Batman Ninja

BLU-RAY REVIEW

Street 5/8/18;
Warner;
Anime;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray, $29.98 Steelbook Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, and for some suggestive material.
Voices of Roger Craig Smith, Tony Hale, Grey Griffin, Tara Strong, Fred Tatasciore, Yuri Lowenthal, Adam Croasdell, Will Friedle, Tom Kenny, Eric Bauza.

Batman Ninja isn’t just another high-concept direct-to-video animated movie with a fun premise to guide the characters’ latest adventure. This is a full-on anime experience that blends traditional notions of Batman with many of the genre’s tropes. When the movie’s plot involves Batman has to call upon an army of monkeys to fight a giant robot, you know you’re in for a wild ride.

The concept is best summed up by one of the filmmakers in the Blu-ray’s bonus materials: it’s not Japan through the eyes of Batman, but Batman through the eyes of Japan.

This isn’t just an Elseworlds concept that re-imagines the Batman characters into similar roles in a historical setting. Rather, the story finds Batman, along with his allies and enemies, transported from present-day Gotham City to Feudal Japan, where the villains begin to take over different territories.

Though Batman has friends to fight alongside him, he finds his many gadgets are useless in the past, forcing him to adapt to the fighting styles of the day if he is to round up the bad guys and return to modern times.

The animation is complex but beautiful, shifting styles at times to reflect the tone of the scene. The colors are vivid, and the look, feel and plotting of the piece is distinctly Japanese in its craftsmanship. The Blu-ray includes both the original Japanese audio with subtitles, and an English audio track with an American cast, highlighted by a manic Joker performance from Tony Hale (“Veep,” “Arrested Development”).

Fans of the project will also find many interesting behind-the-scenes details revealed on the Blu-ray, especially in a 49-minute video of the film’s 2017 New York Comic Con panel discussion with the filmmakers (before any of the cast was announced).

There are also a couple of more traditional making-of featurettes, with “Batman: Made in Japan” clocking in at 14 minutes, as well as the 17-and-a-half minute “East/West Batman,” which delves into the cultural impacts of Batman and anime and why they were a natural fit for each other.

The Star

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 2/20/18;
Sony Pictures;
Animated;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for some thematic elements.
Voices of Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Aidy Bryant, Anthony Anderson, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Mariah Carey, Phil Morris, Roger Craig Smith.

This fluffy faith-based animated adventure frames the tale of the Nativity from the point of view of a group of animals whose lives intersect with the coming of the Messiah.

The Star follows a little donkey (Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead”) with big dreams who befriends the pregnant Mary (Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin,” playing another woman pregnant by unusual means here) before she leaves for Bethlehem, then sets off with his animal friends to protect her after learning King Herod (Christopher Plummer) has sent hunters after her in his attempt to prevent the birth of the King of the Jews. The camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey) of the Three Wise Men also seek out the impending birth of Jesus to protect him.

Lest anyone worry about the film straying too far from scripture with its talking animals, one of its best running gags involves the fact that the animals can communicate freely with each other, but just sound like animals to the humans around them.

It’s a testament to the earnestness of The Star, and a sign of how it expects its audience to approach the film, that an early scene involves Mary returning home to her husband, Joseph, after being away for an extended period of time. Visibly pregnant, she explains it’s the Son of God and that it’s his duty to help her bring the child into the world, and he embraces the calling. Were this not a faith-based movie aimed at children, I suspect most men being told that story by their wife might have a different reaction.

The film’s screenplay was originally intended for a live-action production of the Jim Henson Company, which reportedly would have employed a style similar to Babe, using visual effects to make the animals appear to talk. When that didn’t pan out, the project was revived at Sony Pictures Animation by DeVon Franklin, a prominent Christian preacher and motivational speaker who has produced a number of notable faith-based films, such as Heaven Is for Real.

The end result is a cute adventure that, despite some broad Looney Tunes-type humor, remains grounded in its piety. While not a musical, the film relies heavily on a soundtrack consisting of modern renderings of some classic Christmas songs.

The songs are the subject of a good portion of the Blu-ray’s bonus materials, which include several “lyric videos,” two sing-alongs and a dance-along video.

The Blu-ray also offers some typical behind-the-scenes featurettes, such as the 13-minute “An All Star Cast” and the two-minute “Creating the World of 9 Months B.C.” There’s also a commentary with executive producer Franklin and director Tim Reckart.

But the Blu-ray also has ambitions to serve as a faith-based teaching tool, and to that end it includes the 10-minute “Faith All Year Round With DeVon Franklin,” in which the producer discusses the film’s message with a group of children. For those who prefer something more interactive, there are three arts-and-crafts videos.

Finally, the Blu-ray offers a bit of background art for special occasions in the form of an animated Nativity scene that runs on a 21-hour loop.