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Film: Formula super-heroes

There's no better time than now for the boycott to begin

Hercules is Disney's 35th animated movie and its latest attempt to strip mine the great stories of Western Civilization. It represents a worthy starting place for the Southern Baptist-sponsored boycott of Disney.

This time Hercules looks like a 1970s teen idol like Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garrett on steroids. Big Bad Hades-whose body turns red and explodes when he gets angry-turned him into a mortal. So he has to prove his heroism to get back to Mount Olympus. This gives him a chance to sing an awful Michael Bolton tune called "Go the Distance."

Naturally, this movie is more Disney than myth. Hades has two bumbling demons on his side. Hercules's trainer is a satyr named Phil who has the voice of Danny DeVito. The muses are a group of soul singers who jump off a vase into a dance routine. Such self-conscious pop-culture allusions are reminiscent of every other Disney movie since The Little Mermaid.

Disney movies have been a joy to watch when they whisk the reader off into a fairy tale. But Hercules is too busy trying to be hip and up-to-date. The one time this works is when Herc becomes the toast of Thebes. The whole town is filled with his merchandise-a gentle self-parody of the real-life marketing of the movie.

While the film has its amusing touches-and terrific animation-it misses the point of its material. When the pagan myths are stripped from the original Hercules legend, the stories emerge as character lessons: Hercules gets drunk and, since he doesn't know his own strength, slays his family. To atone for his crime, he must perform 12 character-building and not always heroic labors, such as cleaning the dirtiest stable in the world. The Disney version keeps a mixed-up version of the paganism-he is represented as an almost messianic son of a god-but the morality is softened into light entertainment.

Just as the Disney genius has been reduced to a constantly repeated formula, Batman and Robin simply repeats the patterns of the Batman franchise. George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell play a Dynamic Duo that bicker like the Smothers Brothers over the affections of Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). The film's villainess has an amusing premise: She wants to save the Earth by killing all the people so plants can run berserk. Yet the movie doesn't do much with the idea and instead uses Ms. Thurman as another Catwoman. Potentially good satire goes to waste.

Naturally, the main villain gets top billing. He's Mr. Freeze, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (who once played Hercules in an awful B movie during his bodybuilder days). His every line is a cool catch phrase that is supposed to make him look menacing. Instead, it inspires comparisons to the 1960s TV show.

Much of Batman and Robin is spent introducing Batgirl, played by Lolita extraordinaire Alicia Silverstone. Her character comes to visit sick Uncle Alfred and decides she wants to help her super-powered hosts at Wayne Manor. Naturally, Al obliges and gives her her own Bat costume, complete with spike-heeled boots. Everything about Batgirl looks like it was added at the last minute as a marketing decision to attract adolescent boys.

If you've seen any other Batman movie (especially Batman Forever), you don't need this one. Batman and Robin tries to imitate all the high spots of the others and comes off stale. Gotham City's mix of art deco and Halloween is lost in a sea of garish lighting and stale art design. The comic books are much better.

Both Batman and Robin and Hercules are made and promoted to the hilt by studios that intend to give their audience what they want. After all, if the same tricks worked last year, why not try them every summer?