‘Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts’ is the first animated feature based upon the Mattel toy line of the same name. Having a source in toys and not in a story based medium is a pretty big red flag for any animated feature as it opens the question of whether the story is meant to entertain or to sell toys. It is unclear what the motivations behind ‘Animal Instincts’ are exactly (it is pretty gimmicky), but luckily the story is decent enough (note: it will likely not be appreciated by long-time DC/Batman fans).
A bunch of animal themed superbaddies (The Penguin, Silverback, Cheetah, Man-Bat, and Killer Croc) have teamed up to carry out a bunch of animal themed capers (told you it was gimmicky). Luckily a team of heroes (Batman, Nightwing, Red Robin, Flash, and Green Arrow) join together to quash their plot and save Gotham.
It appears that DC wants to create the revolving door atmosphere of random superhero/supervillain team-ups that Marvel has so beautifully constructed in recent years. This film definitely features an odd mix of characters, but it is not a step in the right direction. There are random (borderline non-sensical) pairings in this movie, but there is little explanation as to why these pairings occurred (minus a few meta comments about weird team-ups). With so little explanation or backstory for the characters it actually undermines the weirdness (not in a good way). People that know nothing of the DC universe might think that everything is par for the course. This approach will alienate the DC faithful (probably not a good idea), as they will likely not approve of any atypical canon changes with no decent or at least interesting explanation.
Another unfortunate aspect of the new ‘Unlimited’ series is that it once again features new versions/designs of familiar characters, and in some cases it is clear that the origins and powers of characters have even been changed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but these changes occur with no attempt to situate or explain them. Every time a new animated Batman feature comes out they change everything and rarely attempt to explain the universe. Just because these are animated films does not mean that backstory and character development are unnecessary.
The animation style for ‘Batman Unlimited’ looks like an unpleasant hybrid of the Bruce Timm style from the Justice League years and the Jeff Matsuda The Batman style. Some things look good, whereas other things just look terrible. It is an open question as to whether the character designers had ever seen hair before.
The voice acting in the film is a definite plus, and really its big saving grace. All the characters sound good (even though many of them look kind of stupid).
‘Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts’ is meant to be the beginning of a new Batman animated franchise so hopefully future installments will rectify the lack of backstory/plot that so badly plagues this film. While it is a decent enough watch it isn’t likely to be the new favorite iteration of the titular character by any longtime fans.