For a while now, I’ve had a theory that certain musicals and plays should only be performed by high schools or, if available, chimps. No matter how well Guys and Dolls or The Music Man might be done by a professional theater company, you’re likely to feel a little screwed at the end of the night if you paid more than ten dollars to see it. However, both shows are toe-tapping enough that you might be able to enjoy them should you know nearly all of the people in the cast, and be able to make fun of them later on for their costumes.
After watching the Wonder Woman animated film, I’m tempted to say a similar thing about certain superheroes and animation. A while ago, I wrote a piece in which I said that a live-action Wonder Woman couldn’t be good under any circumstances; I’m not compelled to alter that statement but animation is a perfect match for some of our aging superheroes. This latest Wonder Woman proves it.
For those of you unfamiliar with the origin of Wonder Woman, it goes a little something like this: Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen), queen of Themyscira, an invisible island in the Aegean sea where time stands still, fashions a daughter out of clay. That daughter is Princess Diana (Keri Russell) endowed with all sorts of fantastic skills and powers. When the tranquility of Themyscira is disturbed by the arrival of Col. Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) and the escape of Ares the God of War (Alfred Molina) it is up to Princess Diana to leave the island and restore peace again. Thus, she becomes Wonder Woman and the narrative arc of this movie is formed.
This latest direct-to-DVD movie works so hard against the way that comic book films have been going that it’s almost shocking. Whereas live-action superhero films have strived to get away from their schlocky comic book roots by increasing the level of violence and thematic content, Wonder Woman whole-heartedly embraces it, palpably wallowing in all of its pulpy goodness. Cringe-worthy dialogue is delivered with an almost heart-warming conviction. Paleolithic views on human sexuality are flaunted and then flipped over so cheekily that you have no idea whether feminists should be angry or not. Plus, it concludes with a final battle at the footsteps of the Lincoln Memorial where giant monsters fight with Amazon women. Itmakes you wonder if this is the same DC comics that has still been feeling the embarrassment of Batman and Robin for the last decade.
It’s really hard to know whether the credit for this goes to the animators or the voice actors. The animators give Wonder Woman the same sort of sophistication they did to Batman: The Animated Series (for my part, Mask of the Phantasm is still the best Batman movie ever made). Meanwhile, the voice actors are convincing enough in these roles without ever being distracting (with the possible exception of Fillion, who can’t help but channel Captain Hammer throughout the while movie). While all earn high marks, the standout is probably Molina who’s commanding and spooky enough as the God of War that you forget entirely that this is the short little guy who got speared in the first few minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
DVD Bonus Features
At 76 minutes, Wonder Woman feels a little short; but to the credit of DC, this is one loaded set. Along with trailers for the other past and upcoming cartoon productions, the two-disc set also has two documentaries and some short pieces on the making of this and other DC productions. While the actors and creators largely focus on how radical a role model Wonder Woman was at the time (a somewhat specious claim), they’re all fun enough to watch if you don’t feel like turning off the television yet.
For the first time in a review since I’ve been here, I recommend this DVD without reservation. Try it.
"Wonder Woman" is on sale March 3, 2009 and is rated PG13. Animation, Comic Book. Directed by Lauren Montgomery. Written by Michael Jelenic. Starring Alfred Molina, Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Rosario Dawson, Virginia Madsen.