"Batman: The Animated Series" "Batman: The Animated Series"

Brooding, well-written, and strikingly stylized, Batman: The Animated Series upended the conventions of tv animation when it premiered on Fox Kids in 1992. Warner Bros. Animation’s show struck a tone that was closer to film noir than the camp of previous Batman cartoons. Its influence on animated series — and comic book adaptations — can be felt to this day, and its fans remain legion.

Which is why, decades later, the series was deemed worthy of an in-depth retrospective documentary. The Heart of Batman was first released as part of the series’ 2018 Blu-ray set, and has sporadically popped up online since then. DC Comics has just uploaded the feature-length doc to its Youtube channel. Watch it below:

The film is studio-produced and sometimes slips into hagiography, but it is exceptionally informative. It sketches the backdrop to the series, which was launched by a young team at Warner Bros.’s fast-growing tv animation division, partly in reaction to the schlocky toy-based kids’ animation that dominated the 1980s. We learn of the show’s key influences, from Tim Burton’s Batman films to the Fleischer Superman cartoons.

Much of the key crew is on hand to reminisce, from series creators Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm to voice director Andrea Romano and dynamic studio president Jean MacCurdy. The documentary is especially good at unpacking the show’s visual style, which Timm, its brilliant lead designer, describes as “Dark Deco”: a cross between noir and Art Deco. It also devotes airtime to unsung contributors — such as Avery Cobern, the broadcast standards editor who was supportive enough to let much of the violence and darkness through. Apart from anything else, The Heart of Batman is a neat primer on who and what it takes to make an animated series.

Batman: The Animated Series spawned a DC Animated Universe, shaped Batman adaptations (and merchandising) for decades, and set new standards for art and storytelling in tv animation. Rumor has it that a reboot is in the works for HBO Max — filmmaker Kevin Smith recently said so on the Fatman Beyond podcast, citing “very reliable people.” Whether or not that’s true, the show made its mark on the industry. Clearly and persuasively, The Heart of Batman tells us why.

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