The first film on my list from Disney’s Renaissance of the 1990s, Hercules combines many of the elements that made The Little Mermaid and Aladdin such hits, just less successfully. It has a young protagonist trying to prove himself, a soundtrack from the great Alan Menken, funny sidekicks, and voice-acting star power; on the other hand, it has some obvious plot holes and less memorable characters and songs than other Disney classics.
My mom never cared for the animation, which has a Greek swirly aspect to it, so I didn’t watch Hercules much growing up. Seeing it more recently, I see that the film has both strong and weak points. Because it thankfully strays from the often less-than-savory Greek myth, the writers basically turned Hercules into a Superman story (separated from parents and raised by a human couple, grows up feeling different because of his powers, and leaves home to find his otherworldly origin), but whereas Jor-El was dead (Man of Steel blurred that point), Zeus knew exactly where his son was but didn’t help him one bit or tell him the truth until Hercules was “old enough.” For the king of the gods, he seems pretty powerless, making his declarations of love for his son rather unconvincing. Also, Zeus’s lightning bolts had no effect on the invading Titans at first; after Hercules frees him but before he really joins the fight, the Titans suddenly run for the hills from…Zeus and his lightning bolts? Not to mention, Hercules makes a deal with Hades to stay in the underworld in Meg’s place, but after he saves her and becomes a god, he just walks out, not holding up his end of the supposedly binding bargain.
On the positive side, I like most of the animation and the intentionally anachronistic humor, which ranges from hilarious (“Zeus-y, I’m home!”) to rather out of place, such as several Yiddish words like schlemiel and furshlugginer. The voice acting is a mixed bag: James Woods is at his villainous best as the wisecracking Hades, as is Danny DeVito as Louie De Palma—I mean Phil. However, Susan Egan is unnecessarily sultry as Meg and Tate Donovan’s boyish voice fits the young Hercules but not so much his buffed-up hero persona.
I’m likewise conflicted about the songs. Though Danny DeVito’s song is the only really forgettable one, the soulful vocalizing and gospel influences in most of the soundtrack seem more at home on an Aretha Franklin album than in ancient Greece. I do still love Meg’s song “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” and the Muses’ funny musical narration, and “Zero to Hero” is a toe-tapping showstopper and the best of the bunch. As for the mostly cartoonish action, the battle with the CGI hydra midway through is a most thrilling scene, though the head-slicing seemed unusually violent for a studio that typically leaves such gruesome things off-screen.
Hercules may be the weakest of 1990s Disney films, especially coming between greater films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mulan, but it’s still an entertaining musical tale of true heroism. It may not be divinity, but Hercules at least earns a spot on my list.
Best line: (Pain or Panic, disguised as trapped little boys) “Somebody call IX-I-I!”Artistry: 4 Characters/Actors: 6 Entertainment: 8 Visual Effects: 7 Originality: 5 Watchability: 8 Other (aforementioned problems): -3 TOTAL: 35 out of 60
Next: #266 – The Hunt for Red October
© 2014 S. G. Liput