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  • Writer's pictureBryce Chismire

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm - 30th Anniversary Review

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Let’s look at one of the most iconic superheroes of our time, Batman.

 

Unlike many other superheroes that have been around since the 20th century, Batman took a noticeably different approach with its story and characters than the rest. It emphasized the chaos and unrest of civilized society, as demonstrated with Gotham City, and its characters expressed varying levels of depth and personality that generally felt more sophisticated and adult than most other superhero stories.

 

Later, in the early 1990s, Batman reeled from the success of Tim Burton’s distinctly crafted 1989 film, which gave Batman a fresher identity after the character was explored to comedic results in the Adam West TV show. But since Batman became all set for an animated TV series in response to Tim Burton’s movie’s success, would it have ended up like Adam West’s TV show?

 

Not so. This show flat-out did Batman and his stories justice by adhering to its dark color scheme, dignified writing, and layered characterizations. In so doing, it set this show apart from most other animated TV shows at the time, similar to how Batman, the character, and his stories set themselves apart from most other superhero stories.

 

Now, after the Tim Burton movie, then the animated series, came a film based on the animated series. Since the animated series was a pioneering force among animated shows at the time, how did the movie ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ fare compared to the other animated films around its release?

 

Sadly, its performance went under by comparison. But artistically and narratively speaking…frankly, it left me a little speechless.



What’s the story? Bruce Wayne, the ‘boy billionaire’ of Gotham City, went undercover as the masked vigilante Batman to hunt down and incarcerate the criminals rummaging throughout town. Then, one day, another masked vigilante called the Phantasm came into town. Wielding a white scythe and a ghoulish mask and outfit, this guy prowled throughout the city in search of some of the most notorious mafia heads in Gotham City, but rather than hold them down until the police arrived like Batman would’ve done, he instead slayed them. You read that right: he kills them. If this doesn’t clue you into what kind of PG-rated animated film this will be, nothing will.

 

However, the problems brewing in correspondence to his arrival dealt with far more than just there being more than one vigilante or even Batman trying to hunt down the Phantasm for killing criminals rather than apprehending them. The Phantasm and his outfit resembled Batman, which meant that whenever the Phantasm made his next kill, Batman would show up at the scene in his attempt to stop him, only to be mistaken for the culprit instead. In other words, Batman was blamed for the Phantasm’s wrongdoings. And he was mainly accused as such by the Gotham City Councilman, Arthur Reeves, even if it made him butt heads with Commissioner Gordon, who always had a soft spot for Batman despite him acting on the criminals outside of the law. Of course, given that Arthur Reeves had attempted to lure Batman in by any means necessary, and all under the belief that Batman was still guilty of the murders of the mob bosses, he and Detective Bullock, who also didn’t trust Batman from the start, rallied up their forces to hunt Batman down.


So, in a race against the clock, Batman had to scramble to uncover whatever little detail he could’ve gathered about the Phantasm before he would make his next kill and leave Batman to be given the blame.

 

On top of that, while that’s going on, Batman’s archnemesis, the Joker, started to catch wind of the Phantasm’s shenanigans once he was approached by one of the mafia heads, Salvatore Valestra. It turned out that the Joker had ties with them, especially those who’d been slain by the Phantasm and started to do some digging of his own to see who the Phantasm was and why he was murdering them in the first place.

 

But guess what? That’s not the only thing that’s challenging Bruce Wayne.

 

Returning to Gotham City was an ex-flame that Bruce Wayne had many years back named Andrea Beaumont, who had just returned home after spending time in Europe. Her return threw Bruce into a loop, for it brought back memories of their time together, to a point where they nearly became husband and wife before a series of tragic events unfolded that halted their marriage proposals. Her father, Carl Beaumont, had been working undercover with the mob bosses for money. When his life was on the line because of his potential mishandling of their money, he and Andi quickly hightailed it out of Gotham City into Europe and paid the mob bosses what Beaumont owed them. As for what happened to her father after that, Andrea was still hesitant to tell Bruce about it, even after they reunited.

 

What prompted Andrea’s arrival from home? How would Batman have reached the Phantasm before he slaughtered any more people? Would he have cleared his name before the cops could get to him? And what was it about the Phantasm that got someone like the Joker intrigued?

 

Let me tell you how I got acquainted with this movie.

