Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Screenplay by
Story byAlan Burnett
Based on
Produced by
Starring
Edited byAl Breitenbach
Music byShirley Walker
Production
companies
Distributed byWarner Bros.[1]
Release date
  • December 25, 1993 (1993-12-25)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited States[1]
LanguageEnglish
Budget$6 million
Box office$5.6 million[2]

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (also known as Batman: The Animated Movie – Mask of the Phantasm) is a 1993 American animated romantic superhero film featuring the DC Comics character Batman. It was directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm, and written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, and Michael Reaves. The film is based on Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995) and is the first original theatrical film produced by Warner Bros. Animation before eventually establishing the additional Warner Bros. Feature Animation division for theatrical productions afterwards. Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings and Robert Costanzo reprise their voice roles from Batman: The Animated Series, joined by Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach Jr., Abe Vigoda, Dick Miller and John P. Ryan.

Produced between the first and second seasons of the series, the film follows Batman as he reconciles with a former lover, Andrea Beaumont, and faces a mysterious vigilante who is murdering Gotham City's crime bosses. The situation becomes more complicated when the Joker enters the picture. The plot partly mirrors Mike W. Barr's Batman: Year Two comic book story arc, but features an original antagonist, the Phantasm, in place of the Reaper, while also borrowing elements from the Batman: Year One graphic novel, recounting how Bruce Wayne became Batman and his first attempts to fight crime.

Originally planned for a direct-to-video release, Warner Bros. gave Mask of the Phantasm a theatrical release, condensing its production into a strenuous eight-month schedule. The film was the first theatrical feature film produced by Warner Bros. Animation, and was released through the studio's Family Entertainment[1] division on December 25, 1993, to generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the stylized animation, voice performances, story, and music.

Due to the decision to release it in theaters on short notice, Mask of the Phantasm failed at the box office. After its release on home media, it became financially successful. Until the limited release of Batman: The Killing Joke in 2016, Mask of the Phantasm was the only animated Batman film to be given a theatrical release, as well as the only one to receive a full theatrical release until The Lego Batman Movie in 2017.

Plot

Bruce Wayne and Andrea Beaumont begin a relationship after meeting while Bruce visits his parents' grave and Andrea visits her mother's. During this time, Bruce makes his first attempts at crime-fighting. He foils a truck hijacking dressed in a ski-mask and common clothes but is disappointed that the criminals were not scared of him. Bruce becomes conflicted about how to honor his parents; whether to defend Gotham City to avenge their deaths, or to settle down and marry like they wished. Bruce proposes marriage to Andrea, who accepts. However, she abruptly leaves Gotham with her father, businessman Carl Beaumont, ending the engagement in a Dear John letter. Heartbroken, Bruce assumes the mantle of Batman.

Ten years later, Chuckie Sol proposes flooding Gotham with counterfeit money, but is thwarted by Batman. When Sol tries to escape in his car, the Phantasm, a masked vigilante resembling the Grim Reaper, attacks him. Sol attempts to kill the assailant with his car, but the Phantasm dodges it and Sol careens to his death. Witnesses see Batman at the scene and believe him to have killed Sol. City councilman Arthur Reeves, once a lawyer for Carl Beaumont, vows to have Batman arrested.

The Phantasm murders another gangster, Buzz Bronski, in the Gotham Cemetery. Bronski's bodyguards mistakenly believe the Phantasm to be Batman. Batman investigates the scene of Bronski's death and encounters Andrea, inadvertently revealing his identity to her. Batman finds evidence linking Carl Beaumont with Sol, Bronski, and a third gangster, Salvatore Valestra, later finding a photograph of the four together in Valestra's home. Paranoid that Batman will come for him next, the now-elderly Valestra asks Reeves for help but is refused. In doing so, Valestra reveals he illegally aided Reeves in his political career. In desperation, Valestra turns to the Joker.

The Phantasm goes to kill Valestra at his penthouse, only to find Valestra already killed by Joker venom. Joker booby-trapped the place expecting to kill Batman with a bomb, but sees through a camera that Batman is not the killer. The Phantasm escapes the blast and is pursued by Batman but disappears. The police attempt to ambush Batman, but he is saved by Andrea. Andrea later explains to Bruce that her father embezzled money from Valestra and was forced to flee to Europe to find a way to repay it. What Andrea later realized is that Valestra wanted "payment in blood". While Bruce considers resuming his relationship with Andrea, he concludes that Carl Beaumont is the Phantasm. However, Bruce takes another look at the photo. He recognizes Valestra's unnamed enforcer as the Joker prior to his transformation.

