Thursday, February 18, 2010

#35: Hercules (1997)

"Hercules" is of course based on Greek mythology, basically meaning they used the character names and not much else. Disney actually wanted to premiere the film in Greece, but the media and public there were so annoyed about it that they refused. Anyway, done by the "Aladdin" team, Hercules is the son of the mighty thunder god Zeus, but he is taken away by minions of Hades, who wants to dispose of the kid in case he interferes with his plans to take over Mount Olympus. A mix-up leaves Hercules mortal, but still with God-like strength, and grows up into an awkward teenager. When he finds out his true lineage, he seems out the satyr Philoctetes, who has trained heroes of the past who all went on to disappoint him, but he reluctantly agrees to try one last time. In time he learns the tricks to being a hero, leaving Hades right pissed, who tries some different methods to try to dispose of him, with the help of his reluctant servant Meg.
Like "Aladdin," this film takes a more light-hearted, comedic and modern approach, like a shady street vendor selling sundials out of his coat, or Hercules sponsoring 'Herculade.' These jokes are mostly pretty lame, but there are some really great touches throughout, such as a quick bit where Herc is posing wearing Scar's skin as a sash. The story is solid and engaging enough for me; the first twenty minutes are a bit rough, since it's basically all set-up for Hercules to become mortal. Then we get awkward teenage Herc who doesn't belong, which is nothing real original or interesting, but it's all building up to when he meets Phil, which is where the movie really kicks up. It starts its focus of Hercules finding his footing as a savior and protector, and shedding his awkwardness about it, with Phil yelling and screaming orders in the background. I also appreciate that this movie didn't hammer its message about what makes a real hero too deep like "Aladdin" did. We get a few lines about how it takes a big heart to be a hero and that's it, no dragging, no nothing.
Now I didn't feel as strongly for him as Quasimodo, but Hercules is a pretty entertaining character, determined yet naive, and works really well paired with others like Phil the hothead coach, and also the eternally snarky Meg. I dare say Meg is probably the strongest heroine we've had from Disney yet, with a torn sense of allegiance, a somewhat torrid past, but in the end, she defies the whims of Hades himself to keep her conscious clear. Now that's pretty damn gutsy. She starts off a bit aggravating, but I found myself warming up to her as the film went on. As for Hades, he's another inksuit actor, this time it's cartoon James Woods. However, I say he's a lot better than the Genie, since all of his ad-libbing and brief tangential stuff fits his character, and also doesn't detract from the story. Hades is like a slimy used-car salesman always trying to wheel and deal and smooth-talk people into getting what he wants. I was also surprised how much I didn't mind his two little comic relief minions Pain and Panic, who at times were actually pretty funny, bickering amongst themselves, and of course getting beaten to hell and back by Hades. pun intended.
Visually the film goes in a bit of a different direction, basing designs off of old Greek art and architecture, giving the characters a slightly more angular look to them. I thought it was a refreshing change of pace for the studio to divert from their look a bit. That brings me to another reason I didn't like the first twenty minutes or so: it's on Mount Olympus, and every single God is growing BRIGHT PRIMARY COLORS. Bright magenta, blues, yellows... it's such an assault on the eyes to see all those colors clash with each other. Thankfully we don't see them much in the movie; the rest is down on Earth and looks pretty good, lots of different contrasts, blues and grays in rural areas, yellows and oranges in the city, it looked pretty good to me. The character animation was pretty standard, all of their movements fitting their personalities and vocal performances, the stand-out of course being Hades. I especially love the animation when he gets angry and his entire body flares up in flame. There's also I think the first 3-D rendered creature in a Disney film, the giant multi-headed Hydra. While it would've been a lot better in 2-D, it didn't look bad; you could tell it was computer generated, but at some points it did look like it was kinda drawn. ...kinda.
Verdict? Though some parts of the movie didn't really work for me (most of the music; those muses were quite annoying actually), I actually liked it on the whole. It's an amusing little romp in an incredibly homogenized version of Greek mythology, just overall delightful and charming. I'm surprised how much I liked this and "Hunchback," when both seem like they're pretty forgotten films, especially against the big Renaissance four, but I like these better than those, to be honest.


  1. What would happen if the skull shaped pacifier was in Baby Hercules' mouth? I always wondered about that. Hades almost got the pacifier in the baby's mouth but the baby squeezed his hand. I know it may not have killed him but it still would have hurt his mouth because of the spikes on the skull nipple. What would really happen if the skull pacifier was in his mouth?

  2. I rewatched Hercules recently, for the first time since just after it came out.

    Hercules himself is pretty dull, but Meg and Hades make up for it. They're the film's highlights, for the reasons you describe..

    The movie's character designs basically consist of three main lements: the brilliant Gerald Scarfe's contributions (most clearly seen in Hades and two pointy-nosed women), the classical Greek elements (most obvious in Meg's character design), and the traditional Disney approach (many of the incidental characters). One of the film's flaws for me is that these different visual approaches didn't always blend together perfectly well - especially once you add the computerised elements like the Hydra.