Fifty years after first donning tights to play Batman and Robin on TV, Adam West and Burt Ward are back, in a movie titled “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.” It just took the folks at Warner Bros. Animation to make it happen.
The 78-minute animated film is the studio’s latest direct-to-DVD release. But it came about in an unexpected way, featuring a pair of actors age 88 and 71, along with the show’s original Catwoman, Julie Newmar, also in her 80s.
The original series was produced by 20th Century Fox, premiering two years before DC Comics was brought under the umbrella of what was then known as Warner Communications. But the producers still had to do some fancy footwork, aided by the fact that the same manager represented West, Ward and Newmar.
The “Batman” series — with its comedic tone, colorful theme song and “Biff! Bam! Pow!” graphics — is a stark departure from the image of the Dark Knight that has emerged over the last 30 years. In fact, Warner Bros.’ last animated DVD, “Batman: The Killing Joke,” pitting the character against the Joker, is the first of those productions to carry an “R” rating.
The team at Warner Bros. Animation was nevertheless enthusiastic about having the opportunity to playfully send up the character’s past, in a movie that contains all kinds of knowing insider references.
At one point, for example, a woozy Batman sees three Catwomen — resembling the different actresses who played her in the show: Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt. And a recurring gag involves the character of Aunt Harriett implying that the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson involves a secret that has nothing to do with fighting crime.
“There’s a little bit of a leap of faith to make Batman with a lighter tone,” said Michael Jelenic, who co-wrote and produced the movie with James Tucker, adding, “Everybody who worked on this project is pretty much a fanboy.”
West was famously critical of the 1989 Batman movie directed by Tim Burton for its darkness, a lament he reiterated about the recent movies at New York Comic-Con, where “Caped Crusaders” premiered.
The goal, Tucker said, was to create something that “honored the old series,” not just for those who watched it, but generations that might not be familiar with this comedic spin on the character. “Batman is probably the only hero who works equally well in both tones,” he said.
Warner Bros. is enthusiastic enough about the project that they are already working on a follow-up — one featuring another octogenarian, William Shatner, as the voice of the Batman villain Two-Face.
The company also plans to develop additional classic titles, with a Wonder Woman movie — an homage to the 1970s series that starred Lynda Carter — on its wish list.
Despite the stars’ ages, the producers came away somewhat awed by West’s energy and vitality, and Ward’s ability to slip back into his youthful Robin voice, which Tucker described as being “like a magic trick only he knows how to do.”
“They take it seriously,” Tucker said. “They honor the characters as much as we try to.”
“Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” is available on Blu-Ray and DVD beginning November 1.