Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero
Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero 1998
We’re moving right along in this animation month and it’s time once again for one of the animated films for the younger folks. This was really the first straight to video project for DC Animation. Yes, technically Mask of the Phantasm came before this, but that also had a brief theatrical release so it’s not quite the same since it likely had a bit of a larger budget. I don’t think I had ever seen this one, and for whatever reasons it didn’t quite bring up the same memories from the show like Batman Beyond did, oddly enough. There were a few holes that I poked through the plot line here and there, but overall it was a decent movie. I think its biggest flaw is just that it pales in comparison to most of DC’s better work, and even though I hadn’t watched it in years, I felt like Freeze’s episodes in the Animated Series themselves packed a bigger punch than this film did.
One of the more jarring things going back to this early period of the animated Batman is seeing Dick Grayson as Robin. But it’s not just about seeing Dick Grayson, but seeing Robin in general as a nearly adult teenager. It feels like it’s been over a decade, and likely has since Robin has been that old. For the most part in anything animated, Robin has either been Tim Drake or Damian Wayne who are both much closer to 12 years old than they are to 18, and when Grayson does show up, he’s fully grown up as Nightwing. But it’s also not the same as it is to go all the way back to the more campy Robin where he’s saying Holy Something-or-other all the time. It also didn’t help that they changed the voice of Batgirl from Melissa Gilbert to Mary Kay Bergman. Bergman didn’t do a bad job at all, but it was just another thing that helped make this film feel off compared to the animated series.
There’s also a question as to the time period which has rarely been an issue with Batman. There’s always been this weird retro but also timeless quality about Gotham City where it doesn’t entirely feel like it’s in the present day, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s in the past. Here, there’s much more of a feeling that it really is set in the past as the dances are full of swingin’ jazz music and everything seems to have that art deco look to it. But there was also the beginning of some CGI graphics, notably the submarine that also didn’t quite mesh well with the usual style of the animated series.
But enough about the feel of the movie and how it was different than the series that came before it. What’s more important is how it handles its own characters and story, and as it mentions in the title, this is a Mr. Freeze story. What’s most interesting about this film is that it was released on the heels of Mr. Freeze in the theatrical Batman and Robin, the only difference is that this film does treat the character with much more respect than a pun spewing Austrian-American. He garners quite a bit of sympathy and actually has a rather peaceful introduction as he swims for fish with his pet polar bears, ignoring for a moment how him having pet polar bears doesn’t really make any sense outside of a comic book mentality. He also has his own young ward by way of an Inuit boy Koonak, and it was by random chance that this submarine happened to crash through the ice where Freeze had set up his mini lab, putting his frozen wife Nora in jeopardy, and sending Freeze back to his criminal ways at Gotham.
The other character that comes into play who doesn’t get nearly as much sympathy was Dr. Belson. He was someone Freeze had worked with in his previous life and just so happens to be deep in debt to where his house is about to be foreclosed upon. This makes him the perfect candidate with medical ability and access as well as the ethical ambiguity so that his morals can be loosened with the help of the promise of Arctic gold. And as these types of things always tend to happen this way, Nora has a rare blood type only matched by a handful of people including Barbara Gordon. So the rest of the movie is mostly about Barbara’s capture followed by her attempts to escape while Batman and Robin simultaneously try to find and rescue her. That combination actually did help make the film stand out from other similar stories. Since Barbara is actually Batgirl, she’s not exactly the damsel in distress and is quite capable of rescuing herself, until she realizes that they are on an abandoned oil rig five miles off the coast.
The action in general worked quite well, even though they were generally few and far between. The climactic scene of their escape from the oil rig as it becomes engulfed in flames is incredibly well paced and looks gorgeous. There are a few great moments near the end with Batman’s black silhouette against the bright orange flames, regardless of how little sense it made for an abandoned oil rig to still be full of valuable fuel. It also just had to force a happy ending for everyone involved as we get to see not only Freeze survive with a makeshift ice cast on his broken leg, but Nora Fries also survives, and is cured of her mysterious disease, and Freeze just happens to catch a TV newscast about it so that he knows she survived. It’s just a little too neatly wrapped up, though it is somewhat forgivable considering its intended audience. And again, this isn’t a bad film by any means, it’s just that when compared with some of the stories that DC has been able to tell through their animated movies in recent years, it just doesn’t hold a candle to them. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.