 

When I was very young – and I mentioned this before in my Free Willy review – I remember watching only the first half hour or so of the tapes, including the previews. Besides the ‘Will You Be There?’ music video, I also saw the preview for ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ before it, and its striking colors and appealing designs, plus its energetic emotion, was quick, easy, and left me amused. Being the commercial-hungry youngster that I was, I begged my parents to at least rent the tape of this movie so I could check it out. When I did, once again, I watched only the first half hour or so of the film, up to when Bruce Wayne had his party and had to excuse himself as he remembered his times with Andrea Beaumont. I remember the music feeling glorious, the atmosphere feeling brooding, and the action through the movie feeling fruitful. Of course, I didn’t understand what was going on regarding people being slaughtered or Batman being the subject of blame, so back then, I enjoyed it for the superhero action and appealing characters.

 

But to everyone else…I agree; it looks like some pretty bland promotion. It barely scratches the surface of what the movie will be about. Granted, it doesn’t give away any of the plot, but it doesn’t give away enough to arouse intrigue in the film. My idea of a potential promotion for the movie would be to have the trailer show scenes from the show and then have them lead up to the scenes of the film as if to anticipate something game-changing about to occur within the context of the movie, to hone the magnificence of the film without going into very much detail.

 

However, while ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ ’s trailer looked too standard and did not promote the movie correctly, I will give it credit for this: being that I saw it at a young age, it helped me become familiar with Danny Elfman’s introductory music from the TV series. I’m not kidding. Listen closely to the music and tell me you don’t recognize it from the TV show.



I didn’t watch the whole movie from beginning to end until I was in early middle school, and I remember still feeling the same excitement for the action, the same engagement I felt from the characters, and the same appreciation for the music and stylized animation as I did when I was way young. Now, I saw it all unfold from beginning to end as I was meant to.

 

And now, let me get out of the way what works so splendidly about ‘Batman: The Animated Series.’

 

Around the time of its airing, from 1991 to 1992, it had to show up surrounded by the many other animated programs that likely shared the same timeslot, including Disney Afternoon, Tiny Toon Adventures, and so on. Of course, as we picked up on shows like Transformers and My Little Pony, some were there to profit off toys instead of telling a cohesive story with engaging characters. Thankfully, Disney Afternoon tried out being a more savvy and narratively focused but still lighthearted animated programming that intrigued kids with what they offered that was separate from all the others. When ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ came along, it offered something different from what the other animated programs provided at the time, too, but even that’s a slight understatement.

 

What ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ offered was more mature, layered writing apparent in all its episodes, throwing in plenty of action, a slight dosage of kid-friendly material, and a good chunk of content understandable and relatable to adults. On top of that, the show benefitted from sporting a different color scheme from what most other animated shows offered. Whereas many cartoons were bright, colorful, and zany, ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ was dark, gloomy, and grounded. And its overall color tones helped reflect the tone and style of the show, calling back to the noir stories of the 40s while also honing the elements of Batman that felt like a tragedy in superhero’s clothing. This show embraced the many qualities that made Batman a household name throughout the 20th century and embodied them in astounding measure, becoming a trailblazer itself.

 

Well, I’m happy to report that the movie ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ carries all those qualities and embellishes them in a way suited for a feature-length film, whether it came out in theaters or not.

 

But it wasn’t just the art-deco style that the movie did so well. I also admire the design of the Gotham World’s Fair. The aesthetic carried a 50s and 60s-like retro-futuristic vibe, almost on par with what we’ve seen in the Seattle World’s Fair, Tomorrowland, and shows like The Jetsons. I’ll wager this hearkens back to the general attitude and aesthetic of that time, and it even embodied some of the designs we would have recognized throughout the rest of the series, such as the “Automobile of the Future” that Bruce noticed on their way out. If you look closely at that automobile, you’ll see that it resembles the Batmobile that Bruce would’ve driven around in the series, which means that the design of the Batmobile carries some slight resemblance to what he remembered the most from his and Andy’s times together. And when you see the Gotham World’s Fair and how neglected and decrepit it became, it shows how much the general positive aesthetic has worn out because of the rampant criminality throughout Gotham City. I also remember reading that this symbolized Bruce and Andrea’s relationship. So, this was nicely played around with throughout the movie as well.



