Directed by Mike Roth | Written by Morgan Evans and Jase Ricci | 92 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Amazon Prime
The trailer tells you something about this charming seasonal diversion — it highlights a Home Alone scenario with eight-year-old Damian Wayne (Batman’s son) facing off against a couple of burglars at Wayne Manor. But that’s only the start of the trouble the Bat Jr gets into as he trails the thieves into Gotham City after they abscond with the kid’s utility belt — a gift from his father who’s been taken away by an urgent mission to… where? Nova Scotia?
Yeah, I thought that was weird, too. I feel like Hollywood screenwriters choose Nova Scotia when they need a place that’s a universal signifier for “remote.”
I was surprised by this comedic take on the batmythos, and I suppose by now I shouldn’t be. That’s Batman’s greatest ability, the elasticity of his identity. How many alternate takes have we had for this guy? Eventually, I suppose, we’d get Sensitive, Bearded Single-Dad Batman, as voiced by an actor with one of the most laid-back voices ever, Luke Wilson. And anyone who’s read about Damian Wayne in the comics knows he’s a sociopath, a lot more trouble there than he is here. The kid in this picture really wants to be a hero.
That’s crux of the tale: It’s Christmas and Bruce, Damian (Yonas Kibreab) and Alfred (James Cromwell) are hanging out. Batman gets called away, Alfred goes on a marshmallow mission, and then we get the burglars. Damian thinks he’s ready to step into his father’s boots, and though Batman himself is firmly a supporting character in this, we do get plenty of his rogues gallery who square off against the kid in the cowl.
This is about as far away from the polished look we’ve seen in other animated Batman adventures, digitally assisted or otherwise. This has an indie, 2D vibe, happily less frenetic than some recent superhero animation I’ve sat through, accentuated by a soundtrack stuffed with punky Christmas tracks composed by Fall Out Boy lead singer Patrick Stump. I’ve read the creatives behind the scenes drew on Calvin & Hobbes as inspiration, which seems entirely plausible given the result.
What makes Merry Little Batman sparkle is the rapidity and excellence of the gags rather than the editing — there’s plenty here for kids to enjoy but also things for the adults in the room, from sight gags to deep references to both the cinematic Batman and the one in the comics. If it all goes heavy on the saccharine in the final few minutes where our heroes saving Christmas becomes a little too literal, that’s hardly going to spoil the good time getting there.