Home > Batman: The Animated Series, C > Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 38: “Christmas with the Joker”

Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 38: “Christmas with the Joker”

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by Eddie Gorodetsky
Directed by Kent Butterworth
Originally Aired: November 13, 1992
DVD: Batman, TAS, Volume 1

Summary: Robin’s attempts to get Batman to take a night off to watch It’s a Wonderful Life get derailed as the Joker escapes from prison, kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and two others, and stages a holiday special of his own.

Debuting Characters: Don’t be fooled by the episode number – this is actually the second Batman episode produced and as such was the production order debut of Robin and the Joker.

Background:

I’m not really going to belabour the point, but Batman: The Animated Series certainly didn’t come out of the gate fully formed. While the fist episode, “On Leather Wings”, was nearly perfect, people like Bruce Timm were chafing at the ideas of the original story editor on the series, Sean Catherine Derek, who took a more socially conscious approach to Batman. Bruce Timm recalls how bad things got in those early days:

In the first few months of preproduction, Eric (Radomski, Timm’s co-producer) had serious differences with (Sean). We felt the scripts weren’t reaching the level of sophistication we were aiming for, and she felt that our directors and storyboard artists were taking too many liberties with the scripts – and why should she have to listen to a pair of arrogant, upstart, no-track-record artists anyway?… Certainly, egos were brusied and toes were stepped on.

Timm, Bruce, Batman: Animated (introduction) (HarperEntertainment, New York, New York, 1998), p. 12

Paul Dini and Chip Kidd are a bit more gentle in their assessment later in the same book:

Needless to say, Sean’s take never completely meshed with the darker vigilante envisioned by Radomski and Timm. While the producers were pushing for gritty action stories, Sean was pushing for Batman to help the homeless and install a recycling bin in the Batcave.

Dini, Paul, and Kidd, Chip, Batman: Animated, p. 26

It should be noted that while Derek’s tenure as story editor was one filled with problems (to the point that executive producer Jean MacCurdy nearly shut the entire production down), she is also credited with building up Catwoman’s character in her early appearances, as well as writing a great Rashomon-style episode in “POV.”

Although the initial problems with storylines were one issue, the first season was so ambitious – more episodes were produced for that first season than most five-year animated series manage today – that the animation varied a lot compared to the high standards of the later productions. In particular, one studio’s name is… infamous: AKOM.

You know, it’s weird, relatively, the stuff AKOM did for us than what they had been producing for other studios on other shows. But by our own relative standards, compared to the best being those TMS episodes, the AKOM episodes were just poor, poor, poor… eventually we just got to the point where we said “we don’t want AKOM any more. Their stuff is just not up to snuff.”

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 42

Now, after all of that doom and gloom, time for a bit of holiday cheer: an episode from the Derek era as story editor (one of only two that IMDB credits her with, interestingly enough) with AKOM on art that isn’t all that bad. Mind you, it’s bad enough that I wouldn’t have touched it if it wasn’t seasonal….

Episode Guide:

Even without that introduction, it’s pretty obvious that this show was from early in the show’s run.  Everything feels somewhat experimental, from the camera angles to Joker’s somewhat weird characterisation to the herky-jerky animation (although, well, that’s largely AKOM). Joker’s weirdly opposite from the role he’d later settle into; rather than having a hint of humour in a menacing character, he’s a funny character that happens to be potentially dangerous. His goals are to commit mass murder in this one, but really it seems that all he wants is to smash Batman in the face with a pie, kill a couple hundred people, and call it a night (which, admittedly, seems like just the right amount of insanity for him). Additionally, it becomes very obvious that Joker really could use a sidekick – while the script tries to compensate a bit by having him use a hand puppet, it’s amazing just how weird this one seems without Harley being his foil.

[this review was halted for three hours at this point by the greatest Christmas movie of all time coming onto my TV.]

In this story, Batman’s actually a little bit secondary – like most of his episodes, Joker carries the plot almost entirely by himself, via the linking narrations of the TV. And whatever plot is left over goes to Robin’s attempts to get Batman to watch It’s a Wonderful life, which the curmudgeonly Batman naturally hasn’t seen. Of vourse, after the traditoinal mixup involving a pursesnatching that isn’t all it appears, Batman relents… and that’s when the chaos with Joker starts, much to Robin’s disgust.

The episode winds up being a series of rather thinly-strung-together action scenes, and while they might have looked impressive when this show was state of the art (although given the general quality of the animation on display, that’s doubtful), on the whole there isn’t a real standout sequence.  The bit on the train is fun enough, but it doesn’t really challenge Batman or Robin, and the later fight against Joker’s army of toy soldiers was done better in “Beware the Grey Ghost.

All of that could be excused if this managed to capture the spirit of the season, but the episode isn’t really trying all that hard Aside from the great use of a famous school rhyme (later echoed in a non-Christmas episode of Justice League Unlimited by Flash), all that’s really tying the episode into Christmas is Joker’s broadcast, which although funny if you’ve seen a Bob Hope special, doesn’t really come across as enough of a Christmas tie-in. It just kinda lacks the… schmaltz, I guess… you expect out of a Christmas episode.

So, basically, the one time that early tendency towards overly-cheesy writing would work, the show didn’t indulge in it. I think that’s supposed to be ironic.

Grade: C. Things would get better the next time they’d try something like this, don’t worry. Mind you, it’s still a better Batman / Christmas story than Batman Returns was

Random Musings:

  • Not to hit on this again, but there’s some horrible animation in this episode. Most glaringly, look at Batman throwing the batarang a couple episodes in. Hanna-Barbara’s animators look at that and think it’s ugly.
  • I assume this was before any of the overseas studios had too many character models for Bruce, as he sits around watching television on Christmas Eve in his ugly double-breasted brown business suit.
  • Wait, one more howler – Batman has his cape machine gunned as a distraction, then puts it on three seconds later and it’s fine!
  • Oddly, It’s a Wonderful Life is a rare RKO movie that is not within the control of the Warner Brothers empire.

Line of the Episode: “Jingle Bells, Batman smells. Robin laid an egg. Batmobile lost a wheel and the Joker got away! Crashing through the roof, in a one-horse open tree. Busting out I go, laughing all the way!” – Yeah, Hamill had Joker nailed from day one.

Next Justice League: Paul Dini makes his writing return to the DCAU with “Comfort and Joy.” Episode order? We don’t need no steekin’ episode order.

Next Time: Another early holiday treat, with the first production episode of the new-style Batman, “Holiday Knights,” plus talking about the best of the stories from the comic special that provided the basis for the episode… and the only one that didn’t make the cut.

Oh, and the best Christmas movie of all time? Die Hard, of course.

Jingle Bells, Batman smells. Robin laid an egg. The batmobile lost a wheel and the Joker got away! Crashing through the roof, in a one-horse open tree. Busting out I go, laughing all the way! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!
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  1. konway87
    December 5, 2010 at 1:46 am

    In my opinion, Sean Catherine Derek is a very good writer. Whatever she wrote, very little ended up on the screen. That was the main problem. She worked on many great scripts. But they were changed completely, because of BS&P’s interference and also artists at Warner Bros were taking too many liberties with the scripts.

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