Also, at the time, several hand-drawn animated movies were experimenting with 3D animation in scenes that required tight or fast-moving angles to heighten the movement occurring within. Beauty and the Beast is one of the more famous examples because of its ballroom sequence. ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,’ on the other hand, was purely hand-drawn, staying true to the roots of the Batman comic lore. The only 3D animation it experimented with was in the opening credits, where the background is simply a fly-through of Gotham City. The layouts still carried the gothic style recognizable from the show. With the 3D makeover, the city somehow looked and felt even more ominous, but in a more inviting, rather than foreboding, way.

 

Narratively speaking, ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ also benefitted from not throwing in everything from the TV show to sustain its image as a cinematic extension of a TV show. Movies like The End of Evangelion and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie each had the disadvantage of establishing core concepts that were elaborated in greater detail in the TV show; you wouldn’t understand what’s going on in the movie unless you see the TV show beforehand. ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ is more along the lines of A Goofy Movie (with Goof Troop), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and even South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: it could be seen either as an extension of the original TV show or appreciated as its own standalone film. Also benefiting this factor is that ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ is a primarily episodic show, anyway – but not without some story arcs here and there – which supports ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ ’s creative instincts as another standalone installment of the series.

 

Funny story: ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ was initially meant to be a direct-to-video release. I don’t know if it’s the writers, the animators, or the head of Warner Brothers, but they decided to release it on the big screen instead. When you look at how the movie turned out, this was the right call and bestowed upon something most deserving of such a presentation… usually. Unfortunately, though sound, this upgrade ended up being foolhardy because it bombed when the movie premiered in theaters in Christmas of 1993. The problem was they decided on that at the last minute, so there was little to no time to give the movie its proper promotion or enough exposure to help it turn in a solid profit.

 

Now, as for the movie, did it do right by the show, the stories, and the characters of everything Batman?


Well, let’s start with the characters.

 

Bruce Wayne was a billionaire who thrived off the parties he hosted and the ladies he hit off with. Of course, his reputation within Gotham City may have stemmed more from how he was born to socialites Thomas and Martha Wayne, thus leaving Bruce to inherit his family’s reputation and namesake. However, because of his parents’ untimely death when he was younger – and as anyone can recall from the comics, it was because of criminal Joe Chill – he was left lonely and shattered by their deaths. Because of this, he devoted his life to operating secretly and separately from the law as a masked vigilante named Batman to hunt down and apprehend all the criminals prowling throughout Gotham City. But whereas many vigilantes would’ve taken extreme measures to put the criminals in their places, whether it’s with guns, or the intent to kill, etc., Batman simply dealt with the problems through either his fists and feet or with some of his gadgetry, like the Bat-arangs and Bat rope. His sole intent was to knock the criminals unconscious before they made their next move and before they escaped from the police. So, you could say he was an expert at physically stalling them so the police would’ve caught up to them.

 

Of course, as I already pointed out about Batman, what he did and would not do to the criminals is kill them. Even Commissioner Gordon said so during his argument with Reeves about Batman’s supposed murder spree. However, because both Counselman Reeves and the police department weren’t quite the rosiest you’d want to running the department, they compromised the missions to order the search for Batman. We all know that Batman got off on the wrong foot with the Gotham Police Department before since he dealt with criminals outside of the law. But the string of murders that followed raised their eyebrows and made them, primarily because of Detective Bullock, who harbored a grudge against Batman from the start, look at Batman like he had crossed the line this time.

 

However, when Bruce had to confront the demons of his past and present, they only started to put him on edge.

 

Between being framed for the murders that the Phantasm had committed and catching on to his former love interest’s arrival, he had to scramble about and think hard about what messes to clean up, what he had to come clean about, how to tend to his messes, and why he became what he became because of what he endured in his past. Bruce first met Andrea while laying flowers for his parents at their grave. So, it demonstrated that for all the loneliness he suffered since his parents were killed, his encounters with Andrea and their relationship promised them a potentially brighter future. However, two unwelcome circumstances occurred with them.

