With “Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts,” DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. are adding a new incarnation of the Dark Knight to the impressively long list of takes on the classic hero. A decidedly family-friendly approach to the character’s mythos and supporting cast, “Animal Instincts” is heavy on the action, light on the violence and, as Nightwing voice actor Will Friedle said during his time with the press, is a “sit-down-with-your-kids-and-you-don’t-have-to-worry-about-it” sort of movie.
Before Warner Bros. Home Entertainment premiered the new direct-to-video film at WonderCon 2015, writer Heath Corson spoke with reporters about the fresh take on Batman, his hopes to add the likes of Wonder Woman and Batgirl to the mix in (hypothetical) future installments, the joys of playing in DC Comics’ character toy box, and what it’s like to go from writing adult-aimed fare like “Batman: Assault on Arkham” to the brightly lit world of “Batman Unlimited.”
How did this idea to make a “Batman Unlimited” movie come about?
Heat Corson: You know, I got brought in to a meeting with Sam Register and Jay Baston, the executives, and Sam said he wanted to do a family-friendly version of Batman and the Bat Family. I thought that was a great idea because a lot of the stuff I’d been doing was really dark, really gritty, for much, much older kids. He said, “Nobody’s serving these people,” which was awesome because I had just talked to my nephews, and my sister said, “When are you going to do a cartoon that my nephews can see?” And I was like, “Oh, that’s a really good point,” because they’re five and seven, they love superheroes, they know Uncle Heath works in superheroes, but they can’t see “Assault on Arkham.”
So I was really excited and I said, “You know, this is a really good thing.” “JLA: Trapped in Time” came out, and I think that did really well for them. I think they saw people were really excited about being able to show kids superheroes again. So that’s where it came from, and I said, “Sign me up, I would love to do that.”
So, how did you come up with the lineup?
We bounced around a bunch of different versions of the lineup. We knew there was going to be Batman and there was going to be a Bat Family sidekick, whether it was going to be Red Robin or whether it was going to be Nightwing. And I said, “Can’t we do both, and have sort of like an older brother/younger brother relationship with them?”
From there, I think they knew they wanted Green Arrow, and I think they knew they wanted Flash, so it just sort of came together. They were like, “We really like these guys, and we want to do new versions of them — can they fit in here?” But it’s always hard when you work with an ensemble because you want to make sure everybody gets good character moments and everyone’s there for a good reason, and you service all the characters.
Did they want Green Arrow and Flash because they have successful TV shows airing right now?
Maybe. You know, that’s above my pay grade. I think that the characters are popular now, and I think for kids to be able to see them in another area and know who they are is exciting. That’s what I took it to mean, that because of those shows that are on, people go, “Oh, I know who that character is. That’s cool.”
I know from a writing standpoint, you don’t always get to decide how characters look, but you sometimes get input. Did you get to have any this time?
Nothing. I had no input into it. They just were like, “This is what they look like.” I wrote a version of Flash that I had in my head as just regular Flash, and then when I saw the design I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” Obviously the style’s much more cartoony and much more like anime/manga inspired, and it jumps off the page. The animation is really cool, and really good. So, it’s really neat.
I think [the animation style] is inspired from the toy line that they have… They showed me what some of the characters they were thinking were going to look like at the time, and then I just went off and did stuff and tried to make it all work.
What inspired the animal-themed villain team?
Actually, we were knocking around the villains, and Sam Register, God bless the man, said, “I want to put together a team of villains that have never been put together before.” He was really liking the idea of doing them thematically, like, do all the animal guys. He was like, “Who are all the animal guys who have never worked together that we can use that will surprise people?” And so there’s even a moment… where we have a misdirect, where you see a cat woman breaking into a jewelry store, stealing jewelry, and Nightwing thinks he’s stopping Catwoman. But she says, you know, “No, there’s more than one cat villain in Gotham.” So it ends up being Cheetah, which was really fun. I got to put together a whole team of just completely different guys that have never worked together before, and that’s always really fun.
Are you looking at this as a continuing series, perhaps?
There might be. There might be more down the road, I don’t know. I can neither confirm nor deny that. [Laughs]
You brought in Cheetah, and I notice that it’s fairly dude-heavy on the hero side. Hypothetically, if there were to be sequels, is that a thing they’re looking at? Because Vixen is also animal related.
Right, I would love to do that. I think that’s a great idea. I would love to have — I talked a lot about having Batgirl in it, or having Wonder Woman in it, or having some presence. I think that’s a really good idea moving forward.
Are you looking at “Batman vs. Robin” and the other animated films to avoid covering the same storylines or characters?
Well, they’re different audiences, and they’re different voices, and they’re different versions of the characters. I think it’s not hard to really be doing different things.
You know, I don’t think [“Batman vs. Robin”] plays for a younger audience, because it’s swords and it’s violence and it’s vengeance. I don’t think any of the themes of the Court of Owls played nicely into this, which was fun to have big, loud, goofy, broad villains. So you get, like, a Killer Croc and you get, like, a Cheetah, and we have Silverback — it’s not even Grodd. Sam was like, “I’m so tired of Grodd, let’s do something else,” and we were like, “Well, there’s Silverback.” We got to do him, so, it is very different.
Obviously it’s a completely different mindset to write on this versus “Batman: Assault on Arkham” — how difficult is it to switch gears like that?
I have to say, I want everything I do to be of the same quality. If we’re going to put in robot animals, I want it to work in the story and I want it to be cool. And the difference between doing Court of Owls or doing this, it all has to be good if it’s got my name on it, and that’s just a point of pride for me. So I take it all equally seriously.
Is there more freedom in not having to go off of storylines from the comics or graphic novels?
Absolutely. We get to play with all the stuff and all the voices… It really struck me, and the challenge I took it to be, was real, just, classic Silver Age comic books. Like, I want this to feel like those classic Silver Age team-up books that I read — “Justice League,” when it was Len Wein — and you would just throw these guys together and they’d always have to split up, and one guy would have to go get this guy, and one guy would have to go get that guy. I really wanted to give it that sense because those always felt fun and bouncy and not so dark that they were emotionally painful.
So looking at all of the various versions of DC Comics adaptations out there, each probably has their own unique fan base. Which one would you point to and say, “If you’re a fan of this, this ‘Batman Unlimited’ is going to be for you?”
I think it’s family-friendly, if you’re looking for something to watch with your young kids, I think it’s great for the whole family, there’s fun for mom, dad, the kids. I just think it’s big, loud fun in the way that we haven’t seen that audience served for a while.
“Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts” is scheduled for release May 12 on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital HD.
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