Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
'Batman Beyond,'
other cartoons, still
get cut by censors


December 7, 2000
By Franklin Harris

I'm so mad I can barely see straight. The forces of evil have struck again. They've triumphed. And who are the losers? I'll tell you: anyone who values artistic integrity or simply likes decent entertainment.

It may seem to be a small thing. After all, all that happened was that the folks at Warner Bros., Warner Home Video and Kids WB got together and decided to edit one of their animated cartoons. What's so sinister about that, you may ask?

It's simple. The stench of Puritanism is in the air. When the corporate shills at Warner Bros. ordered cuts to the new home-video release "Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker," they acted for the most petty of reasons.

It isn't as if editing the movie will, in any way, protect the fragile minds of innocent children. Everyone who's seen the uncut version of "Batman Beyond" agrees that it merits no stronger than a PG rating, and even the youngest of youngsters don't seem to come away from other PG-rated fare ("Star Wars: Episode I," anyone?) transformed into frothing-at-the-mouth, homicidal maniacs.

No, what happened is that these business-school hacks, who know nothing about entertainment and even less about art, succumbed to that timeless American prejudice: the belief that cartoons are just for children -- sickly, timid children at that -- and that little things like story, character motivation and plot resolution don't matter.

So, they gutted it. They took "Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker," a highly anticipated movie whose fan base it largely made up of older children, teen-agers and adults, anyway, and hacked out crucial scenes and dialog. They violated it to "protect" children who were never in danger.

Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, who also produce the "Batman," "Superman" and "Batman Beyond" cartoons currently running on Cartoon Network and Kids WB, worked hard on this movie. They wanted to give longsuffering fans, who've had to put up with garbage like the last two live-action Batman movies, the best Batman adventure possible. It's just a cartoon, you say again? Not to the people who made it, it isn't.

I won't bother to list the changes the suits ordered made to "Batman Beyond." I can't do that without spoiling the movie. And I'm not going to tell you to not purchase or rent the video or DVD; I don't care much for boycotts. Just know that the version of "Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker" you'll see isn't what the creators intended. It's simply all that a bunch of blow-dried execs thought you could handle.

Of course, Warner Bros. isn't alone in its acts of infamy. Disney regularly exorcises politically incorrect elements from its classic features and short subjects, and Fox Kids -- well, let us just talk about Fox Kids, shall we?

During the summer, anime fans eagerly awaited the U.S. television premier of "The Vision of Escaflowne," one of the most highly regarded Japanese animated TV series of recent years.

Fox Kids snagged the rights to it and placed it on its Saturday morning schedule.

Then, disturbing rumors started floating around. Some said that Fox was changing some of the music. "Blasphemy!" the fans cried, for they all knew that Yoko Kanno, a legend in Japanese music circles, composed the music for "Escaflowne."

Others said that Fox was editing "Escaflowne" to downplay the fact that the main character is a schoolgirl. "Absurd!" went the response. After all, haven't Fox's executives said they want to attract more female viewers? And besides, "Escaflowne" already has plenty of sword-and-sorcery action for the boys.

Finally, fall came, and so did the Fox Kids premier of "Escaflowne." And, of course, all the evil, silly, stupid rumors turned out to be true.

Blast them.

"Escaflowne" was a mess. Kanno's beautiful score was chopped, rearranged and, in places, replaced by an awful techno beat. The heroine's part was downplayed so that she seemed like the sidekick. What was left of the plot was almost incomprehensible.

Fans who had awaited "Escaflowne" decided to purchase the uncut videos and DVDs instead. Everyone else was just lost.

And Fox Kids cancelled "Escaflowne" to make more room on its schedule for absolutely worthless cartoons like "NASCAR Racers."

Blast them, again.

Probably "Escaflowne" wasn't right for Fox Kids, anyway. It's a show meant for an older audience than typically gets up early on Saturday mornings, and it probably would have been more at home in a weekday afternoon timeslot, like Cartoon Network's "Toonami."

And speaking of Cartoon Network, that fine channel deserves praise for airing shows like "Tenchi Muyo!" and "Gundam Wing," both of which would have died in the cutting room if left to the likes of Fox Kids and Kids WB. (It's hard to believe that Cartoon Network and Kids WB answer to the same corporate parent.)

There is no reason why we should outgrow cartoons. It's just a matter of being allowed to see those cartoons made for those of us who've grown up.

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