 

One, after losing his parents, Bruce made a vow to them that he would’ve scourged Gotham City of its criminal activity on their behalf as if to avenge their deaths. However, when he met Andrea and got together with her more, it made him question whether keeping his promise to his parents to fight crime on their behalf was the smart way to go. Even when he was talking to his parents at their tombstone, possibly after following Andrea’s lead after witnessing her talk to her dead mother at her tombstone, this demonstrated an existential crisis going on with Bruce that I cannot help but understand and sympathize with completely. Was Bruce trying to uphold his vow to avenge his parents’ death because of what the criminality of Gotham City did to them and that his companionship with Andrea was standing in his way? Or did he honestly convince himself that trying to fight crime was the way to go for his parents because he wanted to relieve himself of the pain he felt after losing them? It is not only exceptional from an emotional perspective, but it is also incredible from a psychological standpoint. It adds layers of satiating complexity to Bruce.



And two, reality would’ve intervened to throw a monkey wrench on his and Andrea’s plans, especially considering Andrea’s father’s messy entanglements with the local mob. Because of this, Andrea broke off her and Bruce’s engagement with Bruce, thus sending him into a potentially more bottomless pit of despair. Because of this, and the deaths of his parents still haunting him, that’s what triggered his decision to become Batman, as demonstrated most effectively when Bruce was putting on his Batsuit for the first time piece by piece. Even the culminating moment of him putting on his mask was framed and presented in a way that’d send chills down your spine because of how much of a life-changing event this was about to be for Bruce Wayne, especially Alfred, his butler and close friend.

 

In short, you see Bruce Wayne as he’s surrounded by all the forces from within and without closing in on him as he tried to tend to all the messes around him. What’s he to do?

 

By the way, his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, was a generally sophisticated, knowledgeable, and occasionally witty butler. If you know Bruce’s backstory, you’d see that he was more than just some butler working for Bruce; he was also the Wayne butler since before Bruce’s parents died, so he grew to be a de-facto father figure for Bruce. You can feel their relationship as master and butler here, but you can feel the subtle traces of a surrogate father figure and son figure apparent here. He may not have done much throughout the movie, and most of his comments were either commenting on the conditions in which Batman found himself or personally encouraging some semblance of good to come forth for Bruce and Andrea when she was still his girlfriend. Regardless, he still came across as a delightfully posh and inquisitively knowledgeable voice of reason.


One of the mob bosses being hunted down, Salvador Valestra, was an unorthodox mob leader who’s most settled into his retirement when he got word about his former confidantes’ murders in the hands of the Phantasm when the papers pointed the fingers to Batman instead. He was known to have lived from his oxygen tank, which he carried around almost everywhere. At first, it’s a slight running gag, but according to the flashbacks, he was a constant smoker, which explains his reliance on oxygen too well. At the same time, as the flashbacks in which he was involved showcased, Sal Valestra was a ruthless gangster in his day and was responsible for keeping Carl Beaumont in line as far as their financial obligations were concerned. In turn, he played a small part in things going downhill for Bruce and Andrea. Some of his unscrupulous methods were still present even in his elderly stage. But his now panicky state of mind highlighted how much was at stake when he knew that the string of murders afoot could eventually have led to him being the next victim. It got to a point where he hired his hitman to help him out with his predicament. And the hitman is…the next character I’ll talk about.

 

The Joker, as anyone might already have known about this character, was a wacky, upbeat, colorful, sometimes funny, and sometimes unethical clown long known as Batman’s archnemesis.

 

At first glance, the Joker would have been seen as starring in ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ out of fanservice because of his long-held history against Batman. However, once he and Sal Valestra were in good company, suddenly, I started to see him play detective on the case for the same reasons that Batman did. Of course, on Batman’s end, it was to clear his name. On the Joker’s end, he was asked to do so because Sal thought that Batman was responsible for the murders of Sal’s former mob companions. The Joker, knowing Batman’s legacy, decided to tend to the crimes, but mainly on his own terms, since his actions gradually became separate from Sal’s initial intentions. So, once you see him in action, it’s obvious he’s in it with more unknown, unsurprisingly unpredictable methods to finish Batman off.



Arthur Reeves seemed to embody a sleazy politician who was more concerned about upholding his image as a politician. He was even determined to do so as the murders cropped up all around Gotham City, and he automatically blamed Batman since he saw him as the likeliest person to have committed such unspeakable crimes, even if his subordinates, like Commissioner Gordon, would’ve disagreed. Of course, when his background as a politician and how he got there were delved into more, it turned out that he may have had less-than-ethical methods of making his way up into the Gotham ranks, especially since they concerned some of his closest friends.

