Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts is fine, fun, and diverting entertainment that brings DC’s Dark Knight to a younger audience, even if it has a few flaws that are difficult to overlook. Like Batman Beyond, Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts throws Batman into a futuristic Gotham and seems to have been inspired largely from a new line of toys. However, similar mercenary motives led to Batman Beyond and arguably even Batman: The Brave and the Bold, not to mention the many outstanding shows from Hasbro that launched the Hub Network. While Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts doesn’t hit that level of quality, it is still enjoyable enough.
In Gotham City, a mysterious crime wave is uniting several of DC’s animal-themed supervillains, including the Cheetah, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, and a technology-enhanced gorilla named Silverback. They get assistance in a pinch from robotic animals, including a wolf, a tiger, and a bat. Their larcenous activities draw the attention of Gotham’s Batman, Red Robin, and Nightwing, along with out-of-towners Green Arrow and the Flash. The plot thickens when the grotesque millionaire Oswald Cobblepot attempts to make a big splash in Gotham’s social circles. And all this activity is almost certainly tied to the fly-by of a comet with a core of solid gold several miles wide.
Temperamentally, Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts feels very much like a hybrid of Batman Beyond and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, mixing the former series’ futuristic setting with the latter’s lighter tone. If Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts isn’t quite as far-flung as Batman Beyond‘s future or as outlandish as The Brave and the Bold, the combination is still just enough to inject a bit of novelty for a character who has gotten far more than his share of animated adaptations since Batman the Animated Series rewrote the rulebook on how to do superhero cartoons. Several action set pieces ensure that adrenaline rushes are never very far away, while Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts‘s sense of humor and brighter color palette ensure that things never get too dark. Kids ought to love it, while adults will still find enough to enjoy as well.
While Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts does a lot of things well, there is still room for improvement on a few different dimensions. The plot is both too simple and more complex than it needs to be, as it tries to dress up a Super Friends-grade plot (which is emphatically not intended as an insult) to mask the story’s scent trail for viewers over the age of 7. Unfortunately, those attempts to add mystery and intrigue will fall flat for anyone familiar enough with DC comic book characters to recognize characters like Oswald Cobblepot or Kirk Langstrom. The target audience for a movie like this is clearly those less familiar with the oddball corners of the DC Universe, but its use of some of the DC Universe’s better-known characters works against it far too quickly. The first half of Beware the Batman did quite well intentionally avoiding the more recognizable Batman characters and creating brand-new ones, but the furthest afield Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts is willing to go is pulling in the relatively obscure Blue Beetle villain Silverback (who, to be fair, turns out to be even cooler than a talking, technologically-inclined gorilla is already). JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time was more successful in retaining the madcap, freewheeling creativity of the best Super Friends episodes while turning in a story that had plenty of surprises to offer audience members of all ages.
It also seems like there are a few too many characters in the movie than the plot can support. While all the superheroes and super-villains get at least a brief moment to shine, some of those moments are too brief or too artificially staged to really warrant the character’s inclusion. I don’t know that Killer Croc really adds much, and including both Red Robin and Nightwing is far too redundant. Justice League had problems finding ways to hobble the Flash so he didn’t just solve all their problems with super-speed, but inÂ Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts his powers seem to fluctuate especially wildly. I’m also singularly disappointed at the totally homogeneous white maleness of the superhero lineup. DC and Marvel are finally beginning to pay more than lip service to the diversity in their audiences, offering up comics, characters, and plot lines aimed at girls and/or minorities, so it seems incredibly retrograde that this particular day is saved by a quintet of white guys. Would it really have been so unthinkably radical to combine the Red Robin and Nightwing roles as an excuse to animate Batgirl of Burnside for the first time? Katana? Black Canary? Bronze Tiger? Ronnie Raymond Firestorm?
Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts is shipping at retail in a Blu-ray combo pack, with the Blu-ray providing the expected high-quality video and audio experience that is the standard for Warner Bros. Animation. Bonus features include a brief but solid featurette on the Penguin, two episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and ten DC Nation shorts. This latter bonus feature may well be worth the price of admission, since three of them are the stupendously awesome “Batman of Shanghai” shorts, which meld superhero derring-do, Chinese wuxia fighting styles, and hyper-stylized visuals to craft the most rousing action shorts this side of Genndy Tartakovsky. The other shorts (mostly centering on the Justice League of Animals or the League of Super Pets) aim at a much younger audience, but they’re fine, silly fun all their own. The combo pack also includes a bare-bones DVD and an UltraViolet digital copy, and a tiny bat toy molded in fluorescent colored plastics is included in the retail packaging as well. It’s a bit of an odd inclusion, since the bat robot doesn’t look like the toy at all, but it’s a decent freebie.
Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts was a bit of a surprise announcement, in line with other material for younger audiences like the JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time DTV movie or the LEGO DC Super Heroes franchise. While I’m not quite as impressed with Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts as I was with those two other cartoons (or the LEGO sequels), I think this movie gets a franchise off to a solid start and hope any future installments can improve on this movie’s weaker points.