Though not as financially successful as the Disney canon of animated films (they did have a good 50 year head start)

“Hey, Ted, kids like verminous mice, right?”

I can’t think of another animated house that has as solid a portfolio as the WB Animated Premiere line. (The animated Marvel films are very hit or miss, more often than not in the miss category. How do you mess up the Ultimates? Twice, might I add.)

 

Pictured: Considerably less interesting than Wolverine.

 

For the intents and purposes of this article I will be talking about t only the related DC Comics based animated films (unless you really want me to talk about Cats Don’t Dance or Pebble and the Penguin. You don’t.)

Batman Mask of the Phantasm was originally intended to be a straight to video release. Warner Bros. fresh from seeing all those Dollar signs in their eyes from Batman and Batman Returns merchandising, apparently saw the possibility of a new Batman string of merchandising as a stop gap between Batman Returns and what would eventually become Batman Forever. The film was not a financial success. On a budget of 6 million dollars it only managed to recoup 5.6 million.

Very early in production, WB decoded that the film would be released in theaters. This unfortunately led to a very abbreviated window for the filmmakers. A traditional animated film is usually granted somewhere in the ball park of  two years or more. From inception to completion, the film took less than eight months.

Though many critics said that the film had a better narrative structure and even favored it over either of the Burton Batman films. But saying lack of narrative cohesion and Tim Burton films is redundant.

 

That isn’t a misprint. It says penguin commandos.

 

Go ahead. Say out loud the plot of Batman Returns.

I’ll wait.

You’ve either confused yourself or you think you sound like an idiot.

Granted, Burton’s films are lush, visual masterpieces, but that’s only half of the recipe. If I give you a hungry man dinner, but fail to heat it for you, your meal with be left with something to be desired.

Barely recouping its production costs at the theater, it would be the last of the animated DC films to be granted a theatrical release. Over its multiple releases over the years on DVD and VHS, the film has ended up turning a substantial profit and had two direct sequels, Batman & Mr.Freeze and Batman” Mystery of the Batwoman.

However, If Batman: The Animated Series owed its creation to the Batman films, Batman and Mr.Freeze was delayed because of Batman and Robin’s lack of success (and insuring wave of suck).

 

Artists rendering of wave of suck.

 

Financially, critically, microscopically and metaphysically a disappointment, the film’s performance so poorly, it caused the animated film, meant to tie-in to it’s eventual video release to be delayed another year.. The film was apparently completed sometime in 1997 but Warner, not wanting the stink to transfer, held the film off until 1998, hopefully improving its chances at success. And as they eventually went on to produce another Batman animated project, they were, by all accounts, correct.


supermanbrainiacattacksr

 

The first non-Batman animated Warner film was a little miss for me. They used all of the designs from the Superman Animated series that was produced from 1997-2000, but used none of the timeline or actor in their roles.

I’m not saying that you can’t recast or do another interpretation (as they did eventually with the Superman: Doomsday project) but why go to the trouble to reproduce so many details of the animated series and then ignore everything else about it.

Granted, I may have been out of the intended age range for the film, assuming that most 10 year olds wouldn’t remember a cartoon that was on television roughly the same time that they were born.

 

“Can someone flip it to Nick @ Nite. I loves me some Fresh Prince.”

 

Regardless, for us longtime fans, it was just kind of confusing and could have easily been solved but not having them look like their animated series counterparts.

After that slight misstep, the films have been bating 1000.

I don't know anything about sports. I can only assume this photo is illustrating the point that I just made.

I don’t know anything about sports. I can only assume this photo is illustrating the point that I just made.

Green Lantern’s likely reboot and Wonder Woman’s eventual live action interpretations will be doing well to reproduce the quality of these entries.

The Superman/Batman films (based on the comic of the same name) are probably my favorite of the DC animated films.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, New Frontier and Batman: Under the Red Hood are also adapted from existing material and are more than worthy successors to their source material.

This only took til 2005 for a live action adaptation to think to use the 60 plus years worth of stories as the basis for the film, which resulted in Batman Begins. Good call, Nolan.