 

Bruce’s former flame, Andrea Beaumont, seemed like a sincere, modest woman with a general pleasantness to her character. However, while she appeared that way as Bruce’s fiancée, her appearances in the movie’s present exposed her in a more mysterious light, as if she was hiding something she didn’t want others to see, such as Arthur Reeves and especially Bruce Wayne. So, once Bruce gradually ran into her, there seemed to be some potential promise for the two of them to hook up again, even if each one had different methods of pursuit that somehow tied them all back together. Even comparing how Andrea was back then to how she is in the present still left me with a slight interest in seeing what became of her after she and Bruce split up. That added to the general mystery canvas that helps the picture grow in all its seductively dark impulses.

 

And finally, you have the Phantasm himself. With his grim-reaper-like features, white scythe, and ghostly apparition, his presence and dead-set goals of exterminating the designated people he sought made him an outstanding villain. His voice was ominous, his moves were intimidating, and because he targeted only a select few people, there would almost have been no telling who he would be after next. Plus, his ways of teleporting himself in and out of certain spots in a puff of smoke, though unexplainable, still helped him heighten the potential of being an anti-Batman, the kind who would’ve been out for bad people with the intent to leave them dead in his tracks. Also, because his costume shared so many likenesses with Batman, and no one would’ve told the difference from a distance, it heightened his likelihood as the dark reflection of Batman and his crusade against the criminal life in Gotham City—those added intrigue to his character, if not his collective motivations. Phantasm went up there with the kind of intimidation, mystery, and intrigue that such good villains as him should express.

 

SPOILER ALERT

 

However, after a few murders of some of the most notorious mob bosses, including Sal Valestra -  though that was partially a setup by the Joker to snatch the Phantasm in a booby trap – and after a few more clues were unearthed, it turned out the Phantasm turned out to have been Andrea herself. Andrea went out with her father to Europe because Mr Beaumont owed the mob bosses, including Sal Valestra, and they both had to quickly travel to Europe and gather the money to pay them back. Unfortunately, once Andrea returned home, she found the bosses’ hitman coming out despite them having been paid, and she found him dead. So, it made her develop a deep vendetta against the bosses for ruining her father’s life, as well as hers and Bruce’s. It means that all the murders of the mob bosses that took place were connected to Andrea and her father, and they all died by the Phantasm because the Phantasm was Andrea in a fit of rage.

 

Once Andrea Beaumont was introduced at the beginning of the film, she was introduced as an almost generic yet nonetheless dignified love interest with a progressively mysterious demeanor. Once the identity of the Phantasm was revealed, it demonstrated a massive difference in personality between her and Batman. Despite having witnessed his parents being killed, Batman swore to fight crime, but never to a point where he would’ve taken anyone’s life. Andrea, on the other hand, when she witnessed her father’s death, swore to demolish every trace of the evildoers who took her father’s life. In other words, she gave in to pulling off what Batman wouldn’t have dared to do: take a criminal’s life in a fit of stealthy retaliation.

 

From L to R: Buzz Bronski, Salvatore Valestra, Chuckie Sol, Carl Beaumont

But what I found equally as shocking was the reveal of who the hitman was who gave a sly look at Andrea and Bruce and ultimately did the job of killing Mr. Beaumont. As Bruce discovered as he investigated the picture of said hitman, all it took was for him to draw in bright red lips, and… boom.

 

The criminal who bore Andrea’s vendetta against the mob bosses and dismantled her life and relationship with Bruce was also Batman’s #1 archnemesis.

 

Since I had watched this movie long before I saw the show, I saw it as a good unveiling of identities. However, now that I’ve seen the TV show, this is more than just a piece of a puzzle being put together. I think, to all the viewers of the animated series who stumbled into this afterwards, this is a borderline animated bombshell.

 

Let’s look closer at how this would’ve been such a significant bombshell to those who saw this after watching the show.

