Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a 1998 direct-to-video superhero animated feature film, the second based on Batman: The Animated Series, serving as a stand-alone sequel to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It won the Annie Award for Best Home Video Animation, and was produced by Warner Bros. Animation.
The film was delayed for a while due to the negative critical reaction to Batman & Robin, a live-action film that also featured Mr. Freeze as an antagonist. Nevertheless, SubZero received a strong positive response from critics, faring much better than Batman & Robin.
The movie is the second of a trilogy of animated movies based on Batman: The Animated Series, preceded by Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and followed by Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. The film is directed by Boyd Kirkland.
Since his last encounter against Batman, Mr. Freeze has found a home in the Arctic and started a family (of sorts) with the still cryogenically-encased Nora, an Inuit boy named Koonak, and two pet polar bears, Hotchka and Shaka. Nora's condition begins to rapidly deteriorate due to a submarine accidentally emerging from underwater directly underneath them, shattering her containment vessel. Freeze returns to Gotham City with his companions. He enlists the help of Dr. Gregory Belson to find a cure. Belson determines that Nora needs an organ transplant, but due to her rare blood type there are no suitable donors available.
Freeze declares that they will use a live donor, even if it means the donor will die in the process. Belson is at first reluctant to kill an innocent girl, but Freeze bribes him with a gold nugget and even more gold from an entire vein in the Arctic that will put an end to Belson's financial problems. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) is a perfect match, and Freeze learns from her roommate that she is at a restaurant with her boyfriend, Dick Grayson (Robin). Freeze attacks the restaurant and kidnaps Barbara, taking her to an abandoned oil rig where he and Belson are hiding. Freeze and Belson explain the situation to Barbara, who claims that she is willing to help Nora for the "blood transfusion", but not at the oil rig, prompting Freeze to keep Barbara imprisoned. When the time for the operation comes, Barbara realizes that they are lying when they say she will need to be put under for a mere transfusion. She escapes with the help of Koonak. Belson gives pursuit and almost catches her, before the arrival of Batman and Robin in the Batwing.
Freeze follows, and in the ensuing confrontation, Belson accidentally shoots one of the fuel tanks and starts a rapidly spreading fire as Freeze traps Batman and Robin. Freeze insists that Belson perform the operation, despite the oil rig blazing and ready to explode, but Belson betrays Freeze and attempts to escape, only to be killed by falling wreckage. Batman and Robin escape just as Freeze's leg is broken, but he tells Batman to save Nora and Kunac first, along with Barbara. Nora, Kunac and Barbara are put safely aboard the waiting Batwing with Robin at the controls, but when Batman tries to save the weakened Freeze, the platform collapses beneath them. Batman manages to catch Freeze with a rope, but falling debris knocks Freeze loose and Batman can only watch as Freeze is sent plummeting into the ocean below.
Batman manages to get back to the Batwing, and they fly away just before the oil rig finally explodes, but Freeze survives his fall and escapes just in time, and is able to hold onto Hotchka and Shaka as they swim to shore. Freeze returns with his polar bears to the Arctic to resume his life alone, having frozen his leg in an ice cast. He sees on a television in a research station that Nora has been revived after an organ transplant operation funded by Wayne Enterprises, moving him to tears of joy. Then he walks away, limping with a wooden stick for support, with his two polar bears as the screen fades.
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne / Batman
Michael Ansara as Dr. Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze
Loren Lester as Dick Grayson / Robin
Mary Kay Bergman as Barbara Gordon / Batgirl
Rahi Azizi as Koonak
Robert Costanzo as Detective Harvey Bullock
Mari Devon as Summer Gleeson
George Dzundza as Dr. Gregory Belson
Bob Hastings as Commissioner James Gordon
Marilu Henner as Veronica Vreeland
Dean Jones as Dean Arbagast
Liane Schirmer as Lieutenant Renee Montoya
Frank Welker as Hotchka and Shaka (uncredited)
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Alfred Pennyworth
The film was completed in 1997 as a tie-in to Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin (which also featured Mr. Freeze as the main villain and Batgirl as one of the protagonists). Its release date, however, was pushed back to 1998 after the poor reception of Schumacher's film. According to Bruce Timm, Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel wrote the film's story without informing him, so when he discovered that Nora Fries was to be brought to life in the film, he was forced to drop the idea of adapt Glen Murakami's story "White Christmas" in The New Batman Adventures episode "Holiday Knights", as it would have been required to have Nora dead, as in the original issue written by Murakami.
SubZero was well received by critics. Based on ten reviews collected on Rotten Tomatoes, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero received a positive "Fresh" score with an average of a 90% approval rating; it was the highest rated direct-to-video Batman film of all time until Batman: Under the Red Hood took over the title with a 100% approval rating.
TV Guide praised the film for being "more enjoyable — and far less campy — than Joel Schumacher's first two live action Batman movies." In addition, the magazine stated that "Though clearly aimed at kids, there's also plenty to keep adult viewers entertained, not the least of which are the amusingly curvaceous drawings of several dishy dames and the exaggerated muscularity of Batman & Robin."
Release and promotions
SubZero was originally slated for a release on July 15, 1997, and to be cross-promoted with Planet Hollywood and Six Flags Theme Parks, but due to the poor reception of Batman & Robin it was delayed and did not see release until March 17, 1998.
Planet Hollywood (1997) (Press Kit / Booklet Only)
Six Flags Theme Parks (1997) (Press Kit / Booklet Only)
Act II Popcorn (1998)
Knowledge Adventure / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (1998)
DC Comics (1998)
Kids' WB (1998)
Warner Bros. 75th Anniversary Collection (1998)
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After the success of this movie, Warner Bros. greenlighted the production of a third installment, entitled Batman: Arkham. Boyd Kirkland, the director of this movie, was attached to write and direct. The film would have Batman and Robin facing off against a collection of Arkham Asylum escapees, in addition to Batman finding himself falling in love with a new love interest, planned to be voiced by Angie Harmon. The main cast of Batman: The Animated Series was attached to reprise their roles. Steven E. Gordon also drew some art concept for the film. However, the movie was finally cancelled in favor of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (which also featured Harmon), while Batman: Arkham eventually became a successful video game series by Rocksteady.