Batman: Gotham Knights had a very interesting premise, letting different anime directors creatively control the segments and allowing them to translate the Dark Knight as they saw fit. Not necessarily fitting anywhere as far as continuity is concerned, is never the less a fascinating exploration of Batman.

All-Star Superman, based on the seminal Grant Morrison miniseries, suffered from trying to place too much in a constrained time frame. As The Dark Knight Returns used a Part I and II to adequately cover it’s legendary source material, All-Star Superman could have used a similar treatment.

Superman/Shazam is a collection on shorter subject, mini films, which was first for the series. This eventually led to shorts being included as bonus material on their full length disks (Green Arrow was the featured short on Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, for example.) I would honestly prefer the longer format, but seeing as how I have purchased and watched every other DC animated project over the last 17 years, you could guess that I probably invested in this release as well.

Of the more recent fare, which is mostly based on arcs started after the recent continuity reboot,  Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is probably the best.I think when people look back on it, years from now, it may be looked at as the animated film that took the DTV  comic book movie market to another level of storytelling. The characters feel fully realized and I found an emotional connection I can’t say I’ve ever experienced with the Flash character in any of his various iterations.

As and addendum to what I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I stopped reading DC, consistently, after the reboot. It honestly just felt like a slap in the face to erase the Universe I had been reading since I was seven years old. I’ve enjoyed Morrison’s Batman Incorporated and his run on Action Comics, but have found most of the rest of the titles to be wanting. Even the usually consistent Jonhs’ work on Justice League was bland. The individual personalities, which were masterfully done in the 1997 relaunch of JLA, are all but gone here. The Justice League, save Batman seem to have been lost their sense of individuality.(And this time Ra’s Al Ghul or the Injustice Gang have nothing to do with it.) I have purchased Throne of Atlantis, but have yet to motivate myself to read it. Oh, and Superman is apparently a douche now. Thanks, DC.

If you haven’t spent the time to watch these films or Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, JL Unlimted, Batman Beyond or Green Lantern: The Animated Series you legitimately have hours worth of entertainment at your finger tips.

Seriously, go search Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever. They are remarkably consistent and feature quality storytelling that often overshadow their blockbuster, theatrically released counterparts.

If you do decide to dip you foot in the proverbial pool, make sure to check out the second season finale of Justice League Unlimited entitled “Epilogue”.

The producers were uncertain of whether or not the show would be brought back for a third season and used it as what they assumed would be a finale to the animated DC Universe. It’s one of the most touching and poignant explorations of Batman, ever. I’d place this story beside Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke or the aforementioned The Dark Knight Returns. For anyone that was previously unaware, it shows you why Batman is, and ever thus shall be, the greatest hero in the DC continuity (Or Marvel, for that matter.)

DC Comics Animated Films

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero (1998)

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)

Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006)

Superman: Doomsday (2007)

Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)

Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)

Wonder Woman (2009)

Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)

All-Star Superman (2011)

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011)

Batman: Year One (2011)

Justice League: Doom (2012) (Adaptation of Tower of Babel story arc.)

Superman Vs. The Elite (2012) (based on “What’s so funny about Truth, Justice and the American way?” )

Dark Knight Returns Part I (2012) (based on…wait for it…. Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.)

Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013)

Superman Unbound (2013)

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)

Justice League: War (2014)

Son of Batman (2014)

UPCOMING ANIMATED RELEASE TITLES

Batamn: Assault on Arkham

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

Batman vs. Robin

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

 

I am one of the few supporters of Superman Returns. It isn’t a flawless film. I’ll admit that. Neither was the original X-Men. And with that set up for X2. We will never know what Bryan Singer’s Super Returns follow up would have been like. At the end of the day Warner Bros. (who had ponied up the money for Superman Returns, which caused Fox to find a replacement for him for X-Men 3, which makes them partially responsible for that whole mess.)

That’s how much Superman Returns made domestically. 200 million. Not too shabby honestly. The film did alot of stuff right. Like most fans of quality cinema, it ignored Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

General Zod couldn't stop him. He was more powerful than a locomotive. In the end all it took was Mark Pillow and Jon Cryer, who is also responsible for the dumbing down of America (See Two and a Half Men, but only in small doses.)

