Tim Burton, Michael Keaton’s version of the film is still divisive after decades

As Matt Reeves’ The Batman with Robert Pattinson released, 2022 also marks the 30th anniversary of arguably the most controversial Batman content to date, that of Tim Burton Return of Batman with Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken.

This latest Batman movie will bring back Return of Batman characters Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and The Penguin (Danny DeVito). This Keaton Batman-era moment marked some box office success, but there was also no absence of dissenting opinions about the ’90s film.

Why ‘Batman Returns’ Was So Controversial

Early on, the controversy began with heavy criticism related to the violence in the film, with reports that Burton had fought to censor the film to get away from the proposed R rating, at PG-13. Warner Bros. even claimed to have received thousands of letters from parents upset about the fear the film caused to their children.

There was also the notable issue of a deal gone wrong with McDonald’s, after a backlash over the film’s darker, bloodier scenes that strayed from intended “family-friendly” marketing with the fast-food chain, which also led to the end of Burton’s two-movie Batman saga.

“I think I upset McDonalds,” Burton said in a 2014 interview with yahoo. “[They asked] ‘What’s that black stuff coming out of the Penguin’s mouth. You can’t sell Happy Meals with that!’”

“It was a strange reaction to Return of Batman, because half of the people thought it was lighter than the first and half of the people thought it was darker. I think the studio just thought it was too weird – they wanted to go with something more kid-friendly or family-friendly. In other words, they didn’t want me to do another one.

An article was also published in The New York Times in 1992, titled “Batman disturbing allegory,” where Columbia College alumni Rebecca Roiphe and Daniel Cooper criticized Burton’s use of “cultural images and stereotypes rooted in Judeo-Christian culture.”

“No, DeVito is not Jewish, but he is just that: a man in a penguin suit, a Christian in a Jewish face”, the article reads.

“It portrays the Penguin as one of the oldest clichés: the bitter, bent, vindictive Jew out for revenge, the Jew who is unsportsmanlike and seemingly unthreatening but who, in fact, wants to murder all the first- born of the Gentile community.”

Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tim Burton (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Scenes like blood oozing as Penguin bites someone’s nose, newborn Oswald Cobblepot being locked in a box and attacking the family cat (resulting in his parents dropping him into the river), Pfeiffer putting a live bird in his mouth, actual penguins in the movie, and the much-hated choice in which Batman actually kills Batman returns, all have a solid place in the cultural history of the franchise, with cult classic status.

Despite the controversy, the more absurd story with a darker sense of humor in Burton’s film, coupled with sometimes over-the-top performances from iconic actors, is very much in line with Burton’s work.

While the new Batman is very different from Return of Batmanscenes like Selena transforming into Catwoman and DeVito’s commitment to the often gruesome Penguin will be seared into our brains, with Keaton, to this day, still being labeled one of, if not the best, Bruce Wayne to date.

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