Still the best Batman animated feature.
Batman breaks into a mob conference and gangster Chuckie Sol is able to make a getaway. While searching for his car he encounters another masked man. Chuckie is killed in the confrontation and spectators single out Batman. Batman is blamed for Sol's death along with another mob boss, and the police are now determined to bring him down. -summary
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm can be considered both a gift and a curse to the animated, as well as live action franchise. When looking at it from the point of view in being a gift, it happened to tell the best Batman story to date, and yes, I even rank it above Christoper Nolan's Dark Knight simply because the story was told in a fashionable way, without the viewer having to be spoonfed its messages and themes as if everyone is completely stupid. The film examined Bruce's origin shedding plenty of light on why exactly he became Batman, and it wasn't only due to his parents death. The film also happens to be considered a curse, because it would serve as the measuring stick for anything and everything Batman related for years to come. The film was released in 1993, and it still hasn't been dethroned yet in many fans eyes. Mask of the Phantasm is what I consider to be the definitive Batman movie.
Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm, with Alan Burnett behind the screenplay and story, Mask of the Phantasm happens to cram in quite a bit in such a short runtime, which happens to be 76 minutes. The film uses story elements from Batman - Year One, but includes a bit of original material that adds a great amount of necessary depth to Bruce Wayne's character. The character development in this film is amazing; Bruce's love life is examined here, and the drama is very strong watching his struggles when trying to choose between avenging his parents and moving on with a normal life. The addition of the second main character, Andrea Beaumont, who happens to be the love interest helps bring out the best in this part of the story. She's a very interesting character, and it was indeed a plus that she wasn't added merely to play the damsel in distress. The character interactions between these two really add to the depth of the film, and for me never hampered the pacing since they actually served as a purpose to the overall story.
It's rare to come into an action movie, and the non action segments are just as engaging and entertaining. The character's are strong, with the second vigilante being the Phantasm whom boasts a grim reaper like look, complete with a skull looking mask and scythe adding to the mystery. Although the character's identity can be figured out long before the end, it doesn't make the character any less interesting. The Clown Prince of Crime Joker makes an appearance as well, and he's weaved into the story perfectly which results in an excellent plot twist.
The story is gripping from the opening and the plot moves at a high tempo. It follows Batman as he tries to learn who's really committing the murders, and in the process he must evade the police hunt in which Gordon wants no part of. The events lead up to an epic finale that capped the movie off with a bang.
Although the film is very strong with the romance angle and there are plenty of good non action moments, there really is an ample amount of action and the action segments are handled well. There's a few good hand to hand moments, and a very good chase scene that almost feels like the end of Batman. The production values are very strong with some fluid animation, and a very well orchestrated music score that gives the film an epic feel separating it from the TV series. It truly does feel like a movie and not just an extended episode. I also must mention the fine voice acting performances by Kevin Conroy who reprises his role from the TV series as Batman, and Mark Hamill as the Joker. Hamill especially, heavily gets into the character and it's very noticeable.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm isn't exactly easy on the kids, since there are a few deaths that takes place, mainly off screen though and there are a few minor bloody moments not seen in the animated series. The film has a rather dark feel that is a notch above the first three seasons, but not on the level of the 4th season which happens to be the darkest. In any case, Mask of the Phantasm is the best of the Batman films and I highly recommend it to everyone; true fans of the character and casual fans as well.
Pros: Story, plot, characters, action etc.