Directors: Michael Goguen, Sam Liu, Brandon Vietti, Seung Eun Kim
Cast: Rino Romano, Peter Stormare, Tara Strong
Watch The Batman vs Dracula online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through DC’s animated superhero collection on Amazon Prime Video UK. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by Michael Goguen (with co-directors Liu, Vietti and Kim each contributing different sequences), this 2005 animated adventure is based on The Batman TV series, which ran for five seasons, between 2004 and 2008. The concept was at least partly inspired by the Elseworlds comic Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, and Malcolm Jones III, with which it shares at least two key scenes, although the alternate universe setting allowed for a more radical take in the comics, which had Batman becoming a vampire to defeat Dracula.
To put this version of Batman (voiced by Rino Romano) in Bat-context, this is a Caped Crusader who works alone, so no Batgirl and no Robin (they showed up in Season 3 and 4, respectively), although he still has the help of his ever-present butler, Alfred (voiced by Alastair Duncan). Similarly, the animation style closely follows that of the TV show (produced by artist Jeff Matsuda), which explains the significantly revamped character designs on The Joker and The Penguin. (Matsuda clearly has a thing about hair – The Joker has green, flowing dreadlocks, while The Penguin has suddenly become a ginger.)
The film begins with The Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson) and The Penguin (Tom Kenny) breaking out of Arkham Asylum, intent on chasing a stash of gold that an inmate has told them is buried in the Gotham catacombs. However, in looking for the treasure, The Penguin accidentally re-animates the desiccated corpse of Count Dracula (Peter Stormare), who promptly hypnotises him into doing his bidding (think The Penguin as Renfield).
When Gotham is hit by a wave of mysterious disappearances, Batman investigates and is taken aback when he encounters some of the Count’s undead minions. It doesn’t take long before he’s face to face with Dracula himself (sussing out the whole Dr Alucard thing pretty sharpish), leaving Bruce racing to find a cure for vampirism, before Dracula carries out his evil plan. Meanwhile, things take a turn for the worse, when The Joker is turned into a vampire and Dracula sets his sights on reporter Vicky Vale (Tara Strong).
This film marks Vale’s first animated appearance, and she’s a very welcome presence here (Alfred is particularly taken with her), with Strong’s voice performance bringing an appealing combination of warmth and spirit. It’s worth noting that Vicky fights dirtier than Batman does – at one point, she knees The Penguin in the unmentionables.
The voice performances are superb. Romano makes a solid, likeable Batman, giving Bruce a noticeably lighter tone than Bat-veteran Kevin Conroy’s voice, which helps to indicate that this is a younger version of the Caped Crusader. Similarly, Richardson and Kenny are great value as The Joker and The Penguin, while Duncan gives Alfred a nudge more personality than he usually has in the movies. The dialogue is a lot of fun, with plenty of great lines (notably, Dracula being impressed with the way Batman has co-opted his legacy), including a couple that will hopefully sail over the heads of children, such as The Penguin admiring Vicky’s jugulars.
The animation has a suitably creepy Hammer horror vibe, while cleverly managing to stay the right side of its PG rating, which is pretty impressive, considering the subject matter (one icky highlight has a silhouetted vampire Joker licking up spilled blood at a blood bank). Similarly, there are a number of enjoyably inventive touches, such as Alfred infusing all Batman’s weapons with garlic (all the usual vampire rules apply here). On top of that, the script adapts a classic horror plot to thrilling effect and there’s plenty of exciting vampire-bashing action, which builds to an extremely satisfying climax.