of the tree.

In something that seems totally out of the Silver Age, the tree suddenly takes off like a rocket with the Joker riding out in pure glee. It makes you wonder how he was able to quickly make a homemade rocket out of an ordinary Christmas tree all while under the "watchful" eye of Arkham's guards. Fuel to the fire which is my theory that 95% of Gotham consists of idiots.

With Special Guest Star Charles Manson as himself

Meanwhile at the Batcave, Batman and Robin are about to head out on patrol but the Boy Wonder would much rather stay at home and get wasted while watching It's A Wonderful Life. But Batman's concerned about possible crime from anyone-especially the Joker, considering he has no family to spend time with.

But Robin's adamant that if they find not a creature is stirring in Gotham, they come back and watch It's A Wonderful Life-a movie Batman admits to never having seen before.
"I could never get past the title," he explains. 

In downtown Gotham, it turns out that in fact...there is no crime. That is one of many thing that pisses Batman off because now he has no one to punch in the face, though Robin is making himself a good candidate with his "I told you so" remarks.

"You can't stop me from flying a kite in the snow, Robin!"

Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce and Dick are about to sit down and watch the movie but Bruce is still having an early case of Christmas blues; it just doesn't feel like a good night unless there's a criminal's blood on his gloves. And he's really not looking forward to It's A Wonderful Life.
"It's not relentlessly cheerful is it?" he pouts.
 However just they're about to turn on the film it seems that the Joker has hijacked all the TV stations in the city (How DO super-criminals do that all the time?) to present his own Christmas special. 

The Joker describes his special as "the show that nobody wants to see but everyone will watch." So the Joker is producing his own version Glee by that description. Batman and Robin have honed in on the source to the Joker's broadcast and make their way out. Robin thinks that it's too easy but Batman reminds him that it's never easy with the Joker.

"They're singing again!? OK, change the channel, this show sucks!"

The Joker reveals to his studio audience (A bunch of cardboard cut-outs) that since he doesn't have a family of his own he decided to steal one. And that family is 'The Awful Lawful family' which consists of supporting cast members Commissioner Gordon, Summer Gleason and Harvey Bullock, who in real life would probably be swearing so much that it would make Joe Pesci a bit uncomfortable.

Two things stick out to me. Our hostages are bound in the most ridiculous onesies ever seen up until that hipster in Obama's healthcare ad and gagged with just candy canes which makes me wonder why they don't spit them out and plead for their lives. Also, I heard a rumour that originally this was supposed to be just a random family but that it was changed because the idea of the Joker kidnapping a random family would be too frightening for children. Not sure if it's true, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Bruce Timm said, "When we were at Fox, after every single storyboard, we would get five single-spaced pages of notes on things we couldn't do. At Fox, they were really picky, not just about things you couldn't do, but just in terms of content and story. They had a million opinions about what we should be doing."

Anyway, Joker says that Batman has until midnight to save them or he'll kill them. Huh, for my family, by midnight Christmas Eve we're all planning to kill each other.

Judging by the colour of his teeth, I'd say the Joker needs to brush more often

Joker then makes things interesting by blowing up a nearby bridge with a train quickly approaching. Danger around Christmastime is always best shared instead of just kept between a few select individuals in the Joker's mind. To even raise the stakes, it turns out Summer Gleason's mother is on that same train. This would mean something if we pretended we cared about her mother but...

Anyway, Batman pulls the Batmobile alongside the train so he can grab the engineer while Robin uncouples the passenger cars. You'd think that the engineer would have been able to see a giant explosion that takes out a bridge or that someone would get a hold of him and say, "Look, stop the train, the Joker just bombed a bridge and I know because he's broadcasting it on every channel."

They succeed and the only satisfaction Joker can get is when he and his hand puppet friend, Laffy the elf, blow up the studio audience. Meanwhile, the Dynamic Duo head towards the source of the broadcast signal, the observatory at Mount Gotham. But it turns out to be a trap as the Joker has converted the observatory into a giant cannon! I shit you not. How the hell he was able to do all this after his escape is really a testament to his madness and genius.
"Maybe its a trick..."

