Fans of DC animated movies were treated to a night of laughs at the world premiere of Batman and Harley Quinn at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The 30th entry in the DC Universe Original Movies series takes a sharp turn from the darker tone of recent entries, as Batman and Nightwing are forced into a buddy-cop scenario alongside Harley Quinn in order to save the world from Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man.
Following the premiere, moderator Gary Miereanu brought out some of the cast and crew to talk about the movie, including producer and co-screenwriter Bruce Timm, co-screenwriter Jim Krieg, director Sam Liu, and the voice talent of Kevin Michael Richardson (Floronic Man), Loren Lester (Nightwing), Paget Brewster (Poison Ivy), and Kevin Conroy (Batman).
Discussing the background of the movie, the light-hearted comedy of Batman and Harley Quinn brought some much needed levity for Timm and the rest of the production team following up from darker movies like Batman: The Killing Joke. "I needed to laugh," said Timm. "It really just seemed like it’d be a fun change of pace."
Batman and Harley Quinn was first pitched two years ago, as a film designed to operate in the vein of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, serving as a more comedic take on the superhero genre.
"It was fun to do something that was a little bit off kilter," said Timm.
"It was sort of wonderful to get a script that was just the other side of the spectrum," added Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy. "And the thing about playing comedy is that you can’t play comedy, or you’ll kill it."
Fans of the original Batman: The Animated Series will be happy to know that, as far as Timm is concerned, the new movie takes place in the same continuity. Though Timm admitted that he didn’t sweat the details when it came to establishing a solid timeline. Batman and Harley Quinn pulls visual references from both Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures, along with some new designs. "I’m sure some fan online will figure out exactly how this works," said Timm.
Another nostalgic throwback to the original series is the return of Loren Lester to the role of Nightwing. "It was a big thrill," said Lester, who last voiced the character in 1998. "It’s been a dream of mine to return to the role."
While visually similar to the classic cartoons, the humor of Batman and Harley Quinn is a completely different experience. Sex jokes and fart gags abound, and nothing appeared to be off limits for as the film presents with increasingly humorous situations with Batman firmly in the middle. "There’s nothing not funny about fart jokes, said Timm, quoting Louis CK. "And if you’re doing it in the Batmobile, it’s even funnier."
More accustom to action packed adventures, directing a comedy brought Sam Liu out of his comfort zone. "This one, it took me a while, to be honest, to get what Bruce wanted," Liu admitted. "It was great, too, because there’s a lot of archetypical things that I was relying on… I was constantly testing borders."
"I had no idea it was so funny," said Brewster, who played Poison Ivy. "I was playing that whole thing so straight so this is all a shock to me."
Introducing a new character to the DC Animated Universe was Kevin Michael Richardson as the Floronic Man, another plant-themed villain brought in to to play off of Poison Ivy. "I had never heard of the guy myself," said Richardson. "I just saw this big green behemoth."
In spite of the Floronic Man’s appearance, the script called for an intelligent and crafty performance, which took Richardson by surprise. "I figured that made him even more deadly, because he’s this behemoth and he’s actually very smart," said Richardson.
For the main role, Timm revealed that the choice of Melissa Rauch as Harley was influenced by Warner Bros. Home Video’s desire to use stunt casting as part of their marketing plan.
"We knew we were going to use a B:TAS style, so I knew I wanted to have Kevin and Loren back together, so that left Harley as the main stunt cast part," said Timm. Struggling to find their Harley, the suggestion to use Rauch came from fellow producer James Tucker.
"We contacted her and she wanted to do it," Timm said. "And she nailed the part. She was funny and sexy and cute and she sings really well. She did everything we needed her to do."
Opening the panel up to audience questions, the fans asked about the challenge of having a character like Batman team up with the unpredictable Harley Quinn.
"It kind of natural," Timm. said "You have Batman as the grumpiest dad in the world, with the brattiest daughter that won’t listen to him."
While the movie does earn its PG-13 rating, discussions were had about the pros and cons of pushing for a R-rating. "It feels a little weird to push it that far into R-rated territory because it’s B:TAS," said Timm. "We kind of pushed it as far as we could comfortably go to make it PG-13."
Finally, the panel and audience paid tribute to the late Adam West, who paved the way for comedic takes on Batman and launched the character into the mainstream public view.
"He was one of the most gracious actors I’ve ever worked with," Conroy said. "He taught me something about humility. He had a wonderful career, a wonderful family, and a wonderful life."
Conroy told the audience that he was nervous when he met West for the first time, feeling that he was encroaching on West’s territory as the voice of Batman. "He said ‘Run with it, run with it. I had so much fun with it and it’s your turn now. You should run with it. It’s a great character to play,’" said Conroy. "He was such a gentleman and really a class act."
"Batman existed for many years before Adam West, but it was Adam West who really made it a worldwide sensation," Loren added.
Directed by Sam Liu (Batman: The Killing Joke), Batman and Harley Quinn stars Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester, reprising their Batman: The Animated Series roles as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, joined by Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory) as Harley Quinn, Paget Brewster (Criminal Minds) as Poison Ivy and Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show) as the Floronic Man.
The animated film is available August 15 on Digital HD, and arrives Agust 29 on Blu-ray and DVD.