 

In the animated series, the Joker was still the theatrical, colorful, and monstrous clown we know the Joker to be. In some cases, he appeared throughout the show with his comedic antics, possibly as a way of roping the kids into his wild antics as he fought Batman. But he also had some other goings-on to demonstrate his character further. One of them is the show’s most significant contribution to Batman’s general identity: his sidekick/henchwoman, Harley Quinn. Now, on her own, Harley Quinn was a funny, pretty, and sadly mistreated young lady who was made into a Joker-themed pawn in the Joker’s plans after meeting him as a mental doctor in Arkham Asylum, where she was formerly named Harleen Quinzel. Since that fateful meeting, she and Joker got together increasingly, only for the outcome of their relationship to be viewed by many fans as the epitome of toxic relationships. However, once the rug had been pulled about his involvement in both Batman’s and now Andrea’s life, not only has it cemented him as an even deeper, more significant threat than the series established him to be, but it also affirmed once and for all how he was not called the Clown Prince of Crime for nothing.

 

Of course, since Andrea Beaumont became mistreated herself, also by the Joker, this calls back to one other central element that makes the show such a masterpiece.

 

Besides the dark color schemes, mature writing, and proper balancing of childlike and adult themes, it also portrayed many of its villains in a more complex light. They were not introduced as bad guys with no angles and were there just to be taken down. Some villains tried to do something noble or for their loved ones, only for tragic events to twist them into the monsters they became, thus portraying them in a far more tragic lens than was expected out of almost any villain. That includes not only Harley Quinn but also such villains as Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Baby Doll, and most of all, Mr. Freeze with the introduction of his cryogenically comatose wife.

 

Once the identity of the Phantasm was revealed, what could easily have come across as too equivalent of a Scooby-Doo villain reveal instead cemented Andrea Beaumont as yet another example of the series’ writing and portrayal of the Batman villains at its finest.

 

This, of course, all culminated in a three-way showdown between Batman, the Phantasm, and the Joker, all of whom shared more in common than either they or probably the viewers may have thought.

 

So, there’s a ton of good stuff that I’m unpacking with this movie as I let it sit, especially since I’ve now seen a good majority of the animated series throughout my college years.

 

But now, let’s hop on to two other facets of the movie that give it its muscle.

 

One is the voice acting. Everyone who played their parts in the movie helped convey their characters with a soft disposition while infusing it with a sense of class to their personalities. Dana Delany conveyed the respectable, vulnerable, underhanded, and outraged tenors of Andrea Beaumont. She helped convey her with a dash of innocence and a crafty tone, highlighting the likelihood that she was hiding something from everyone else. It shows you how much she highlighted how Andrea was in the past and how she became in the present upon her return to Gotham City. Her inflections were also dead on, for Delany infused Andrea with different shades of her personality. In the past, she conveyed Andrea with more modesty. In the present, she played her with more underhanded tactics typical of your everyday femme fatale.

 

Stacy Keach, Jr. gave Carl Beaumont a highly distinguished tone to highlight his ranking among the Gotham elite, but sadly, within his Mob entanglements. Plus, you can sense the inner tinges of him trying to be an excellent father to Andrea, whether in business or compliance with the mob.

 

However, as good as he was as Carl Beaumont, he was downright menacing and dashing as the Phantasm. With his ominous voice, booming tenors, and sinister presence, you can sense a twinge of bloodthirst and an aspect of him coming to claim his next victim as he went for the kill. Everything about the Phantasm was conveyed most superbly, and his voice acting was no exception. Of course, it’s also fantastic because of the roles Keach oversaw. It was established as another solid piece of the puzzle to string together with the others as the mystery was further explored, which only magnifies the movie’s and villain’s greatness.

 

Hart Bochner poured some noticeable snark and simultaneous pomp through Arthur Reeves. Whenever he spoke regularly, he sounded like a suave and pleasant guy with a high proficiency under his repertoire as a politician of Gotham City. However, whenever he spoke in a softer, mellow voice, he still carried the slightly friendly tone and the more shady disposition as only Arthur would’ve displayed it, which went hand in hand with his generally thoughtless demeanor.



Next, Abe Vigoda joined the ranks as Salvatore Valestra, and he hit home the striking influence of a mob boss who knew the ins and outs of mafia life, especially in Gotham City. There’s a slight softness in his voice, but I think that was fitting, considering that he starred as a mob boss in a movie for families while also highlighting his age and how much experience he’s had as a mob leader. One of Vigoda’s first major roles was as Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather, and his experience with that film is most evident here since his character’s intimidation and frightening position and capabilities within the Mafia regime is all you need to know about why life in the Mafia is bad news. Even the fact that his two characters shared the same first name was no coincidence; it most likely was an homage if I ever witnessed one.

