RTBN 25 Days of Christmas: Day Eleven
Day Eleven: Batman Returns
Tim Burton always manages to deliver come Christmas time. Batman Returns, the second of Burton's two great entries into the Batman series, is a Christmas movie that didn't actually come out at the right time of year. So why did Burton have snow, Christmas trees and presents for a summer blockbuster? In all likelihood, Burton chose the winter season because it served the plot, with Danny DeVito's Penguin relegated to the cold. So maybe Batman Returns isn't The Grinch or A Charlie Brown Christmas or A Christmas Story where the film is explicitly driven by the holiday. Instead, Burton uses the emotions around the season of giving to juxtapose the consumerist joy and the dark loneliness of the film's stars. As a child, this was catnip to me. No, I didn't celebrate Christmas, but I could identify the holiday season and all the warm feelings that came with it. There was just something incredibly appealing about the way Burton manipulated me into feeling scared during scenes that feature Christmas trees and giant presents. It may seem trivial now to the hardened film buff, but placing such darkness on something I had only known to be light and fun was an indelible experience. Batman Returns managed to do an excellent job at subverting those warm fuzzy feelings with the ice-cold snow falling on a world where a freak child could be thrown into the zoo and an eye-liner-wearing Christopher Walken could push a dowdy secretary out a window.


The plot of the movie is centered on not very Christmas-y elements, namely a political story that has Penguin running for mayor. Catwoman is his on-again, off-again cohort while Bruce Wayne goes after her alter-ego, Selina Kyle. The film is cartoonish in comparison to Christopher Nolan's recent Batman trilogy, but I feel that Burton's movies were appropriately cartoonish while avoiding the camp of the '60s television show. For a Christmas movie, this wasn't something for the kids. My memories of sitting down and watching this film are so vivid because it was an off-limits movie for a long time. The first time I saw the film, I understood my parents' reasoning. When Cobblepott's parents abandoned the young creature (right after telling a passing couple, Merry Christmas) in the icy waters at a zoo, it was particularly disturbing.

Looking back on the movie, Christmas made perfect sense, even though the film was released in the summer. Penguin wouldn't look right in the spring. In fact, who even wants to see Gotham in any season other than winter? For all the joy surrounding the Christmas season, Burton has masterfully exploited the death and despair that winter evokes. Both Edward Scissorhands (which I'll be looking at in a week) and The Nightmare Before Christmas were framed in similar fashions. Burton, the king of the "dark" movie, found himself returning to the well of Christmas and winter. If there was joy to be found, Burton could make sure to throw a skeleton or an unfinished robot in there to bring everyone down.

Batman Returns proved to be an excellent action film and my favorite of the pre-Nolan Batman films. Like in Edward Scissorhands, the falling snow in Batman leaves the audience with beauty, tinged with sadness as everyone is out for themselves, all alone. The film leaves Penguin dead, Catwoman living in the shadows and Batman continuing his lonely existence without Selina. Maybe it isn't the normal cheer one wants from a Christmas movie, but it has its own beauty and Burton deserves credit for finding the beauty in a white, lonely Christmas night.

Tomorrow on RTBN 25 Days of Christmas:

Rachel looks in on a Christmas miracle for the character of M*A*S*H*, as "Death Takes a Holiday."
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