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Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Uncut Version)

How do continue to you milk the Batman cash cow when the storylines all seem to be running dry? The folks at Warner Bros. animation division came up with an ideal solution — create a brand new Batman! Taking place about 50 years in the future, the WB animated television series Batman Beyond offers an aged Bruce Wayne (voiced by Kevin Conroy) mentoring and monitoring 17-year-old Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle, previously of TV's "Boy Meets World") as he battles Gotham's baddies while wearing the futuristic, electronically buffed-out Batsuit. Surprisingly, this idea really works, due to snappy animation, (usually) smart writing, and the terrific actors who supply the voice talent. The cartoon proved popular enough to inspire the feature-length Batman Beyond: The Movie ... which did well enough itself to make possible 2000's Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. In this entry, we find the presumed-dead Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) returning to Gotham, very much alive and seemingly untouched by age. In the course of battling his greatest foe one more time, Wayne reveals to Terry — and the audience — some major events that occurred back in the old cape-and-cowl days, helping answer questions and fill in a few gaps (like, for example, the fate of Tim Drake, aka Robin v.2.0). It's important to note that, in it's first release, Return of the Joker arrived on North American video and DVD shelves several months after the originally-scheduled release date, with a sizable amount of editing to make it more family-friendly (and, undoubtedly, TV-ready). While the cuts certainly didn't make the film unwatchable, adult animation fans were infuriated by the hack-and-slash job done on what was originally designed as grown-up entertainment. And Return of the Joker in its original, unadulterated form fully deserves its PG-13 rating — unlike that censored-for-TV-and-video version previously available on U.S. shelves, characters die gruesome deaths, fist fights are remarkably graphic, and the Joker's ultimate comeuppance is far too dark for sensitive kiddies. Detailed laundry lists of the specific edits on the previously released DVD can be easily found all over the Internet, if you want all the details; in a nutshell, fight scenes were either cut short, seriously edited to remove certain types of violence, or cut altogether; characters who were shot in the theatrical version were offed in milder, off-screen ways — leading to confusion in the case of at least one henchman who seemed to just disappear without explanation in the middle of the story — all blood was been digitally removed, and grafitti left by The Joker in red paint in the Batcave was changed to purple; and dialogue was changed to remove references to shooting and killing (for example, "Robin did kill him" became "Robin defeated him" and "I can still hear the shot" was changed to "I can still hear his scream"). Whichever version you choose, the animation is gorgeous, with beautiful, crisp colors, imaginative backgrounds, a modern, anime-inspired approach to movement, and awesome character design — The Joker, in particular. Return of the Joker features some inventive casting, as well: along with Hamill's always-brilliant work as The Joker are the vocal talents of Dean Stockwell, Teri Garr, Henry Rollins, Arlene Sorkin (in an all-too-short cameo as Harley Quinn), Melissa Joan Hart, and Rachel Leigh Cook. The resolution (how did The Joker come back from the dead?) is pretty stupid, even for a comic book — but the fun is in the journey, not the destination. Warner Bros. Home Video presents the original, unedited version of Return of the Joker with same extras as the previous, edited release: commentary by the filmmakers, a making-of featurette, storyboards, animated "cast bios", a music video by Mephisto Odyssey, and deleted scenes in storyboard form. Good letterboxed transfer with subtitles in English and French. Snap-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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