 

As for the rest of the voice cast, they primarily returned from the TV show to reprise their roles as the designated characters as they had done in the show. The following is as follows:

 

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. displayed some genuine class and even occasional wittiness in his performance as Bruce’s butler, Alfred. His ways of communicating with anyone, especially Bruce, highlighted his more delicate personality, and from time to time, it also highlighted some occasional snarkiness and wit that only Alfred would have dished out with such precision. It threw some moments of levity into his otherwise dignified performance.

 

Mark Hamill, as always, knocked it out of the park as the Joker. With his bombastic voice, his conniving yet still silly deliveries, and his funny yet threatening tenors every time he made his move, Hamill nailed every aspect of the character flawlessly, as he had done with the Joker in the TV show. Every time he played his character, he only breathed new life into the Joker, elevating the Joker into the type who’s funny and silly enough for the kids, or rather, anyone to enjoy, while still being conniving, sinister, and tricky enough to hit home how much of a demented clown he was.


And finally, you have the late Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne. Because ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ was my earliest exposure to Batman, this was my earliest introduction to Batman as a character, especially Bruce Wayne. So, whenever I heard Conroy’s voice in this character, I could tell immediately, if not by instinct alone, that he was the natural Bruce Wayne/Batman. His soft, masculine delivery, sophisticated deliveries as he thought-processed certain crimes or details concerning the people he was after, and his viciousness and calm demeanor as Batman helped convey the character with a range of emotions that clued me into what type of Batman he was. Conroy portrayed Batman as the type who’s rough around the edges but still hasn’t lost his sense of high-class positioning, knowledgeable problem-solving skills, and honorable prowess in his voice as he did his thing.

 

The second significant aspect of the movie I want to address is the music, which was done by the late Shirley Walker.

 

Also joining from the TV show, Waker displayed the proper action themes prevalent in a superhero show, plus the suitable dark overtones fitting for Batman. In ‘Mask of the Phantasm,’ however, she did more than amp up the juiciness of the show’s music into the movie. Because she partook in a theatrically released Batman film, it gave her more freedom to emphasize the level of solemnity and gothic overtones that only came to be more synonymous with Batman. Whenever I hear the musical pieces that carry the booming orchestra or the choir singing in the background, I continually get chills just listening to it. They helped me feel like I was sinking deeper into the ethos and pathos of Gotham City in all its incarnations, especially Batman himself. Sometimes, they sounded like something out of a church because the music carried so many Gothic overtones. Among the first portions of the film I saw and was acquainted with as a youngster was the opening credits, with Shirley Walker’s music blazing in all its glory. The opening sequence was already astounding with its 3D animation, but the music helped add to its alluring nature. I would never have guessed this until recently, but if you listen to the notes in the opening theme, they resemble the theme song used in the second season of the animated series, “The Adventures of Batman & Robin.” Much like Alan Menken’s music or the Figaro sequence in Mrs. Doubtfire, among other things, this helped me develop a more profound respect and admiration for grand, uplifting, inspiring, ethereal music in general.

 

The ending song, “I Never Even Told You,” may sound like an odd choice for a song; it’s a 90s-pop-themed long song about the woes that come with telling someone the truth too late and the consequences that followed. With its 90s pop tunes, rock music, and high-quality vocals, it’d almost sound like nothing you’d expect to hear in a movie made from an animated TV show, especially one about Batman. However, first of all, now that I think about it, the 1989 Batman carried plenty of tunes by the famous rock star Prince, so it makes this feel less out of place. And second, on its own, it’s still a nicely sung, prettily conveyed tune about the harmful effects of not telling someone the truth until it is too late. Third, unlike most 90s-pop-themes ending tunes, like in the Disney films, this song was more about the heartbreak that comes with love rather than the joyous moments that come with it. So, I like the song for being such a surprisingly apropos song for ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.’

 

Also, something else I discovered about the movie that I didn’t catch until much later was that originally, outside of this being planned as a direct-to-VHS release, it would also have been set up as a potential series finale for the animated series. Frankly, given all the personal trauma and bombshell moments sprinkled throughout the movie compared to what was established in the series before the movie, I can understand it completely. The way all of Batman’s past came back to haunt him and how his close friends and enemies extended to some of his other most intimate friends in equal measure added some enriching and engrossing dynamics to intensify the already-rampant intensities of Batman as was displayed throughout the animated series, and all leading to a potentially massive bowtie to seemingly wrap everything up.