"Oh Christ, its not a trick!!!"

Robin gets in the observatory while Batman draws the cannon's fire, however while trying to shoot him, it accidentally destroys the radar tower controlling it which sends the cannon out of control, firing out of control and towards Gotham City. 

Meanwhile Robin encounters a bunch of Joker robots inside the observatory that fire bullets out of their fingertips. These are easy to avoid when you realize that most of them just end up shooting each other and have the standard flaw of aiming for the floor where there target is running.

HIGHER! You have to aim HIGHER!!!

Batman tells Robin to initiate "Operation: Cause and Effect". Robin takes this to mean, just blow up the cannon, which he does with a small projectile from his utility belt. I think it's not too early for me to say that this episode has a lot of padding.

From this point on, even Batman's admitting he has no idea what to do while the Joker is upset that he hasn't arrived yet. You know, if he'd just said, "Batman, I'm at this address, come here ASAP" he could have saved himself and the audience a lot of time.

When the Joker shows off an obscure doll, Batman figures that it must a clue and heads to an old toy company to see if there's any chance. When they arrive, the Joker is just above them laughing like an idiot but for some reason the writer decided that Batman and Robin should have bad hearing at this time. However they have no problem hearing Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy playing over the speakers...or when giant robot toy soldiers come to life and try to kill them. I honestly feel like I'm watching an animated Silver Age comic

"Got your nose!"

So those take up about ten seconds of pointless tension until some more padding-I mean, enemies in the form of toy airplanes.

I'm starting to understand the fear of clowns to a degree...

OK, these planes are just more padding. For some reason they fly right into a barrel that Robin's holding-they don't even try to miss and Batman takes them out with a baseball bat prompting Robin to make the worse line in the episode-if not the entire series.
And now you know why his real name is Dick

Some bad guys show up, try shooting Batman (Robin is nowhere to be seen until the action is done so he's probably in a corner wetting his pants) and the Dark Knight takes care of the gunmen with a giant teddy bear. For a toy company that went out of business over a decade ago, they sure do have a lot of merchandise hanging around.

All of a sudden, a giant curtain is pulled away to reveal the hostages over a barrel of acid or something nasty and the Joker, ready to cut the rope that will drop them. He tosses Batman a wrapped Christmas present and insists he open it or else the hostages die. So Batman opens the gift and-
"Did Joel Schumacher write this?"

So it turns out this wall all just to make Batman look like he received a massive facial. Again, the Joker is one crazy, messed up, son of a bitch. Batman saves the hostages, saves the Joker from almost falling into the vat of acid and wishes him a Merry Christmas.

The hostages are saved, Bruce and Dick end up watching It's A Wonderful Life and the Joker is back in Arkham asylum, eagerly awaiting to celebrate Kwanza with BFF Charles Manson.


 The Best Bit of Dialogue is Batman's comments about having never seen It's A Wonderful Life.

Verdict: There's a good chance that I enjoyed this episode a lot more when I was younger and always full of energy to the point where my mother had to hide any sugar in the house. However when I watched it, I did enjoy it but not as much as I wash hoping to. The animation really isn't great in this episode and the padding with the observatory, in the toy factory, make me wonder if they could have split this episode into segments like they did with Holiday Knights a few years later.

Final score for Christmas With the Joker is 6 out of 10. As I said earlier, it feels like a Silver Age comic book but let's not forget that Silver Age doesn't always mean Great Storytelling. What saves this episode from entering Suck territory is Mark Hamill as the Joker. As always his performance is the real driving force of the episode and I'll be honest, I always laugh my ass off like an idiot when he brings on Laffy. But flaws and all, it's still something that I like to watch around Christmastime and much more preferable than crap like The Santa Clause sequels or Frosty Returns.

Merry Christmas to all crime-fighters and superheroes

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