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It's Keri Russell's turn to come to the rescue

March 03, 2009|Geoff Boucher

One of Keri Russell's most vivid childhood memories is of 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 let her run through the night as an 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 today as a straight-to-video release on DVD and Blu-ray.

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 "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 outfit ("It's a bikini, and she's jumping around and fighting? I'm glad it was a cartoon") and the startling experience of treading into comic book lore. ("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 many ways. There were times when she was a superpowered Barbie look-alike, but in the late 1960s she was also a staunch champion of women's lib. This time around, the 75-minute film is steeped in Hellenic legend and presents a noble princess from an ancient tribe who is repulsed by what she sees in callow America.

The movie isn't for kids -- at one point, it flirted with an R rating. Even after the trims, there are saucy scenes, including one in which the heroine puts her truth-demanding lasso around Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion, who worked with Russell in "Waitress") and he is compelled to comment crudely on her breasts. Later, Wonder Woman beheads a foe in battle. Clearly, this is not the "The Super Friends."

The movie is part of a surge in direct-to-video animated movies featuring DC, Marvel and Dark Horse heroes. Sales have been steady, not spectacular, but the limited costs and the pop culture momentum of superhero films have producers optimistic.

Also, the quick voice work is appealing to plenty of stars. For instance, "Wonder Woman" and its dark tale (much pulled from the comics by George Perez) features Rosario Dawson, Virginia Madsen, Oliver Platt and Alfred Molina. "It was two days' work," Russell said. "You get to be a superhero, and what's better than that?"

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geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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latimes.com/herocomplex

For more pop culture coverage, go to the Hero Complex blog.

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