“Batman and Harley Quinn” follows the “Batman: The Animated Series” universe. Like the series before it and spin-off films like “Mask of the Phantasm” and “Subzero,” it’s chock full of art deco animation, superb voice acting, and an excellent score. But where “Batman and Harley Quinn” differs is in its campy approach and relevant social commentary. It may not rank among the best Batman adaptations of all time, yet it’s an entertaining Batman tale.
The film opens with Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Nightwing/Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) investigating a break-in at a lab. The dynamic duo uncovers that Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) and Floronic Man aka Jason Woodrue (Kevin Michael Richardson) concocted a maniacal plan to transform humanity into plants.
Because of Ivy’s relationship with former supervillain Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch), Batman and Nightwing recruit Quinn to help track down and thwart Ivy and Woodrue.
The animation, as in “Batman: The Animated Series,” oozes an art deco vibe. But there’s a modern vibe to character design which gives it a retro-modern styling. Colors truly pop: Harley’s red and black wardrobe, fluorescent greens of Woodrue, and an eerily red night sky reminiscent of season eight of the 1987 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series. Although it’s animated, “Batman and Harley Quinn” adopts a cinematic element in its panning shots.
While it’s set in the “Batman: The Animated Series” universe, “Batman and Harley Quinn” offers a drastic departure from “Mask of the Phantasm” and “SubZero.” There’s a strange mix of mature content and childish humor. Initially, the film assumes a typical Batman adventure story arc with an investigation into a lab break in. But once the heroes recruit the seemingly-reformed criminal Quinn, the narrative devolves into a series of comedic set ups.
The humor works well on occasion, notably when catering to older audiences. Harley claims that Nightwing was “Captain Kirking” her, and later describes Poison Ivy’s traps as “‘Little Shop of Horrors’ on sterioids.” Yet for each of these clever lines, there’s a childish joke. One segment includes fart humor which really feels cheap. It’s a strange mix of mature content and middle school lunch table humor.
Quinn is highly-sexualized, but this doesn’t seem like fan service. Instead, it’s a fan fiction sort of take. Harley represents an independent woman who’s in control of her destiny as well as seuxality. There’s a reference to Arkham as well as the Joker which further connects “Batman and Harley Quinn” to past Batman lore.
The plot promotes a theme of environmentalism and offers a relevant commentary. While it’s a commendable message, it’s far too heavy-handed. Like “Avatar,” “Batman and Harley Quinn” could have benefitted from increased subtlety. Coupled with its strange mature yet immature humor, “Batman and Harley Quinn” takes a much campier route. A highlight scene that feels strangely out of place finds veteran voice actor Rob Paulsen preforming a rendition of “Don’t Pull Your Love.”
Voice acting is top notch. Though Conroy plays Batman a bit stiff, it’s intentional since he’s a foil for the zany Quinn. Rauch truly brings Harley to life, and Loren Lester reprises his role as Nightwing. Kevin Michael Richardson steals each scene he’s in as Floronic Man.
Despite its flaws, “Batman and Harley Quinn” is a technically well-made film that further extends the DC Animated Universe. This slapstick approach helps “Batman and Harley Quinn” stand on its own and though it’s not nearly the tour de force of “Mask of the Phantasam,” it’s a fun-filled romp.