The Joker reveals to Reeves that Batman did not commit the murders, and accuses Reeves of targeting him to erase his mob connections. Reeves is exposed to Joker venom; albeit a weakened dose as Joker was interrupted. Later hospitalized, Reeves struggles with hysteria. Batman interrogates Reeves, and he confesses that while previously working as Carl's lawyer, he helped the Beaumonts escape. When he ran out of money during his first run for office, he sold out their location to Valestra. Reeves failed to realize that Valestra wanted Carl dead. Both Batman and the Joker deduce that the Phantasm is Andrea, and that her final target is Carl's killer: the Joker.

Andrea tracks down the Joker to his hideout in Gotham's abandoned World's Fair. They fight but are interrupted by Batman. Batman pleads with her to stop, to no avail. The Joker prepares to destroy the fair but is seized by Andrea, who bids Bruce goodbye as the explosives detonate. Bruce survives the blast but finds no trace of either Andrea or the Joker.

Alfred later consoles Bruce in the Batcave, assuring him that Andrea could not have been helped, before finding Andrea's locket containing a picture of them together. A sorrowful Andrea departs Gotham and a saddened Batman, cleared of accusations against him, resumes crimefighting.

Voice cast

Main article: List of Batman: The Animated Series characters

Production

Impressed by the success of the first season of Batman: The Animated Series on Fox, Warner Bros. assigned Alan Burnett to write a story for a full-length animated film. The original idea for the film was to have Batman being captured by his enemies at Arkham Asylum and face a kangaroo court in which the villains try him for making them what they are. The idea's concept, however, was considered "too brainy", as it required Batman to be immobile for a long time, so the idea was later used in the series' episode "Trial", which was aired after the film's release.[3] Although the Joker does play a pivotal role in the film, it was Burnett's intention to tell a story far removed from the television series' regular rogues gallery. Burnett also cited he "wanted to do a love story with Bruce because no one had really done it on the TV show. I wanted a story that got into his head."[4] Members of the creative team have claimed that they did not intend for the Joker to appear in the film; Paul Dini has contradicted this, stating that the Joker's role was always part of the story from the beginning of the film's production.[5] The writers were highly cautious of placing the Joker in the film, as they did not want any connection to Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman, but writer Michael Reaves said, "We then realized that we could make his appearance serve the story in a way that we never could in live-action."[6] In order to keep the Joker as a solo threat, Bruce Timm and Burnett convinced frequent Animated Series writer Dini to not use Harley Quinn in the film for that reason (although Arleen Sorkin did a bit part in the film voicing a minor character). The same technique was previously used in the episodes "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne" and "Joker's Wild".[7] Conversely, the episode "Harley's Holiday" was done with Harley Quinn and did not feature the Joker.

Aiding Burnett in writing the script were Martin Pasko, who handled most of the flashback segments; Reaves, who wrote the climax; and Dini, who states he "filled in holes here and there".[4] Orson Welles' 1941 classic Citizen Kane served as an influence for the flashbacks, a story about loss and the passage of time.[8] According to Kevin Conroy, Andrea Beaumont was named after voice director Andrea Romano.[9] The character of Hazel, the cook robot of the World of the Future Fair, was named by Burnett after Hazel the Maid (portrayed by Academy Award-winning actress Shirley Booth), The Saturday Evening Post protagonist of cartoonist Ted Key's TV series Hazel.[10] On the other hand, the design of the Phantasm went into 20 different versions until one was found which convinced the film's crew. According to Burnett, the Phantasm was like the Grim Reaper with a cape, although the idea was to make her resemble the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come of Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol,[11] something that even the Joker mentions in the finished version of the film.

"It was basically an expanded episode. We boarded the script and did all of our designs and shipped it overseas. We were treating it with more quality, but we originally didn't intend it for the big screen."

Eric Radomski on Warner Bros.' decision to release the film theatrically[12]

Early in production, Warner Bros. decided to release Phantasm theatrically, rather than straight to video. That left less than a year for production time (most animated features take well over two years from finished story to final release). Due to this decision, the animators went over the scenes in order to accommodate the widescreen theatrical aspect ratio.[13] The studio cooperated well, granting the filmmakers a large amount of creative control.[14]

Warner Bros. also increased the production budget to $6 million,[12] which gave the filmmakers opportunities for more elaborate set pieces. The opening title sequence featured a flight through an entirely computer-generated Gotham City.[4] As a visual joke, sequence director Kevin Altieri set the climax of the film inside a miniature automated model of Gotham City, where Batman and the Joker are giants. This was an homage to a mainstay of Batman comic books of the Dick Sprang era, often featuring the hero fighting against a backdrop of gigantic props (they would later do another homage to Sprang's works in The New Batman Adventures episode "Legends of the Dark Knight").[13] From start to finish, the film was completed within eight months.[12] The film's animation was provided for by regular Batman: The Animated Series overseas studios; Dong Yang Animation in South Korea and Spectrum Animation in Japan. While most of the animation was done by Dong Yang, Spectrum handled the layout work.

