Release Date(s)1998 (March 27, 2017)
Studio(s)Warner Bros Animation (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
A continuation of storylines established in the classic Batman: The Animated Series, Warner’s animated movie Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero finds poor Victor Freeze (Michael Ansara) biding his time in hiding, still hoping to find a cure for his cryogenically-preserved wife, Nora. But when his Arctic lair is disturbed by a Navy submarine, and Nora’s preservation capsule is damaged, Freeze returns to Gotham City to demand that a former scientist co-worker save her life. In order to survive, Nora needs an organ transplant… and the best match is none other than Barbara Gordon (alias Batgirl, voiced by Mary Kay Bergman). So when Mr. Freeze abducts her, it’s up to Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Robin (Loren Lester) to save her life and bring Freeze to justice.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is the second animated feature based on Batman: The Animated Series (after Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, reviewed on Blu-ray here). Not only is its story more engaging that most of the live-action Batman films, with a genuinely sympathetic villain, it’s also a direct follow-up to a pair of TAS episodes considered to be among the series’ finest, Heart of Ice and Deep Freeze, the former of which won an Emmy. (This arc would be continued later in The New Batman Adventures – essentially the third season of TAS rebranded – and Batman Beyond). Unlike Mask of the Phantasm, which received a limited theatrical release, this movie was direct-to-video on DVD. It uses a little more computer animation in its backgrounds and layouts, which can be a bit off-putting, but most of the key TAS actors return to provide their characters’ voices (save for Melissa Gilbert, the series’ original Batgirl), and the film was written and directed by Boyd Kirkland, a TAS veteran.
This Blu-ray, released by the Warner Archive Collection, features the film in 1080p HD in its original 1.37:1 full frame aspect ratio. The image is clean overall. Certain CG elements have been upsampled from SD and reveal a little bit of softness and aliasing, as you’d expect. But the hand-painted cels and background artwork look terrific. Some filmed shots are a little optically soft – an artifact of the production process – but texturing is generally quite good. Blacks are nice and the colors are wonderfully bold and accurate. The sound is available in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, a mix of high quality and one that represents the film well. The staging is atmospheric, with fine clarity. Dialogue is clean, there’s solid bass, and the Danny Elfman-inspired score by Michael McCuistion sounds great. The disc also offers optional English SDH subtitles for those who may need them.
The Blu-ray release carries over three of the features from the original DVD release, including the Art of Batman: Music Montage (2:31), Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman (:51), and the film’s home video Trailer (1:03 – missing is The Hunt for Mr. Freeze interactive game, which is no big loss). In a very nice touch though, the Blu-ray adds some new content, specifically the complete “Mr. Freeze Animated Saga,” which includes the aforementioned Batman: The Animated Series episodes Heart of Ice and Deep Freeze, as well as Cold Comfort from The New Batman Adventures and Meltdown from Batman Beyond. All of these extras are presented in their original SD and full frame.
The release of Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero in BD is welcome for several of reasons. Not only is it a great Batman story, but it serves as a fine appetizer for the Warner Archive Collection’s forthcoming release of the complete Batman: The Animated Series on Blu-ray (a title that’s long been out of print on DVD and that is widely regarded as one of the best animated series of all time). We have high hopes that sales of SubZero on BD will be tremendous, as were those of Mask of the Phantasm before it, and that The Animated Series will prove to be one of the best BD releases of 2018. With a little luck, they’ll prove successful enough that Warner Archive will be allowed to continue with the rest of Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe in HD (and perhaps even the Fleischer Studios’ classic Superman animated films from the 1940s, which were an inspiration for TAS). For now, two things are certain: This is a great time for fans of DC animation on Blu-ray… and the Warner Archive deserves a tip of the hat from every single one of them. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt