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Amongst Western Animation as a whole, Batman: The Animated Series boasted a musical presence of almost unheard-of complexity and attention to detail.

As the cartoon sought to emulate the dark, expressive tone of its wildly successful parent, Tim Burton 's Batman film franchise, the producers felt that an inventive, classically-steeped soundtrack would be vital to that end. Series co-creator Bruce Timm initially turned to the composer of those films, Danny Elfman. Elfman declined the offer to score the series, though ultimately he did end up composing the iconic opening and ending themes as adaptations of his established Batman theme. He referred them instead to Shirley Walker, one of the first female composers in Hollywood, and certainly one of the most significant.

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During her tenure as conductor for Elfman on the first two films of the Burton-Schumacher series, Walker had displayed a tremendous ear for musical arrangement and recording— certainly an asset in creating an engaging soundscape with a large orchestra, but also important in lending weight to a smaller, television-based one. Coming onto the series as the chief composer and musical director, she was insistent from the outset that the material be treated maturely, with a heavy emphasis on character Leitmotif, reprise, and thematic continuity between episodes. On at least three occasionsnote , it explicitly fell to her and her team to correct an error in execution or a lackluster plot by giving the score a particular edge.

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Walker brought in many co-composers over the run of the series, with at least twenty-four people serving as composers in all. many of whom would end up becoming regulars on other DCAU features and shows. In particular, Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter stuck with all DCAU series and films taking place after this show. Walker encouraged creativity and experimentation amongst the crew, though she still had the final say outside of the editing room, and demanded that recurring characters' themes remain consistent, a continuity which extended even to tie-in films like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

Walker composed many of said themes herself, though junior series composers were given free rein with some of the series' minor characters, and major antagonist Poison Ivy had a theme composed by regular series composer Lolita Ritmanis. Among these, the motifs for the title character and the Joker have proven especially enduring, and every bit as iconic as Elfman's "Batman Theme" or "Waltz to the Death."

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A soundtrack album was released in 2008. Its success prompted a reissue and three sequels, covering the original 65-episode production run.


So much awesome, we had to divide it up further:

    Batman: The Animated Series 

General

  • No recount would be complete without the original opening theme. From the moment the Warner Shield dissolves into a pair of police floodlights, that opening horn clues you in just how amazing things are going to get.

"On Leather Wings"

  • The episode's score wouldn't be out of place in a classic horror film, especially with gems like the intro and the lead-up to Man-Bat's transformation. It says a lot about a soundtrack when it's able to make the action of destroying an audiotape scary.
  • "Batman Drives to Gotham," the very first usage of Shirley Walker's Batman theme. For added awesome, Elfman's theme is quoted at the end.
  • The cues where he investigates at Phoenix Labs. Christopher Drake, who would go on to write acclaimed scores for DC's direct-to-video films such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, singled this piece out as one of his favorites.

"Christmas with the Joker"

  • In-Universe, there's the Joker's rendition of "Jingle Bells" as he escapes from Arkham. This proved so popular that Justice League Unlimited referenced it. Both the Joker and later the Flash were referring to a (slightly raunchier) schoolyard song that was popular on public school playgrounds across the United States back in the 1960s!
    Flash: [Batman's] running late. Batmobile lost a wheel. [Beat] The Joker got away.
  • Really, the entire episode counts, being a gleeful perversion of multiple famous Christmas themes.

"Nothing to Fear"

"The Last Laugh"

  • Befitting an April-Fools-themed episode, this score gleefully incorporates more "irreverent" instruments, such as a drum machine and accordion, alongside the traditional orchestra. It's wonderfully silly and a hell of an Ear Worm, particular the main theme.
  • Horrifying One-Episode Wonder Captain Clown has its own Leitmotif (starting at about 0:44), which fits comfortably in this category. Think the Film/Jaws ostinato, but with horns instead of strings.
  • "Batman Vs. Joker, Parts 1 and 2." What makes this one particularly awesome is that because the scene is just the two of them fighting on the episode's big set piece, the soundtrack is mostly comprised of their character themes warring with each other.

"Pretty Poison"

  • "Batman vs. Poison Ivy," played during the episode's big action piece. Beautiful, but it does absolutely nothing to belie the plant based carnage in the scene...

"The Forgotten"

  • The entire episode counts, being a vast departure from the series' usual musical tone. It's heavily composed of harmonica and steel guitar, and it is awesome.
  • This episode is notable for introducing the unofficial Leitmotif for Gotham City itself, a creeping piece with low strings and bassoon. It perfectly captures the dark, brooding atmosphere of the city.

"Two-Face (Parts I and II)"

"Heart of Ice"

  • The opening title. Barely thirty seconds long, but that toybox-sounding waltz immediately makes for one of the most iconic villain introductions of all time.
  • The low-key but absolutely epic "Top Secret" as Batman sneaks into the Gothcorp archives.
  • "Arkham Asylum", as Freeze weeps in his cell at the end of the episode.

"The Cat and the Claw (Parts I and II)"

"See No Evil"

  • Befitting its content, the main theme for the episode is an incredibly creepy piccolo/bell combination offset by low-register brass.

"Beware the Gray Ghost"

"Prophecy of Doom"

  • The entire episode is basically the setup to a hilarious musical gag, whereupon the episode's theme shifts into a riff on Gustav Holst's "The Planets" suite during— what else?— a planetarium fight.

"Feat of Clay (Parts I and II)"

  • "Man of Many Faces" perfectly captures the tragedy of Clayface's backstory.
  • "Batman's Confrontation with Clayface" has an absolutely breathtaking rendition of Clayface's primary theme about two-thirds of the way through.

    The Adventures of Batman and Robin 
  • Shirley Walker's opening theme. The opening overall had a hell of a tough act to follow from the show's iconic original, but if anything, the music is even closer to the heart of the Retool.

    Movies 

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

It's only fitting The Movie would aim a little higher in terms of musical scale than the show... of course, most shows aren't already redefining musical treatment in Western Animation. Shirley Walker got a bigger orchestra, a sweeping choir, and more creative freedom than ever before for the film's score, which she considered her Magnum Opus.

  • The opening titles. They're pretty much the most epic reprise of the show theme imaginable. This is also a moment of awesome for Walker in a different way than usual. That fake Latin? That's not Latin. That's the name of every person who worked on the music sung in reverse. At the time it was common for musicians who worked on a film not to get credited. Shirley decided to make sure all of her people got the credit they were due. When the executives asked about the lyrics, she told them it was a standard choral nonsense language that meant nothing but just sounded good.
  • The Birth of Batman. The part accompanying the close-up to the eyes and Alfred's reaction really sells it.

    Meta 
  • Just the fact that a cartoon had a mature, unique orchestral soundtrack for every episode. Barely a bigger finger anywhere to stick to the Animation Age Ghetto.
  • The soundtrack to "The Cat and the Claw, Part II" was this in a big way for the late Harvey R. Cohen, who took pains to reprise Wayne Coster's themes from "Part I." Not as library music, either, but as newly composed material, and they are made even more bad-ass.

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