The film's plot bears heavy resemblance to the 1987 miniseries Batman: Year Two, written by Mike W. Barr and illustrated by Alan Davis, Paul Neary, Alfredo Alcala, Mark Farmer and Todd McFarlane.[15] While Bruce Timm called Year Two an "accidental inspiration" when designing the Phantasm, stating that he did not consciously base the Phantasm's look on the visually and thematically-similar Year Two villain the Reaper, with Alan Burnett saying he modeled Phantasm's modus operandi after the Spider-Man villain Mysterio, ni "the idea of someone who could disappear into smoke."[16] in May 2017, Barr confirmed that Mask of the Phantasm's similarities with Year Two were intentional, with him only having realised when "I dropped by the offices of the BTAS staff twice [and] each time I dropped by I saw a guy—a different guy each time—industriously typing away, with a copy of Batman: Year Two open beside him. That was when I first became aware of their use of Year Two [for the film]", with the early designs of the Phantasm in particular convincing him to bring up the matter of financial compensation to Paul Levitz at DC Comics. After telling Levitz, "I really want to keep this in the family," Barr had been given a portion of the film's earnings, as well as money for the creation of the Phantasm herself, DC acknowledging Year Two as the basis for the film.[7]

Themes

Paul Dini intended each of the flashbacks into Batman's love life to "have a tendency to get worse, when you hope things will get better." Bruce's relationship with Andrea, which at first shows promise, eventually turns into turmoil.[17] At first, Bruce and Andrea are set for marriage, but then Bruce is given a farewell note from Andrea cutting off their relationship. This eventually leads into Bruce's decision to become Batman.[17] Richard Corliss of Time felt this scene paralleled Andrea's decision to avenge her own parents and reject love when she finds her own father murdered. Both events transform the two people (Bruce becomes Batman, Andrea becomes the Phantasm).[18] One scene depicts Bruce Wayne at his parents' tombstone saying, "I didn't count on being happy." According to Reaves, this scene was to be a pivotal moment in Bruce's tragic life, as he denies himself the opportunity to live a normal life.[6] Reaves also stated: "When Bruce puts on the mask for the first time, [after Andrea breaks their engagement], and Alfred says 'My God!' he's reacting in horror, because he's watching this man he's helped raise from childhood, this man who has let the desire for vengeance and retribution consume his life, at last embrace the unspeakable."[6]

Music

Main article: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (soundtrack)

The soundtrack was composed by Shirley Walker, the main composer for The Animated Series. Walker cited the score as a favorite among her own compositions.[19] In an interview with Cinemusic.com, Walker explained that the "latin" lyrics used in the Main Title were actually names of key Warner Bros. staff read backwards.[20] The song "I Never Even Told You" was written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard. It was performed by Tia Carrere. Hans Zimmer, who would later compose the score for The Dark Knight Trilogy, played the synthesizer on the score.

The score was originally released on December 14, 1993, by Reprise Records.[21] On March 24, 2009, La-La Land Records released a limited expanded edition.[22] The release includes all tracks found on the original release with some tracks expanded. It also features almost 30 minutes of previously unreleased material.

Marketing

In December 1993, two novelizations were released. One was a young readers book written by Andrew Helfer,[23] with the other being an adult-oriented novelisation authored by Geary Gravel.[24]

DC Comics released a comic book adaptation written by Kelley Puckett and drawn by Mike Parobeck.[25] The comic book adaptation was later included with the VHS release. Kenner, who had already released toys for the cartoon series, produced several tie-in figures for the film, including Joker and the Phantasm (packaged unmasked, spoiling a pivotal plot point in the film). Batman & Robin Adventures Annual #1: Shadow of the Phantasm is a comic book sequel to the film. It was written by Dini and released in 1996. In 2015, a DC Collectibles action figure 2-pack featuring Batman and Phantasm was released.[26]

