There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of Batman movies, animated or otherwise, but director Mike Roth’s Merry Little Batman stands apart from the rest. The light-hearted tone is reminiscent of 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie, but it's accompanied by a welcome strangeness in terms of design, and a willingness to evoke mild kindertrauma.
The result feels akin to Nickelodeon cartoons or Cartoon Network’s series from the ’90s — where characters were allowed to look unconventional (and sometimes downright ugly), and there were levels to the humour on display, jokes that land for children and adults. This isn’t exactly a surprise for those familiar with Roth’s work on Cartoon Network’s Camp Lazlo and Regular Show, but it does feel like a refreshing reimagining of this world.
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Luke Wilson) is mostly taken out of the shadows and cast in the role of an overprotective father, wanting only to provide Damian (Yonas Kibreab) with something he never had: a childhood. This is a Batman who’s successfully made Gotham the safest city on Earth, retired, grown a dope beard, and gone to therapy, making him the most well-adjusted depiction of Bruce Wayne we’ve seen on screen. (No, Adam West’s Batman was not well-adjusted — not with all that dancing.) Along with Alfred (James Cromwell) and Damian, Bruce has formed a safety net around his family. Despite the comfort provided by Wayne Manor, Damian longs to prove himself to his father and become a superhero of his own. And he gets the opportunity to do so all too soon.
Little Batman plays out his version of Home Alone with hilarious results.
No shortage of praise can be offered to Yonas Kibreab’s portrayal of Damian, who is the soul of the film. In a marked contrast from the comics, this depiction of Damian is full of boundless enthusiasm and heart, yet still possessing the obsessive, and often destructive determination that makes him his father’s son. When two crooks steal gifts from underneath the Waynes’ tree, including Bruce’s first Bat-belt, which he gifted to Damian, the Little Batman plays out his version of Home Alone with hilarious results, before catching wind of a larger caper.
A Grinch-like plan set in motion by the return of the Joker (David Hornsby) sees some of the biggest villains of Batman’s past — including Mr Freeze (Dolph Adomian), The Penguin (Brian George), Poison Ivy (Therese McLaughlin), and Bane (Chris Sullivan) — team up as they set out to destroy Christmas and bring young Damian over to the side of villains. For Little Batman, it’s an adventure in growing up and learning the true meaning of Christmas, which may not be an entirely original lesson — but one that still tugs on the heart-strings nonetheless.