Mike Roth’s Merry Little Batman does a great job capturing the warmth and magic of Christmas, even if it does feel like it’s been stretched a little thin.
Winter might just be my least favourite time of the year. It’s cold, dark and, as someone with the immune system of a dying goat, I get ill a lot. Due to this, over the years I’ve developed quite a strong love for Christmas, a holiday that, for me, has always been filled with so much warmth that it’s single-handedly managed to make my winters so much easier to get through. All the illnesses feel worth it when I know that at the end of December, my family will gather around that tree and exchange presents, laughing as we open the feline-themed books that my Dad pretends our cat bought us. Merry Little Batman, the aptly titled festive animated film starring the titular Caped Crusader (Luke Wilson), captures that warmth almost flawlessly, reminding me why, despite the cold weather and the countless tissue boxes I end up having to buy, Christmas is without a doubt my favourite holiday.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend for a second that Merry Little Batman is the greatest superhero film of the year, because it’s almost certainly not. Nothing it does is particularly inventive or ground-breaking, perhaps the boldest thing it does is give Batman a beard, an aesthetic change that I can’t quite figure out if I like or not. What it does surprisingly well though is capture the cosiness stereotypically associated with the Christmas season. It’s a light-hearted affair that’s always desperate to pull at your heartstrings, telling the story of an 8-year-old Damian Wayne (Yonas Kibreab), who, on Christmas Eve, finds himself trying to stop a nefarious plot to steal Christmas from Gotham City.
Damian’s an incredibly relatable character, a child who’s reaching the age where the only thing that matters to them is their parent’s approval. In his case, things are obviously a tad more complicated. His father is a Batman who has quite literally saved the day, turning Gotham from the crime-ridden city we typically see it depicted as to a supervillain-free haven. How is Damian supposed to compare to a superhero who has actually accomplished his mission? How is anything he does good enough? Merry Little Batman does a great job exploring this dynamic, and the idea that Damian isn’t as naturally gifted at this kind of stuff as his mythical father. The film’s at its best when it’s focusing on this father-son relationship and how Damian’s constant desire to impress and prove himself frequently comes at odds with Bruce’s wish to give his son the one thing he never had, a normal childhood.
It’s genuinely quite touching and by far the most interesting part of the film. Merry Little Batman’s biggest problem, however, is that it doesn’t have enough to say about this dynamic to sustain a feature-length runtime, meaning that it feels the need to shove in every other Batman thing possible in order to reach that coveted 90-minute target. Almost every Batman villain you can think of makes an appearance, and by the time we reach the third act, the novelty of it all has worn off, meaning that all you’re left with is a pretty by-the-numbers story that admittedly does have a few great emotional beats. It’s hardly the worst crime in the world, but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that this would have been significantly more effective as a short film, where it didn’t feel restrained by the need to stretch itself thin.
With that being said though, I can easily see kids everywhere falling head over heels for this. The idea of being Batman is such an appealing one to the young imagination, and so to see a kid take on that mantle and take on so many supervillains must be the most inspiring thing ever. Everything about Merry Little Batman is easy to root for, from its quirky, almost Smiling Friends-esque animation to its assortment of surprisingly funny comedic beats, making it one of the most likeable Christmas films to release in recent memory. It’s a great underdog story, supporting the idea that anyone, no matter how unlikely it seems and how much people try to tell them no, can rise up against the odds and defy expectations. Yes, many may just see it as a kid’s Christmas film and dismiss it purely based on that, but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover one of 2023’s most heartfelt adventures, and a very timely reminder to ring your family.
Merry Little Batman will be available to watch globally on Prime Video from December 8, 2023.