Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker was a direct to video (I almost wrote direct to DVD, but I guess in 2000, they were still mostly referred to as direct to VIDEO, weren't they?) movie in 2000, based on the then-popular Batman Beyond animated series, which took place in the future of Gotham City, where a young adult named Terry McGinnis is now Batman (using a futuristic Batman suit) with Bruce Wayne serving as his mentor.
Originally set to be released for Halloween 2000, the film had to deal with a crackdown on violence in children's entertainment that had become a bit of a political rallying cry in the months following the horrific tragedy at Columbine High School in April of 1999 (the theory being that the two teenagers who murdered their teachers and classmates were influenced by the television shows that they watched and the video games that they played).
Therefore, the Batman Beyond film was not just changed, it was dramatically re-edited. The edits took so long that the film was not released until December 12, 2000.
Whole sections were removed wholesale to remove anything possibly unwholesome, including scenes with characters who certainly appear to be prostitutes and scenes with Bruce and Terry not wearing seatbelts.
Multiple punching scenes were changed so that they only had one punch in them - really heavy duty cleansing.
One of the main plots in the story is that in the past, the Joker kidnapped Tim Drake (Robin) and brainwashed him into becoming Joker Jr., basically, then tried to make Tim kill Batman.
In the edited film, the scenes with Joker and Tim were dramatically reduced, and lines were changed like "I'll begin with how I peeled back the layers of the boy's mind" becoming "I'll begin with how I affected young Robin's makeover."
The most notable change, though, is how Joker met his demise.
In the original version, Joker hands Tim Drake a gun (with a big dart with "bang" attached to it) and orders him to kill Batman (Joker and Batman are both bloodied during the fight). Tim fights his programming and instead shoots Joker, killing him.
Joker's last words are "That's not funny."
In the edited version, Tim drops the gun and instead shoves Joker into a wall - the wall happens to have some water tubing.
Joker gets caught up in the tubes and then hits an electricity source and gets electrified. Note that in this version, Joker and Batman are not bloodied (even though you still can see the effects of the knife in the background, like a spot where a knife cut a hole in a curtain).
An interesting though about these edits, though, is really how much effect the political cries for reduced violence had to do with the edits.
It's clear that edits WERE forced on the film, but when the "Uncut" version was later released on DVD in 2002, it was rated PG-13.
If you believe that rating, you would have to think that Warner Bros. was never actually going to release a PG-13 Batman Beyond movie.
And in fact, in an interview from 2000, Bruce Timm basically said as much:
We assumed that with direct-to-video we now had this tremendous license to deal with subject matter we couldn't normally deal with. The idea was theoretically that home videos aren't bought by our younger audience, so we could put in a little more adult values. When we do a direct-to-home video, we just don't want to make it a longer episode of the show. We want to make it special. We want to give you your money's worth.
That's why we brought the Joker back. We tried to give it more depth of character, bigger and better action sequenceswe actually tried to treat it like a movie. Then the video people came back to us and told us that they wanted us to make the tape exactly for the same audience as the Kids WB!, which caught us kind of off guard.
So while, yeah, I'm sure the political climate didn't help, I think that it is pretty clear that the edits were due more to corporate miscommunication and financial decisions rather than anything else.
It reminds me a little of a bit I did the other day for Music Legends Revealed, about how folks just assume that Van Morrison was forced to change the name of his "Brown Skinned Girl" to "Brown Eyed Girl" because of frightened executives. Not everything comes down to politics!