Directed by Mike Roth and written by Morgan Evans and Jase Ricci, Merry Little Batman takes familiar DC characters and funnels them through the family-friendly Christmas machine. Despite its sanded-down edges (this Batman is in full dad mode), the film is a relatively harmless addition to the ever-growing DC Animation catalog. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and released through Amazon Studios, the film leans heavily into the heart of the story between Batman (Luke Wilson) and his son Damian Wayne (Yonas Kibreab) as they grapple with what it means to the son of a superhero.
Quaint and rightfully skewing towards a younger demographic, the film follows Damian, who is desperate to become a hero like his father, whom he idolizes. However, Bruce Wayne is much opposed, having gone to the extent of so fervently sweeping Gotham for crime to keep his son safe that it’s now been dubbed the safest city in the country. The two are close, but Bruce is wary of letting Damian anywhere near the danger Batman is so accustomed to. He might gift Damian a utility belt for Christmas, but it’s equipped with a first aid kit and a foam bat rather than any actual weapons or tools. When Batman is called away on a rare mission, Damian faces a Home Alone-style invasion from two clumsy and ill-equipped villains, which leads him to discover a major plot run by the Joker to steal Christmas.
It’s all silly fluff and, for the most part, is relatively harmless. Damian isn’t the most engaging protagonist for adults, with the writing making sure to highlight his childishness (because he’s an actual child). Still, he will find fans in younger audiences who enjoy his rebellious ways. Much more universally successful are the depictions of Batman. He’s got a beard now and is voiced with a low-key cadence by Wilson. Meanwhile, Joker is played ingeniously by Mythic Quest’s David Hornsby. Hornsby is the strongest voice performance of the bunch despite being saddled with the most challenging role due to the legacy tied to the character. That said, he adds a necessary layer of childish petulance to the character, which fits the tone and energy of Merry Little Batman.
The animation and art style, too, is a standout. Guillaume Fesquet worked as the art director alongside Daby Zainab Faidhi, who contributed to the style of the landscapes and architecture. It’s the latter that’s the most attention-grabbing. While the character designs speak to a particular era of Nickelodeon animation (think the exaggerated proportions of The Fairly Odd Parents) and even Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go!, the background work speaks more to classic Batman animation. This is captured through towering cityscapes that recall Batman: The Animated Series but with color instead of the film noir black and grayscale.
This art style helps maintain pace as the story and writing begin to drag the moment Damian is on his own. The action picks up whenever a new villain from Poison Ivy to the Penguin comes into play. It helps add a distinctive flavor to the film, which could’ve buckled under the weight of its legacy and the expectations that come with it. Due to the oversaturation of Batman content over the years, there needs to be an effort to make its existence worthwhile rather than simply adding to the pile when a new project comes out. Yes, it’s a kid’s film with a younger target audience, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try to find its own place in the crowd.
Merry Little Batman escapes that legacy by being a story about Damian rather than strictly a Batman story. The writing even examines the difference in their circumstances (in this version of their stories, at least) when Alfred tells a frustrated Damian that Bruce is only trying to ensure that he has a childhood, something Bruce himself didn’t get to have. It’s a way to reference his much-discussed and depicted backstory without turning fully to face it. It would be too dramatic a tonal shift for this otherwise light-on-its-feet film.
Merry Little Batman might not be suited for instant classic status like Batman Returns (the best DC Christmas film). That said, it’s still a fun enough ride, especially for the younger demographic looking for modern DC animation that isn’t just Teen Titans Go!. Equipped with some strong animation, the film overcomes writing that struggles to balance a consistent sense of humor with kinetic energy and fluidity. It won’t win everyone over, but it’s a solid primer for the artists on board and wins bonus points for its tonal restraint — it could’ve played everything much louder and broader.
Merry Little Batman is out now on Amazon Prime Video.
Merry Little Batman
Merry Little Batman takes familiar DC characters and funnels them through the family-friendly Christmas machine. Despite its sanded-down edges — this Batman is in full dad mode — the film is a relatively harmless addition to the ever-growing DC Animation catalog.