The Bat, The Cat & The Penguin

A unique Christmas tale
September 29, 2010

I want everyone to taker a closer look on one of my all time favorite movies, and my favorite Batman movie. This, just like its predecessor, has the uniqueness and mystery about it. Burton's Batman was more like the Phantom of the Opera, and the first movie was designed to present him in that way already, but BR takes it to the next level.
I see the movie often often cited as one of the best Christmas movies, and one unique Christmas tale it is.

While Tim Burton's movies were Gothic, Operatic dark, Nolan's movies were Crime dark. I don't want to create any sense of competition here and start the never ending "who's better" debate because I love both dark approaches and they are completely different. It's like comparing a bed time dark Disney-ish story to an Al Pacino crime movie. Apples and Oranges, both tasting great..

Before I get into it, what one needs to understand is the type of stories Tim Burton makes/used to make. Burton is undeniably a unique individual, fascinated with color contrasts, winter, Gothic movement, art and classic fairy tales - a passion that continues to this day. His movies are like fairy tales, full of tragic characters, deformed people and Gothic surroundings. They manage to be dark, serious, and fun at the same time. Just like Edwards Scissorhands, Batman Returns WAS a fairy tale with a unique and modern spin. It was never meant or claimed to be logistically accurate or realistic, it was like an Opera play and according to Tim and Danny Elfman, it was such by design, hence almost every scene being scored. Batman Returns is a grim, Gothic, Christmas fairy tale


This is what I liked in Burton the most - his movies had a genre of its own, they were fairy tales but mixed with conventional movie making creating something new. It was the world of black and white and stripes and spirals, the world of tarnished souls and hurt outsiders (Edward, Penguin, Bruce). Even Wayne wasn't your average pissed of guy. He was really dark and he wasn't necessarily a hero. Remember him just sitting in the dark alone in BR? Or sleeping upside down in B89? He was always a mystery and we never knew much about him or his psychological scar. In the original movie he wasn't the main character, Vicky was, and he was and remained a mysterious character closed in himself. He was also the only Batman that killed

Bruce sees a fellow hurt soul in Selina, and at the end of the movie it's saddening how even she slips away from him, killing the hope for Bruce for ending his loneliness, despite his tries to peace his and her fractured and bizarre lives together.


One of many unique elements of this movie was that the villains were also protagonists. I think that Penguin was actually the best subplot and character of the movie. He was neither villain nor a good guy. He was kind of like Edward Scissorhands, someone rejected by society and forced to feel and act the certain way. I see many similarities between Batman Returns and Edward Scissorhands in that in both there is an outsider who was born different and therefore was rejected by society. It's true that Penguin is flat out evil and has the most cruel intentions, but they come from his pain of rejection, from his jealousy. We see some moments in which Penguin is really hurt and his anger at society in general, for rejecting him. He directed his anger and pain for being born different and being denied a normal happy life at those who have it.
The moment when the penguins were carrying his body into the water and him drowning was both very sad and grotesque


Selina is yet another tragic character. She is a good person who just didn't find anybody or any luck in life. She is laughed at and ignored even thought she's trying to help. And then even when her fall and mental breakdown causes her to become Catwoman, she is still a hurt and broken individual underneath. The scene in which she starts crying while laughing at the party with Bruce illustrated it very well


The Burton movies are all treated like a visual art, and every frame reflects that. The colors and designs are always stunning. In the first movie, A Gothic style was mixed with the 1930's style creating a surreal, Gothic world mixed with Al Capone-like gangster world. No wonder Bob Kane wandered the sets in front of the Pinewood Studios, and it's no surprise that he was constantly on the set as an official creative consultant. The entire city , completed with streets and stores and lower parts of the buildings were all designed and built. For Batman Returns, the designers also mixed in the style of Art Deco.

Even Batman's suit was a work of art, presenting the art deco style
As a former art&film student, I find them very fascinating. In addition to the sets, the lighting was often used very effectively.


The music was very operatic, often using choir, Hammond's organs and elements of Christmas music. I find the tracks called "The Cemetery" to be the most beautiful and sad. I think it's one of the best scores of all time. It borrows a lot from the Opera and leaves the original in the dust


Some people have this weird misconception that Batman Returns have little to do with batman comics. It's not true. Its more faithful than most of the Batman movies. Batman 1989 was more so faithful to the character's origins and to the original stories, the Shumacher movies and Batman begins had nothing to do with either, and TDK was faithful to the original stories but not characters - and the same goes for Batman Returns.
Let's see just a few examples

And by the way even IF it had nothing to do with the comic books, so what? Faithfulness to the source has nothing to do with the quality. Those are 2 completely different things that some people mistake for the same. The Shining had little to do with the book, yet the great late Stan Kubrick created a masterpiece. Yet back then people bashed it solely focusing on the fact that it wasn't like the book. Well, Stanley read the book so he didn't accidentally make a different movie. He was basing it on an original source and remaking it into his own vision, and again, it doesn't matter. The movie matters. Starship Troopers suffered the same misguided criticism.


I'm very shocked that BR passed with PG-13 on all this. And after all, one of the main villains wanted to drown little children in the sewers. All that was the reason why they didn't call Burton back and why the BR Penguin figures all looked like the TV version

Plus the movie featured a children killing, deformed man from the sewer, a guy dressed as a bat and an S&M mistress

PG 13?

The movie ends on a very downbeat note, just like Edward Scissorhands. Penguin dies without any redemption or salvation, still misunderstood, still scarred by his life tragedy. Selina ends up still alone, still having a very troubled and failed life and Bruce is once again left alone, seen going back to his isolated mansion to continue his very lonely and sad life. All the characters went through enormous changes, but sadly ended up empty handed and without resolution

The music, the look, the feel - it's all perfect. It's the best, most peculiar and the darkest Christmas fairy tale ever.
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