DCAU #190: SubZero

IN THIS ONE... Mr. Freeze kidnaps Barbara Gordon to give her organs to his wife Nora.

CREDITS: Written by Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel; directed by Boyd Kirkland.

REVIEW: Obviously started before the New Adventures began, but released in the middle of the latter's first season, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a not altogether unwelcome throwback to the old look of the show, even if Cold Comfort would have already spoiled Nora Fries' fate. But the lack of surprises is sort of part of this 66-minute movie's DNA. The second act is particularly tedious, having the heroes slowly, and without seeming urgency, deducing all the information we've already seen or been told from Mr. Freeze's point of view. And it's not like the way they do is particularly interesting. And then there's the animation, which experiments with ugly CG elements that call attention to themselves and to how juddery some of the hand-drawn sequences are. It's mostly limited to vehicles and chunks of floating ice, but they're far from having perfected it. The budget seems to have been mostly spent on the vertiginous and explosive third act on the oil derrick, which really does look great, and in general the shading is superior to the norm, as is the score.

It had begun rather well, with Mr. Freeze living as a nearly naked wildman in the Arctic, his only friends two polar bears and an Inuit kid with the atrocious name of Koonak. He seemed happy there, even though his wife had yet to be cured. Then a submarine crashes through their cave, puts their lives in jeopardy, and then really doesn't figure into things again. Freeze comes out of retirement to get a medical MacGuffin before his thawed wife dies (and you'll keep asking yourself why she doesn't at different points in the script), and that's organs only Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon can supply. Very convenient, I'd say. In the end, Freeze will seem to die but survive, a cliché by now, and return to the Arctic, but he'll be lucky enough to hear a newscast telling us that, off-screen, Nora Fries WAS indeed cured. So all it took was patience and letting medical experts deal with it. What was the point, then? A secondary villain, a somewhat unscrupulous doctor, is the only casualty, and I'm not sure he deserved his death.

Barbara at least doesn't entirely play the victim. Batgirl's key trait is resourcefulness and she shows a lot of that, acrobatically upskirting her way through an escape, as she's never afforded the dignity of pants. One of the more interesting elements in SubZero is the advancement of the Babs-Dick relationship. It's "getting serious". Though again, the outcome is spoiled by New Adventures, and we don't get into it nearly enough in the film. It's mostly there to give Robin a more personal stake, which is why the lack of urgency is so annoying.

IN THE COMICS: Nora Fries was eventually revived in the comics, via the Lazarus Pit, but because she'd been frozen too long, had broken apart, been rebuilt many times, something went wrong and she became a villain called Lazara, who could conjure flame (irony!) and raise the dead.

SOUNDS LIKE: Batgirl is voiced by Mary Kay Bergman (South Park, Dr. Blight on Captain Planet), who sounds a bit more like Melissa Gilbert than the New Adventures' Tara Strong. As Dr. Gregory Belson, we have George Dzunda, who normally voices the Ventriloquist and Perry White. The Love Bug's Dean Jones plays Dean Arbagast, the nasty stockbroker. As Koonak, it's Rahi Azizi (Bova on Space Cases).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The only reason it even gets that is for the strength of the traditional animation and because it advances Mr. Freeze's story. Otherwise, an overrated, often tedious direct-to-video affair.


LiamKav said...

I can understand why they'd want to use CGI for vehicles... straight mechanical things were always the hardest to animate. I don't think they ever perfected the CGI cartoon vehicle look until Futurama (and even there the overall look of the show probably helped in a way that BTAS's style would have hindered.)

Brendoon said...

In our household this film holds the distinction of being the first DC 'toon we could find on disc. The time had come to introduce my boys to DC animated, so it got watched a bit until better stuff could be found. VCR recordings off telly just couldn't fulfil our inbuilt hunger for crisp images.

Again, we thought the CGI stuff was weird, but some Warner DC stuff was better than none.
We can STILL only get the first few discs of Justice League over here.
For that matter we NEVER got "Teen Titans GO" on disc here even when the stores were full of TTG plush toys! What are the sales and marketing guys in NZ thinking?
Hurrah for direct imports.

I'm doing a short animation for a client at the moment and I'm wondering if perhaps it's not so much the straight lines that were hard to animate, but those perspective shots involving vehicles zooming past the camera - Also action pans which showed a vehicle from one side, then the front and the other side. All for the sake of drama, I guess.
I know that in my own work I prefer to use the Scooby-doo/Flintstones style where Vehicles move from left to right across the screen, it's so much less sophisticated, but so much easier and quicker.
Also in those days I think CGI was still at the stage where solid polygonal objects were easier to create than organic, squishy objects. It was about as far as they could take it and "get away" with it. Not that they really pulled it off! I remember hearing how CGI would save animators so much time and work that they'd be able to spend more time playing console games.
We know THAT never happened! CGI is still da*ned time consuming, even bad CGI.
I long for that lazy, utopian future our parents were promised in sci-fi...


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