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Skating Hercules outshines film counterpart

If it's an eye-popping spectacle on skates that you crave, Olympus, not the Olympics, is where you will find it.

Or, more precisely, the Fleet-Center, currently inhabited by an exuberant, irresistible "Hercules" that far outshines the mediocre Disney movie by which it was inspired.Perhaps it's simply the power of live performance: Effects that are ho-hum in the animated "Hercules" add up to a real visual treat in this latest installment of the Disney on Ice series, especially when accompanied by the oohs and aahs of youngsters in the audience.

Or perhaps what is most beguiling is the enthusiasm and athleticism of the 40 costumed skaters who fly across the FleetCenter ice, pirouetting and mugging their way through the inventive moves of choreographer Sarah Kawahara.

Whatever the reason, this "Hercules" has the strength to conquer the cynicism of the most Disneyed-out spectator.

The story line is the same as the movie. At the behest of the evil Hades, Hercules is kidnapped as a baby from Mount Olympus and raised as a human. Nearing adulthood, he learns that he must perform acts of heroism on earth to regain his godhead.

That won't be easy, what with Hades scheming to destroy him, with the reluctant aid of Meg, the woman Hercules loves. But Hercules gets a hand from a portly satyr named Philoctetes (Phil for short), disillusioned mentor to the stars: Achilles, Odysseus, Perseus.

"Every single one of those bums let me down," grouses Phil. "None of them could go the distance."

Hercules, of course, can go the distance but not before our hero overcomes a few monster-size obstacles: a 20-foot-tall hydra that grows new heads as fast as Hercules can lop off the old ones and a lumbering gang of Titans bent on destroying Olympus and claiming the world for Hades.

A warning to parents who want to bring young children to "Hercules": The scenic and costume designers pulled out all the stops, and the hydra and Titans in particular are genuinely scary.

Of course, that could just be the view of this chicken-hearted grown-up. Most of the youngsters at one performance seemed delighted, not afraid, when the monsters struck menacing poses.

The prerecorded dialogue of "Hercules," to which the skaters/ actors lip-synch, is long on puns and exposition and sometimes hard to hear. But it scarcely matters in this sort of show.

Beyond the colorfully swirling skaters, there is plenty of other dazzling stuff to look at: a giant, animatronic Zeus; a 25-foot-high Mount Olympus that rotates 360 degrees; a flying Pegasus with a 14-foot wingspan who descends from the ceiling; a haunting River of Lost Souls; and those grumpy monsters.

The bottom line is this is one terrific "Hercules" - and that's no myth.