 

Of course, ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ would instead have gone on to be renewed for a couple more seasons, up to Batman becoming a member of the Justice League, all as part of the DC Animated Universe. Of course, this was probably for the best since it gave Kevin Conroy’s Batman plenty more room to shine, not to mention pave the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

Regardless, ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ is a haunting and genuine animated movie that broke away from the norms that populated most animated films at that time. At the time, they carried a generally colorful and optimistic mood that permeated the whole piece, leading to a happy ending. Even The Nightmare Before Christmas was generally whimsical despite its dark and morbid themes. What separates ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ from the other animated films, however, is that it was nothing but dark and morbid themes, except it still displayed them in a way that was generally whimsical, if not on such a level as The Nightmare Before Christmas. Better yet, if Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame is for children but happens to also be for adults, then ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ is for adults but happens to also be for children.


In addition, the way the movie conveyed its dark and edgy material reminds me a lot of what Stanley Kubrick did with Lolita. However, whereas Lolita had to demonstrate its artistry because of artistic and societal restrictions, ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ had to restrict what can be seen out of demographic limitations. But just like Lolita, ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ was skillful and clever enough to do so through pure subtlety. It decided to slip in the more hard-core elements of the series that would never have flown through children’s network television at the time in a way that’s generally tasteful for children and adults. This is the kind of demographic expression I love: the type of animated movie or family film with aspects that kids could easily catch onto and others that only adults would notice. And this movie, like Lolita, demonstrated the beauties of mastering subtlety in its exposures.

 

Yet, whenever it gets violent, sometimes, it can get really violent. For one thing, it’s more than just beatdowns, punches, and kicks. What the movie allowed more so than in the animated series was more visible bleeding, and the positioning and action were staged so that you’d feel the characters’ blows every time. There’s one scene, for example, of Batman punching a toy plane that always makes me grab my knuckles because of how painful it looks. That’s another valid reason this family-oriented animated movie deserved its PG rating as The Prince of Egypt did.

 

Be that as it may, it took everything that made the Animated Series such a classic and threw in plenty of twists and turns that added up to a dynamite of personal conflicts and revelations, many of them bearing a profoundly personal center, thus validating the film’s feature length. I tend to look at ‘Batman: The Animated Series,’ and now ‘Mask of the Phantasm,’ as a reflection of what happens when corruption infects a city, a community, or designated people, and most importantly, how people react to it. The characters, voice acting, story, mystery, music, and revelations carried what I could sum up in one word: gravitas. There’s a certain gravitas to this picture that I looked up to ever since I saw the measly few minutes of the movie when I was just a little kid. But as I grew older, not only did it grow with me, but it blossomed in artistic achievement as it did so, gradually evolving into a more powerful Batman film even compared to the best live-action films about Batman that followed. There’s a certain tenderness to ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ that might have been glossed over in spades in the live-action Batman films, making it morbid yet respectable, daunting yet human. As a result, this movie left a distinctive mark as a more emotional, heart-wrenching, and jaw-dropping Batman film, especially as an extension of the ‘Batman: The Animated Series.’

 

Swoop on in and give this film a chance. It mustn’t live in the shadows forever.

 

My Rating

A low A



Additional Thoughts


UPDATE (Dec. 26, 2023): The more I thought back to this movie, the more I realized I needed to address one other element. It occurred when Batman was on the verge of being apprehended by the Gotham City Police Department after being mistaken for committing the murders the Phantasm committed. Batman was at their last mercy, to the point where he became physically worn down after the surprising brutality the police force enacted on him. While he had to quickly give up his cowl to distract the police and make a break for it, he ran the high risk of potentially being exposed. As in, have people know who Batman is underneath the mask. This is the closest in the entire animated series where Bruce was on the brink of having his cover blown wide open, and given how the series formula usually worked, it only made this feel more suspenseful. It dragged me to the edge of my seat, leaving me unsure whether Bruce would’ve made it out before anyone identified him. Instead, the game-changing formula belonged to the Joker and the roles he played in Bruce and Andrea’s lives. Regardless, that adds to how massive and monumental ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ became as a cinematic, feature-length chapter of the animated series.

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