In the world where Batman: The Animated Series brought fans so many incredible stories in its first couple of seasons, it’s often easy to forget about the many great adventures that came later. Many were turned off due to the art change, the show being restructured, or simply stopped watching for other reasons when the series was on. The New Batman Adventures. There are also fans who felt the theatrical outing with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is simply a peak, showing what this creative team and performers can do at the top of their game. Even then, they proved that their creative vision is still strong with each additional show. One of the great animated Batman movies that seems to have eluded many audiences was the first to go direct-to-video — batman and mr. Freeze: SubZero.
Sub zero is another strong chapter in the tragic story of Dr. Victor Fries. The film continues his story after the first two episodes he starred in and acts as a crescendo for one of the show’s most memorable villains. It’s a simpler narrative compared to the previous film, as we see Freeze making a life for himself in the middle of the ice with his new ward, Koonak, their two polar bears, and his frozen wife, Nora. A submarine disrupts all of this, however, breaking Mrs. Fries from his cryogenic tube, leading his wife to return to Gotham to seek help to save his life. For this, she’ll need new blood and organs, however, and it turns out that one Barbara Gordon — also known as Batgirl — is the perfect match. With the Commissioner’s daughter kidnapped and about to be harvested, Barbara tries to escape as the GCPD, Batman, and her boyfriend, Robin, rush to find her.
It’s a solid story, one that focuses less on Batman and allows the other characters more time. It’s really about Mr. Freeze can’t let Nora die and is willing to do whatever it takes, until the very end when it seems the humanity he’s been desperately seeking from Gotham has finally returned. Koonak’s attempt to help save Barbara seems to be the reason for this. His accomplice in the desperate attempt to save Nora is Dr. Gregory Belson, who has his own problems that accelerate his action. In the beginning, Freeze is more willing to be ruthless and savage while Belson is unsure. However, as the story progresses, the two seem to change a bit and show their true selves. It gave Belson’s death at the end more weight.
The B-plot is about the relationship between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. In some ways, it’s doomed to fail, but we get to see Robin pushed into pursuing her more romantically and then literally pursue her once she’s taken. Some are complaining that we don’t see Batgirl in the suit here, but she’s not just a damsel in distress or something to be saved. Barbara tries to escape twice, tries to find out more about why this is happening, and is active in the final confrontation. We get to spend some time with the two members of the Bat-Family and it’s quite entertaining to see them like this.
The action in the film is exciting. We are shown the wonderful title sequence with the bat symbol freezing and Mr. Freeze swims in shorts with his two guard polar bears — instant engagement. Those two animals contribute a lot to the fights, and there’s an exciting motorcycle chase and a final showdown in an abandoned oil derrick — a perfect set piece for a Batman thriller. Honestly, everyone’s entrances here are so good and so classic for the characters. I know that at 66 minutes, some people complain about that Sub zero there seem to be a few pacing issues and filler scenes, but I believe that just gives some scenes time to breathe, which makes the acting stand out even more. Some of the fights and chases are nicely mapped. It’s a smaller budget than Mask of the Phantasm, but still impressive in spots, showing what the series could have done with more time and money. Part of me wonders what it would be like as a live-action production.
This brings me to the most amazing animation. In The New Batman Adventures adopting an updated art style closer to theirs Superman opposite – and to streamline work for the studios – Sub zero was the last feature to use the original method that the show started. This makes it a little more special, like the end of an era. Unfortunately, Sub zero also used more CGI, and while that’s nice in small touches, some scenes here stand out in a bad way. It was too much and probably dated the film more than anything else. Also, a small personal gripe: this is one of the first movies I can remember someone showing me that the bad guy, Belson, shoots with a standard revolver. They normally hold six bullets, but he fired nine times. Once it was pointed out, I couldn’t help but notice it every time.
The soundtrack is definitely serviceable, but it’s missing some of the flair that comes from Shirley Walker, who was responsible for the music in so many amazing episodes from the series. The beginning is a rush of nostalgia as it takes advantage of the Danny Elfman theme, and adds some classic songs to help set the tone. Diehard fans of Batman The Animated Series and Unlimited Justice League note the use of “I’m Blue?” briefly in a scene, which also appears in the episode “This Little Piggy,” where Batman beautifully sings this tune in an amphitheater to help Wonder Woman.
The voice cast does an excellent job as usual. I will never get tired of hearing Kevin Conroy play Batman, even though at the time he started slightly changing the voices for Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, but I have to agree with many other fans that Michael Ansara stole the show here as Mr. Freeze. Loren Lester also puts in some great work as Robin, while this is Mary Kay Bergman’s only time as Batgirl. His voice should be familiar — especially to anyone who watched the early seasons of South Park.
Even Sub zero was originally released in 1998, it is believed that the film was actually meant to come out last year to coincide with Batman and Robin after the uproar over Arnold Schwarzenegger’s casting for Mr. Freeze. The delayed debut was probably an attempt to break away Sub zero from negative reviews and press about the live-action offering, further proving that this is the movie we need Batman and Robin’s place, whether animated or not.
The film actually underwent some other changes in the early stages. The script is original had Bane as the featured villain and a sub-plot about Bruce Wayne’s inability to seriously date anyone without telling them he’s Batman. Rumors have also sprung up (via IMDB) with Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin recording lines as the Joker and Harley Quinn Sub zerobut scenes were cut, which is entirely possible considering the level of interference from management at Warner Brothers.
His name is in the title, so it makes sense that this movie works best for Victor Fries, making us appreciate him again and giving fans another amazing adventure. Sub zero is solid, but other than the fact that there’s no way he doesn’t realize Barbara Gordon is Batgirl now, the happy ending is a little bittersweet. It’s the almost perfect sendoff for the character, wrapping up his story in a way that makes everything come together. In the end, he reappears in the series with new motivations, as Nora has recovered. This is an ending that Bruce Timm, one of the creators of Batman The Animated Series, wasn’t a fan, according to Back Issue #99, because it put Freeze in a different place and changed how they saw Nora’s character. However, some fans liked the conclusion enough to ignore the rest.
It’s not a perfect Batman film and it’s probably not the best animated feature from that team, but it’s full of character and heart. Sub zero is not only worth revisiting or even seeing for the first time, it’s an important and overlooked piece of the show, coming from the cold of something far worse.