Part Fan Service, Part Nostalgia
A Film Review of Batman and Harley Quinn
DC Universe original animated features have always been much more than your typical, direct-to-video, cartoon entertainment. They consistently demonstrate high production value when it comes to the art style and animation, but especially when it comes to the voice over performances which frequently boast A-list Hollywood actors playing some of DC’s most iconic roles. They also tend to push the envelope into more adult oriented stories, capturing an older audience while still keeping the content relatively safe for the kiddies. Batman and Harley Quinn represents some of the best of what we’ve seen from Bruce Timm’s production team and is certainly another fine addition to this series of standalones which excels in the charm department even if the plot is about as deep as a wading pool.
The premise of the story involves a mean green team up of Poison Ivy and Floronic Man/Jason Woodrue who plan some global, catastrophic shenanigans. When they go to ground, Batman and Nightwing need to hit the streets to shakedown known associates. Of course, this leads us to the questioning of Ms. Harleen Quinzel. The former dynamic duo must work together with a somewhat reformed Harley to stop this nefarious plot featuring mixed results of failure, hilarity and some off the wall scenarios.
The plot isn’t as serious as some of the early episodes of The Batman Animated Series, but that actually doesn’t matter too much because the journey of this tale is the true reward. First off is the time warp the audience experiences with the overall art style harkening directly back to those great 90s episodes of Batman. That means the whole kit and caboodle of nostalgic character models, police blimps and that original, sleek, battering ram style Batmobile. It also means a terrific reunion of vocal talent between Kevin Conroy’s legendary voice as the one, true, Batman and Loren Lester as Nightwing who played the original Dick Grayson/Robin of the original animated series. Melissa Rauch (Bernadette from Big Bang Theory) does an excellent job channeling Arleen Sorkin’s original composition of Harley Quinn’s voice.
As the story unfolds, a litany of Easter Eggs, inside references and nods to the original series add layers of fan service to Bat-Fans of just about every media. The absolute glowing gem of this entire production is the dive bar/night club sequence in Bludhaven featuring musical performances and appearances from a bunch of old school gang members/minions of Batman’s arch criminals. Do you remember Captain Clown (wasn’t he a robot?), Ubu and Veronica Vreeland? You will. As neat as Harley’s rendition of Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone” was, nothing compares to Min and Max’s (Two-Face’s henchmen) performance of “Don’t Pull Your Love.” How Batman, Nightwing and Harley exit the premises couldn’t have been more perfect.
Despite her popularity, childish demeanor and comedic guise, Harley Quinn is still an edgy character that frequently tip-toes the lines of good and evil. As such, the content of this production is quite deserving of its PG-13 rating. The audience can get an immediate appreciation for this collision of thematic imagery with this feature’s opening moments of violence immediately followed up by a slapstick infused, hokey title sequence to introduce the film properly. Combat is entertainingly intense, but blood is shown a few times in addition to someone getting killed. There is some mild cursing here and there, but nothing as harsh as F-bombs. There’s also some more than nuanced sexual innuendo and content with nothing being shown. Parents please use your own discretion, but I certainly wouldn’t put a 10 year old in front of this.
Once the story ends, one can’t help but feel left wanting more which really boils down to the fact that this story is centric on Harley Quinn, so by nature, it cannot be taken so seriously. That’s not to say her character is incapable of striving for more gravitas, but it has something more to do with what Bruce Timm comments on during The Harley Effect mini documentary discussing the origin of the character among the likes of Timm and creator Paul Dini. Timm specifically highlights how this story has zero involvement with the Joker, the character Harley is most directly associated with. Severing Harley’s codependence on Mr. J allows writers to discover new territory with her character that will hopefully lead to more stories along the lines of this.
Unfortunately, the other character Harley is associated with is her BFF Poison Ivy who creates another type of codependency considering she is a super powered villain that is as dangerous as any other individual of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Telling a “Harley Quinn” story in proximity to any of these alpha personalities tends to push her directly into their shadows and rightly so. She isn’t as psychotic as the Joker, she isn’t a trained ninja assassin and she doesn’t have super powers. She doesn’t need any of these things to be as significant as her cohorts, but she needs as much time away from them to have adventures that develop characteristics that will make her more than a ditzy babe in a clown outfit. Everyone always references her previous profession as a psychologist, but that angle has never been fused with Harley’s character in the present; merely a reminder of a tragic past long forgotten.
Be that as it may, Batman and Harley Quinn is worthwhile to watch for anyone who has even a passing interest in Batman mythology. There’s far too much nostalgic fun to pass up on. I would also recommend this as a buy for full on Bat-Fans, that is, as long as it happens to be on a decent sale. Even with the two solid special features (the other being Loren Lester: In his Own Voice), 74 minutes of content is not quite worth the full price of admission. Harley Quinn is a great character that has an even greater upside than her token sexuality can take her. She simply needs more opportunities and I can’t wait to see who else can continue to help her get there.