Though it may seem kid-friendly at first glance, DC Animation's 1993 classic Batman: Mask of the Phantasm tells a hard-hitting noir story that leans headfirst into some horrifyingly dark and brutal concepts. With so much death and destruction in the film, directors Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski apparently found themselves faced with quite a bit of studio push back and censorship. In fact, Timm recently opened up ahead of the film's upcoming Blu-ray release, and admitted that a death scene involving a tombstone, a gangster, and gravity proved too intense for Warner Bros. when they first shot it. Timm explained:
I do seem to remember that there were certain instances of violence that we did get pushback from somebody on the lot, I think for instance one of the gangsters gets the tombstone dropped on him. It was staged in such a way that it was a little bit too gruesome for somebody. So we had to pull that back a little bit.
Looking back on Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it's actually shocking to think that many of the scenes included in the film got passed the studio. Andrea Beaumont racks up an impressive body count over the course of the movie's overarching story, and there are a ton of sequences that could easily scar a young child for life. The tombstone death is one perfect example, but others include the arrival of the titular villain, Arthur Reeves' laughing fit, and The Joker's first scene in the film.
Just take a look at the Arthur Reeves laughing scene below, and remember that it's in a "kid-friendly" animated movie. It's terrifying.
It's those scenes that make Batman: Mask of the Phantasm the masterpiece that we all know in love. Despite the fact that it didn't debut to a ton of critical praise back in 1993, Phantasm arguably features the best on-screen depiction of Batman and The Joker. It understands the universe, and it knows how to channel its inherent darkness without ever feeling overly grim. Even compared to something like last year's The Killing Joke (which earned an R-rating), it seems to capture the grittiness of Gotham City unlike anything else.
In the end, it's almost certainly for the best that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm kept a version of that death scene (even if it received some tweaks). Tombstones play a significant role in the film's overall storytelling (particularly for Bruce and Andrea), and the use of one to kill one of the movie's villains feels too poetic to pass up. Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski ultimately had to alter the death, but we cannot forget its importance to the film as a whole. People die in the world of The Caped Crusader, and sometimes that means dropping a tombstone on an unsuspecting mafia thug.
Make sure to pick up your copy of the Batman: Mask of the Phantasm twentieth anniversary Blu-ray on Tuesday, July 25, and keep an eye out for more of CinemaBlend's latest and greatest San Diego Comic-Con updates as the weekend unfolds! Beyond that, check out our movie premiere guide to keep yourself up to date on all of 2017's major theatrical releases!