 

The film cobbles together a vague history of the first two Superman films. I thought Singer’s effort was strong enough for a redo, not to mention his track record. The main problem he faced was that all the money that had been spent over the years with false starts and other projects that turned into nothing were all rolled into his film’s budget. The Nicolas Cage/Tim Burton Superman Lives project.

 

This is what Tim Burton thought Superman Looked like.

 

And this is who he wanted to play him. Also, Superman wasn’t going to fly, though he was going to have a car that did. He fought a Polar Bear at the Fortress of Solitude and had a gay robot side-kick. I don’t know how robots can be gay, but it was going to be.

 

Here’s a link to some of his concepts on Braniac. I think he went to his trash can and got some drawing he threw away during Beetlejuice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ABWwAwl1hE&feature=player_embedded#

30 million dollars down the drain. Preproduction and pay or play deals, and nothing to really show for it. Oh, and Jon Peters said that Superman’s iconic costume was “too faggy”. This from a former Hair Stylist.

 

As best I can tell, this is the only thing that came out of this phase of the production that was worth anything. I would have loved to of seen Superman fight this Doomsday. I suspect if the new film is successful, we’ll eventually see Big Nasty in there somewhere.

After Burton left the project, it spiraled into chaos, as roughly anyone with writing credits or a background in direction was given the shot at directing or at least pitching their idea. Micheal Bay and Martin Campbell were both offered the director’s chair and both turned it down. Will Smith was also offered the lead. He turned it down on the grounds that he had made enough white people mad with Wild Wild West. Fair Enough.

 

Somewhere in all of this, Darren Aronofsky was going to take a stab at adapting Batman: Year One into a film. ( a gem of an idea that eventaully led to the reboot we all know and love Batman Begins.) He took some severe liberties with the source material. Batman was no longer Bruce Wayne. His Batman is a homeless man on the street. Alfred is an African american mechanic. Who goes by Big Al. Batman drove a souped up Lincoln Towncar. He gets called Batman because the ring he wears on his finger (that have the intials TW for Thomas Wayne) look like a Bat. Really. Supposedly Aronofsky never had any intention of doing Batman. He wanted to make Warner think he was going to so that they would greenlight The Fountain Here’s a quote from the man himself.

 

“I never really wanted to make a Batman film, it was a kind of bait and switch strategy. I was working on Requiem for a Dream and I got a phone call that Warner Bros wanted to talk about Batman. At the time I had this idea for a film called The Fountain which I knew was gonna be this big movie and I was thinking, ‘Is Warners really gonna give me $80 million to make a film about love and death after I come off a heroin movie?’ So my theory was if I can write this Batman film and they could perceive me as a writer for it.”

 

This eventually led to them combining the franchises which eventually led to them separating them again. It is worth noting that Christian Bale was approached to play Batman in Year One. (He was also a finalist for Robin in Batman Forever.) The script is kind of a mess but here is some of the concept work, which to be fair is pretty sweet.

 

 

This is good, but can we think more "homeless" and less billionaire...

 

 

What would it look like if it was a Lincoln Towncar?

 

 

Who are these people? They are neither not Bruce Wayne or my not Alfred, Big Al.

One such writer suggests that Afronosky never had any intention of making the movie and made sure by making it so far fetched from its genesis. Whatever the reason, it eventually led to this stage of development…

 

The next major director that was attached was Wolfgang Peterson, who proposed a Batman/Superman film with Jude Law as Superman and Colin Farrel as Batman. Andrew Kevin Walker of Seven fame was hired for scripting duties. Peterson eventually left the project in favor of Troy. Akiva Goldsmith (who rewrote the Walker draft and is responsible in part for Batman and Robin) did place an in joke in another film he wrote that was also produced by Warner Bros. (I am Legend) Anyone with a quick pair of eyes or access to a pause button can check it out. Or Just look down now.

 

 

An ode to the film that never was.

