Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, 76 minutes)
Plot: Batman must clear his name after a mysterious vigilante known as the Phantasm kills a number of Gotham’s top crime lords.
Source Material: This is set firmly in the DC Animated Universe and even gets referenced a few times. Seeing as how Batman: The Animated Series is still the definitive adaptation, it’s really quite strong as a Batman story as you’d expect from that team. There is a bit of Year Two in it with the Phantasm loosely inspired by the Reaper, but thankfully none of the worst plot of that is here.
Animation: This was produced at breakneck speed to hit a Christmas 1993 date, a mere 8 months in fact. Oh and it was at the dollar theaters maybe 2 weeks later just to make that sad. Still, this is a gorgeous film. There is a bit of evidence more money went into this than the show but the show was already visually dazzling. Gotham has never felt as distinct as it does here. The character designs are, as with the show, perfect. The use of color is brilliant. This is as great as a Batman movie will ever look.
Script: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, and Michael Reaves were all highly important figures in the writing of the show. Together they crafted one of the greatest Batman stories ever. I mean in any medium. With a mere 76 minutes they tell a rather complicated plot including time to make the love story feel like it matters. Compare this to the threadbare script of the almost equal in length The Nightmare Before Christmas, also in theaters at the time, and it’s even more impressive. This is a model of economic storytelling.
Voice acting: Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are the definitive versions of their roles. I’ll get to Hamill when I do The Killing Joke, but for now some thoughts on Conroy. His Batman is the best because his is the most grief stricken. He plays the role with a sense of loss not only for his past but for his future. The DCAU Batman never has a family, never finds lasting love. He is a tragic figure and Conroy brings that here. The voice work here is fantastic.
Final thoughts: Warner Bros. did this film wrong. This is, of course, a 5/5. I’d argue it’s even the third best non-Disney released animated film of the 1990s. The mistake WB made was barely marketing this film and when they did, they sold it to kids. No, this is a serious, adult film. It deserved far better than it got. Time has given it a new lease on life, but it deserved to find a massive audience in 1993.