|The New Adventures of Batman (1977)
Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lennie Weinrib, Melendy Britt, Lou Scheimer
Greetings, readers, and welcome to the latest chapter of “How TV-on-DVD Ruined My Childhood Memories.” This time, we examine “The New Adventures of Batman,” which, when it aired on Saturday mornings in 1977, was must-see television for a certain young lad growing up in Chesapeake, Virginia. Upon viewing the complete series on DVD, however, it turns out that I may have simply been starved for any and all superhero-related cartoons, because, man, this is excruciating.
I apologize. I’m getting ahead of myself.
In the mid-1970s, one of the biggest animated series on Saturday mornings was ABC’s “Superfriends,” which took the biggest heroes from the DC Comics universe – Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Batman and Robin – and had them join forces, occasionally bringing in pals like The Flash, Green Lantern, and so forth. Looking to get in on the action, CBS somehow managed to work out a deal to do their own “Batman” cartoon. I’m still not sure how they pulled this off while “Superfriends” was still on the air, given the notoriously litigious nature of studios (I would’ve figured there was some sort of clause prevented the character from being on two networks simultaneously), but, nonetheless, “The New Adventures of Batman” found its way onto CBS’s Saturday morning line-up in the fall of 1977.
It sounded so good on paper: produce a new Batman cartoon, and get the guys from the camp ‘60s live-action series – Adam West (Batman) and Burt Ward (Robin) – to provide the voices. How can that go wrong? Well, there’s a long answer and a short answer to that question, so let’s start with the one that involves only typing one hyphenated word:
Feeling that the current crop of stories in the “Batman” comics were far too dark for Saturday morning consumption, the producers of the show decided to rescue a rather obscure character from the “Batman” mythos: an other-dimensional imp who idolized the Dynamic Duo and would pop up every once in awhile, always trying to provide them with challenges just to see them in action. In “The New Adventures of Batman,” however, Bat-Mite shows up in every single episode, always wanting to join Batman and Robin on their latest adventure. As God is my witness, he’s at least as obnoxious as Scrappy-Doo; strong words, I know, but it’s true. Unsurprisingly, he’s voiced by Filmation founder Lou Scheimer, who almost always found a way to insert himself into his shows, calling it an easy way to save money on voice talent. (You may also remember him as the voice of Orko in “Masters of the Universe.”)
There’s more wrong with “The New Adventures of Batman” than just Bat-Mite, of course, although he does manage to provide steady annoyance from the first episode to the last. Although West and Ward do conjure memories of the fun of the live-action series with their delivery, the stilted Filmation animation hinders the effect, since Ward’s hyperactivity as Robin was half the fun of his performance. Also, the Filmation tendency to recycle voices means that Commissioner Gordon, The Joker, The Penguin and Mr. Freeze are all given life by the same man: Lennie Weinrib. Weinrib was one of the all-time great voice talents – he was also a staple of the Sid & Marty Krofft productions (he was the voice of H.R. Pufnstuf) – but even he can’t pull off doing this many characters without it being obvious that the same person is doing them. Lastly, the attempt to make the show “kid-friendly” results in the creation of silly new villains like Sweet Tooth and Professor Bubbles.
It can’t be denied that the show looks great, taking its visual cue from the ‘50s and ‘60s comics, but there’s very little else about it that’s worth recommending. If you remember enjoying “The New Adventures of Batman” when it originally aired, trust me, you’re better off with your memories than you are with this DVD.Special Features: Most of Warner Brothers’ DC DVD sets usually include at least one enjoyable featurette (if rarely anything else), and, thankfully, “The New Adventures of Batman” maintains the status quo. Unfortunately, “The Dark Knight Revisited” includes appearances by neither West nor Ward, which is decidedly disappointing. Still, we do get interviews with, among others, writer/producer Paul Dini, “Batman” comics writer Denny O’Neil, DC President/Publisher Paul Levitz, DC Animation head Sander Schwartz, and Mark Hamill, who has voiced The Joker in the more recent “Batman” animated series. There are also a few former Filmation employees who pop up, including Lou Scheimer. It’s crystal clear, however, that just about everyone – with the possible exception of those Filmation employees – is choosing their words carefully to avoid saying outright, “This show was pretty awful.”