The next major team to attach themselves was JJ Abrams and Brett Ratner. (1 out of 2 isn’t bad)  This draft was referred to as Superman: Flyby (terrrible name) In an apparent Mad Lib session of casting. Josh Hartnett, Ashton Kutcher, Brendan Fraser and  with Matthew Bomer as the favored one for the role.

 

 

Christopher Reeve continued to suggest Tom Welling, whom you might know from Smallville fame. But what does that guy know?

 

Oh, yeah. Greatest actor to ever wear the suit. THE Superman by which all others are measured against. That guy.

 

Harry Poooooooottttteeeeerrrrr... I mean Suuuuuppppppeeeeerrrman!!!!!!

 

 

Always my weapon of choice.

 

This has nothing to do with anything, but any time someone mentions Christopher Walken, my mind always wanders to this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMZwZiU0kKs

That and Batman Returns.

 

Who's your daddy? And that's Sir to you B*tches.

The one thing this project did have going to it was it’s supporting cast. Christopher Walken as Perry White, Anthony Hopkins as Jor-El (He must have the most potent sperm in the world as he was in the running for Superman’s father and was recently cast as Thor’s father Oden in Marvel’s Thor) and Ralph Fienes as Lex Luthor. Tell me that wouldn’t have been something to see. And all this with JJ Abrams. The man rebooted Star Trek and the X-Files (kind of) and wiped the stank off Mission: Impossible left by M:I 2. How much more credibility does the man need?

 

 

Ratman Returns

Angered by his inability to direct and only get Rush Hour sequels greenlit, Ratner eventually left the project, with money likely in hand.

 

 

McG was then attached to the project, in hopes of buying himself a full last name. In Warner Bros. defense, he hadn’t yet ruined the Terminator franchise but anyone that is willing to put Charlie’s Angels I and II on there resume should be evaluated physiologically and mentally.

 

 

You don't have to view the trailer if you don't want to.

At this point Bryan Singer stepped in as director. This halted his pre-production on X-Men 3, and took his full staff with him. Ironically, Brett Ratner then took over helming duties on X-Men: The Last Stand as Singer took over Superman. After worldwide marketing cost, previous productions that didn’t come to fruition and Superman Returns actual budget, the final price tag was 350 million dollars, which made Superman Returns the most expensive film ever made at the point that it was released. Hearing that someone was making movies more expensive that him, James Cameron came out of retirement.

 

 

They did what! Those Mother F*ckers.

Superman Returns went on to gross 391 million dollars worldwide. It’s a respectable sum. I think the Warner’s were content to give Singer another shot at the movie until this happened…

 

When Warner realized that the 500 million they anticipated from Superman Returns was short by roughly another 500 million dollars, they suddenly had a severe underachiever. Why have a million dollar franchise, when you can have a billion dollar franchise?

 

Flash forward to 2011 and this is the new face of Superman. Henry Cavill, of Tudors and War of the Gods fame. Zack Snyder, who brought us Watchmen and 300. (The man does know his comic books) Personally I would have liked to see Singer’s follow up. I have been a huge fan of his work since Usual Suspects ( I am watching X2 as I write this.) I know he had a superior, intelligent sequel in him.  Sadly this will never come to be. Out of all the names that have been bandied about, I think Snyder is the best choice for the job. With Nolan producing and Goyer scripting, the film is in more than capable hands. I think Snyder is talented and more than qualified for the role. I don’t think he’s the artist that Singer is. The first Superman film (Superman: The Movie 1978) is a quientesntial piece of Americana. Richard Donner may have produced his masterwork then. Much in the same way he was robbed of his chance to follow up his film, so was Singer. I am looking forward to Snyder’s Man of Steel, but in the same way that I’ll always be upset that James Cameron never made his Spider-Man, I think I’ll just be left to stew about Singer’s Man of Steel.

 

In a final note to the new filmmaker’s, Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones. You can’t get generic Captain Crucnch. John William Superman score cannot be improved upon. If you think you can recast General Zod, you can’t. Terrance Stamp is still alive and well. There is only one man for that job. If you want the son of Jor-El to kneel, you know who to call…