Though the world of Batman is often deemed as dark, gritty, and without festivity of any kind, some of the Caped Crusader’s most memorable moments have taken place during the holiday season. In fact, one of the earliest episodes of the iconic Batman: The Animated Series was a Christmas special! There’s something particularly striking and fun about the juxtaposition of the Dark Knight’s serious aesthetic with the joyous merriment of Christmas. So much so that we’ve found one of the best and most magical Christmas movies of all time in none other than Batman Returns.
From the moment we see Oswald Cobblepot in a cage in front of an outlandish white Christmas tree, before his parents even send him floating through a twisted snowcapped winter wonderland, you know that this version of Gotham is different. Gone is the noir drenched in gangster lore from Tim Burton’s first movie, instead replaced with a strange brightness, one that lives only to juxtapose the dark grit of Gotham and serve the director’s goth-pop aesthetic.
Whilst most Christmas movies follow a basic feel-good formula about personal growth or gratitude, Batman Returns uses the trappings and wrappings of the season to subvert our expectations of what to expect from a holiday classic. No one has a redemption arc in this festive folly, with the Penguin inverting the usual outcast-turned-good-by-Christmas-cheer trope that we’ve seen in stories like The Grinch and Home Alone. Batman never truly opens up to Selina and fails to save her. Catwoman gets her revenge but can’t save herself or her chance at happiness. Though the characters might not be filled with cheer, their surroundings most certainly are, as Burton luxuriates in the candy-striped creepiness of Christmas.
From the red and white of the Penguin’s umbrella to the snow-covered streets of Gotham, the director is dedicated to keeping us steeped in the Christmas spirit. Even Max Schreck’s prototype power plant is Christmassy, with its red-and-white-striped smokestacks. Speaking of Max Schreck, with his tousled white hair, red bow tie, and nefarious plans to steal all of the energy from Gotham’s girls and boys, he plays very well as an evil inversion of everyone’s favorite jolly fat man, Santa Claus.
It’s not just subtle touches that run through the cult classic; some of the movie’s most memorable set pieces are also more festive than a reindeer drinking eggnog in a snow globe full of pine trees. The peak of Batman Returns’ Christmas sensibilities is actually pretty early on in the film during Gotham’s tree lighting ceremony. The machiavellian Max Schreck is poised to once again trick the citizens of Gotham with a heartfelt speech in front of the towering tree until he’s interrupted by the appearance of a giant red and green present. And in one of the best Batman moments ever put to screen, City Hall is attacked by festive villains exploding out of an oversized Christmas gift. It’s pure Christmas movie perfection.
If Christmas circus gangs jumping out of giant Christmas presents isn’t Christmassy enough for you, then don’t worry because Batman Returns also includes a recurring character called “The Ice Princess” who wears a sequined bodice and generally exudes Christmas spirit. There’s also an integral moment including a baby in a Santa suit, as well as some great shots of different Gothamers struggling with presents, including Bruce Wayne’s BFF himself, Alfred Pennyworth.
Tim Burton’s creative catalog always has a way of looking slightly Christmasy, what with his love of outlandish fairytale settings, decedent outfits, and commitment to stripes. So it’s unsurprising that he managed to make one of the all-time greats when it comes to holiday movies. The film’s setting and aesthetic are a one of a kind xmas experience, and the film’s dark satire of corporate culture is perfect If you’re tired of the same old saccharine fare this Santa season. So if you’re ready for a wholly unique festive film then it’s time to dust off Batman Returns, go back to Gotham, and live your best goth Christmas life!
Have we sold you on Returns as a Christmas classic? Are you just excited to revisit the Batman: The Animated Series Christmas Special? Can’t wait to unwrap your batarangs? Let us know in the comments!
Images: Warner Bros.
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