Twenty years ago on Christmas day, DC Animated Universe history was made. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the first feature-length animated Batman film, and the first (and ONLY) one to be released in a movie theater.
Today, in celebration of 20 years of Batman’s first animated foray into the movie scene, the staff here at Dark Knight News remember Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
ROY RANOUS (Editor-In-Chief)
My introduction to Batman was Burton’s 1989 film. I had never even gotten to see a Batman film until 1995 when Batman Forever released in theaters. I wonder how many Batfans who read our site got to see the movie the day it came out. Anywho, Phantasm eventually DID get released on VHS. I’ll never forget the first time I saw it. It was Friday night. My mother had rented for my brother and me two movies; The Phantom, and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. By this point I was a devout Batfreak, always rushing home to catch the latest episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
When I popped that tape into the VCR and it began to play, I watched with bated breath as the movie began. It wasn’t the usual “police-blimp-panning-down-to-the-city” intro. The WB logo fades out, and a 3D view of Gotham City appears, accompanied by Shirley Walker’s amazing score and a haunting chorus. I was always a sucker for the show’s music. Just hearing it, even now, sends shivers down my spine every time I listen. NO OTHER MOVIE OR TELEVISION SHOW HAS BEEN ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH THIS. That should tell you just how amazing the animated series is, before you even get close to watching the film. Mask of the Phantasm, for me, has been and will always be the standard by which I judge all Batman features, animated or otherwise. It had such a thrilling story, masterful voice performances by Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Dana Delany, and an unforgettable score. When I think Batman, I think Phantasm.
MATT BRISBY (Content Editor)
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm has always been a fan favourite, as it should be. I mean come on, it’s a full-length movie done with all the style, voice acting, writing and vision of Batman: The Animated Series! And who doesn’t love The Animated Series? I challenge you to find a Bat-fan who doesn’t enjoy “Heart Of Ice,” “The Forgotten,” or “The Demon’s Quest.” It’s amazingly well done, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill up to their usual amazing vocal tricks, and Bruce Timm and Paul Dini create a truly unique Batman origin story that stacks up as one of the best of all time. Go watch this movie, if you haven’t, and if you have, it’s probably a good time to watch it again.
CARLOS CABALEIRO (Staff Writer)
I initially was underwhelmed by the movie when it was first released (I was THAT fanboy back then). The Jack Napier/Joker as a former gangster angle (incorporating the origin from Burton’s Batman), the similarities to one of my favorite Batman stories (Year Two) and the sub-par quality of the animation (not the best of the series–see “Robin’s Reckoning, Part 1” for an example of the best the series had to offer) were reasons for me not to embrace it. Once I owned it on VHS and watched it again, my appreciation for the film grew exponentially. The cast is amazing and Conroy gives his most nuanced performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne. It’s a powerful tale of heartbreak and loss that reflects some of the greatest stories in the long history of the Dark Knight. Today, Mask of the Phantasm sits as my second favorite Batman movie (slightly behind Nolan’s brilliant and under appreciated Batman Begins). The Retro-Batman action figure from the Kenner toy line is still to this day, may favorite Batman action figure of all time (a year one inspired look–i.e. brown pouch belt and black bat chest symbol). A true classic, and honestly, an example of the kind of projects DC Animation should be working on rather than comic book adaptations.
ADAM PONCH (Staff Writer)
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the privilege of experiencing the theatrical release of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It found its way on my TV via home media approximately 15 years after its release. Research has shown me that it is one of the crowning jewels of the DCAU and it’s a title most deserved. It gave the architects of the DCAU an opportunity to set up Batman’s origin story, their own version of Year One and boy, was it beautiful. It was done with so much care and admiration, rivaling some of the most beloved comic book writers all in a form of media that wasn’t quite respected at the time. The tears still well up every single time I witness Bruce shouting at his parents’ grave.
But as much as it is Batman’s movie, it is also the Joker’s movie. Though we were treated to a heartbreaking, beautifully conveyed flashback of Bruce’s past, the moment the Joker steps into frame, Mark Hamill officially steals the show. His performance as the Joker in this flick is unparalleled and still gives me goosebumps to this day. It’s everything you’ve ever loved about Batman: The Animated Series, to a grander scale. It set a precedence for Batman movies to follow. It’s a testament to its power when it took nearly two decades for someone to even come close to matching it.
GILBERT RIVERA (Staff Writer)
I remember my obsession with the animated series, and yet somehow I did not see Mask of The Phantasm until a few years ago. While part of me wishes and regrets not having experienced it in theaters, I think I lucked out having seen it as an “adult.” The movie is not made for kids, though it is kid friendly, and I think that so many of the things that I enjoy in it I would not have as a kid. Things like the romance, the heartache, the tragedy, and even the amazing choice to have a powerful score have such a grand presence, all make this animated film a true work of art.
RYAN LOWER (Staff Writer)
I had just turned seven years old when Batman: Mask of the Phantasm hit theaters….seven! But that didn’t matter, I knew my loyalty lay with the Dark Knight. I had been watching the animated series, and it was one of the first shows I loved. Still do, to this day. I remember not getting to watch it until it came out on VHS (remember those?), in which my mom went and bought it for me THAT day. She knew it was important. Upon watching it, I was completely fascinated with it! It was so loyal to the animated series, so loyal to Batman, and it was everything I thought Batman was up to that point.
Flash forward 20 years. I put the DVD in to watch it, and am still fascinated with everything in it. From the epic opening credits soundtrack, to Alfred’s reaction to Bruce first putting on the cowl, to the deep storytelling, to just everything Batman is. THAT is a great movie, when the impact it has on you hasn’t changed in 20 years.
KAYLA ANN (Staff Writer)
When Mask of the Phantasm came out, I was only 6. I don’t even remember if I knew what movies were back then, so I didn’t even know this one existed until a few years ago. I rewatched it recently, and it’s still as awesome as ever. I’ve always been a hardcore fan of the Animated Series Batman. The show in itself is a large part of my Batman fandom. The way it was written, the actors, the storyline. Phantasm was just that, and so much more. It went deeper into the lovelife side of Bruce, which we occasionally see but only on a face value level. The typical action is there, as well as the pain he endures and the troubles he deals with. Trust me, it doesn’t matter if this movie is 20 years old, or 200. It’s worth watching, even if you’re only just now becoming a Batfan. It’s in my top 3, and I recommend it to everyone.
RYAN SHIELDS (Staff Writer)
I’ve watched a lot of movies throughout the years. I’ve always thought that I have seen every batman movie there was to see. Recently though, I had came to the conclusion that I had not. The mask of phantasm was one of those movies I did not have the honor of seeing when it first came out. Watching it on a late night reminded me of how great the animated batman was in the old days. The brilliance of the writing and voice acting really brought me back to my younger days and reminded me of why I love batman so much. Even as a casual fan, this one is a must see.
What was YOUR favorite part of this movie? What influence did it have on you as a Batfan? Sound off and tell us your fondest memory of Mask of the Phantasm in the comments below!