One of Keri Russell’s most vivid childhood memories is folding laundry while watching Lynda Carter twirl as Wonder Woman on television. And then there was her star-spangled Halloween costume when she was 4, a homemade outfit that for one night made her feel like a real Amazon princess.
"So you can imagine, the idea of playing Wonder Woman now, well, that’s pretty special," said Russell, who gives voice to the most famous female superhero of them all in "Wonder Woman," a PG-13 animated movie that hits stores Tuesday as a straight-to-video release on DVD and BluRay.
For Russell, there is "a certain feeling of responsibility" in playing a character that has been quite literally wrapped in the flag since her first appearance on newsstands in December 1941, the same month Pearl Harbor was bombed.
"She was the strong female among all these male heroes and for little girls she was an important symbol, so I do take it seriously,” said Russell, who won a Golden Globe for her starring work on the television show "Felicity" and has appeared in films such as "Mission: Impossible III" and "The Upside of Anger."
Still, Russell chuckled when asked about the physics of Wonder Woman’s red, white and blue outfit (“It’s a bikini, and she’s jumping around and fighting? I’m glad it was a cartoon.") and the somewhat startling experience of treading into the comic-book sector ("The fans are very, very passionate and obsessed in a way, and it’s, um, interesting. I’m a tourist.")
Wonder Woman has been portrayed through the decades in different ways. There were many times when she seemed like a super-powered Barbie look-alike but in the late 1960s she was also a groovy boutique owner and staunch champion of the feminist movement. This time, the 75-minute animated film, which is steeped in Hellenic legend, presents her as confident and powerful princess from an ancient tribe who is repulsed by plenty of what she sees in callow American culture.
The movie was guided by acclaimed animation producer Bruce Timm and isn’t for kids –- at one point, the makers of the film were told their movie needed trims or it would be tagged as an R-rated feature. Even after trims there are still saucy scenes, such as the one where the heroine puts her truth-demanding lasso around Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion, who worked with Russell in "Waitress") and he feels compelled to comment on her breasts with a crass expression. Later in the film, Wonder Woman swings a sword in battle and, in a shocking moment, she beheads an evil opponent. This is not the "The Super Friends."
The movie is part of a robust surge in direct-to-video animated movies featuring publishing-world heroes created by DC ("Justice League: The New Frontier," "Superman: Doomsday”), Marvel (“Hulk Vs.,” "Ultimate Avengers") and Dark Horse ("Hellboy: Sword of Storms"). Sales have been steady if not spectacular but the relatively low production costs and the pop-culture momentum of superhero stories in Hollywood has studios willing to cultivate the sector.
Also, the quick voice work and the chance to channel iconic roles are appealing to plenty of established stars. For instance, "Wonder Woman" and its dark tale (much of it drawing on the Wonder Woman comics of George Pérez in the 1980s) features voice work by Rosario Dawson, Virginia Madsen, Oliver Platt and Alfred Molina.
"It was two days’ work and you are part of this great story and production,” said Russell, who laughed about the need to grunt and bellow on command. “You get to be a superhero and what’s better than that?"
– Geoff Boucher
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CREDITS: "Wonder Woman" images courtesy of Warner Animation. Photo of Keri Russell at the Oscars in 2008 by Jay Clendenin\Los Angeles Times.