Home media

Mask of the Phantasm was released on LaserDisc in April 1994[27] and on VHS in May of the same year.[28] The VHS was reissued in April 2003 as part of a three-tape pack with Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.[29] Mask of the Phantasm was first released on DVD in December 1999 as a snap case[30] and in October 2005 as a keep case with the insert.[31] The film was re-released in April 2004 as a three-disc DVD box set that included SubZero and Return of the Joker. That version is currently out of print.[32] Warner Home Video re-released the film again in February 2008 as a double feature DVD with SubZero.[33]

The film was released as part of the Warner Archive Collection on Blu-ray on July 25, 2017, featuring new high definition transfers in 16:9 and open matte 4:3 presentations.[34] The film was also included in the Blu-ray release of the Batman: The Complete Animated Series box-set in late 2018.[35]

The film was released on Ultra HD Blu-ray on September 12, 2023. It featured a 26-minute documentary about the legacy of Kevin Conroy, who died 9 months prior to the 4K re-release.

Reception

Box office

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm opened on Christmas Day, 1993 in the United States in 1,506 theaters, accumulating $1.2 million over its first 2 days. The film went on to gross $5.8 million in the domestic total box office intake.[2] The filmmakers blamed Warner Bros. for the unsuccessful marketing campaign, which is commonly attributed to the rushed production schedule due to studio's last-minute decision to release the film theatrically. Despite this, Mask of the Phantasm eventually turned a profit with its various home media releases.[13]

Critical response

Mask of the Phantasm is possibly the best Batman movie ever made; it certainly has the best story... That movie will always stand up against time and it's a testament to the quality of the show that Bruce (Timm) launched in 1992.

—producer Michael Uslan[36]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of 58 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The website's consensus reads: "Stylish and admirably respectful of the source material, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm succeeds where many of the live-action Batman adaptations have failed."[37] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 65 out of 100, based on 18 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.[38]

Empire cited it as the best animated film of 1993, and felt it contained better storylines than Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns.[39] TV Guide Magazine was impressed with the Art Deco noir design that was presented. In addition the film's climax and Batman's escape from the Gotham City Police Department were considered to be elaborate action sequences.[40] Richard Harrington of The Washington Post agreed with overall aspects that included the animation, design, dialogue and storyline, as well as Shirley Walker's film score.[41] Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert regretted not having viewed the film during its theatrical release and gave it a positive review on their television series, At the Movies, when the film was released on home media, with Siskel feeling that Phantasm was better than Batman Returns and Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever, and only slightly below Batman.[42]

However, Chris Hicks of the Deseret News felt "the picture didn't come alive until the third act" feeling that the animators sacrificed the visuals for the storyline.[43] Leonard Klady of Variety had mixed reactions towards the film, but his review was negative overall. He felt the overall themes and morals were clichéd and cited the animation to be to the "point of self-parody".[44]

Wired's Scott Thill called Kevin Conroy "the finest Batman on record" in 2009.[45] In a 2010 list, IGN ranked Mask of the Phantasm as the 25th best animated film of all time.[46] That same year, IGN also stated it was "the Dark Knight's best big screen story" until Batman Begins.[47] In 2011, Total Film also named Mask of the Phantasm as one of the greatest animated films of all time, coming in at 47th out of 50.[48] Time ranked Phantasm as one of the 10 best superhero films ever in 2011.[49] In 2017, Screen Rant named the film the best Batman film of all time.[50] In 2018, Paste magazine called the film "the greatest Batman movie".[51] In 2022, Empire magazine named Mask of the Phantasm the best Batman film.[52] Also in 2022, nearly 30 years after its release, Rolling Stone placed Mask of the Phantasm at number 19 on its list of the 50 Greatest Superhero Movies of All Time, being the only traditionally-animated film included, the third-best animated superhero film and the second-best Batman film of all time, behind only The Dark Knight (number 8).[53]

Mask of the Phantasm was cited as an example of a film that effectively personified the character's "inner bubble" and psyche by actor Robert Pattinson, who portrayed Batman in the Matt Reeves film The Batman (2022).[54][55]

To commemorate the film's 20th anniversary, a screening of the film was held in Santa Monica with cast members Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany and Mark Hamill in attendance.[36] To commemorate the film's 25th anniversary, Fathom Events rereleased the film for one day on November 12, 2018.[56]

Accolades

Alongside The Lion King and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mask of the Phantasm was nominated for an Annie Award in the category of Best Animated Feature, but lost to the former.[57]

Notes

  1. ^ Uncredited

References

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Bibliography