It is no wonder that the Disney executives are scratching their
collectives heads over the disappointing performance of their big
animated movie of the summer. Whereas their last two and much more
financially successful summer movies, POCAHONTAS and THE HUNCHBACK OF
NOTRE DAME, featured unlikely cartoon heroes, their latest has a star
straight from central casting.
Since we live in an age of superheroes and action figures, what
better place to look for material than the gods of Greek mythology?
And what better choice for the protagonist than that guy with bulging
pecs, Hercules? Surely, the executives must have reasoned, the kids
will flock to HERCULES in droves and come back to see it again and
Why this has not transpired as anticipated is unclear. Perhaps
there is something lacking in the implementation of the idea, but more
likely it has to do with the picture's competition and with the
obsession of this summer's audiences for the action blockbuster of the
week. For whatever reason, the film is much better than its box office
receipts indicate, and worth a visit if you have not seen it yet.
Like most Disney movies, the script by John Musker, Ron Clements,
Bob Shaw, Don McEnery and Irene Mecchi, plays fast and loose with the
traditional story so as to extract the maximum number of laughs and to
pack a lot of mythology into an hour and a half. Except for classical
scholars, the rest of us will happily accept the results.
In Disney's version of the story, Hades, voiced with great glee
and energy by James Woods, plans a "hostile takeover " of Mount
Olympus. Hades is told that only Hercules will be able to defeat him
so he tries to makes baby Hercules mortal, but through a slip-up, a
small portion of his deity remains, leaving him with the strength of
Hercules, as voiced by Tate Donovan and as drawn by British
illustrator Gerald Scarfe, is arguably not the most interesting
character in the film. Much better is Hades, and even better still is
Meg (Megara), voice by Susan Egan. ("My friends call me Meg, that is
if I had any friends.") Meg, Hercules's girlfriend and Hades's human
trap to try to bring Hercules down, is played with sassy and mocking
humor. Meg's confidence and smart mouth makes many good lines come off
like jewels. She keeps taunting Hercules by referring to him only as
Hercules and some of the other characters are drawn with strange
and awkward proportions, especially the feet. Hercules's, in
particular, are half again too large. Gerald Scarfe's drawing style
becomes one of the movie's low points. On the other hand, some, Meg
and Hades being two, are drawn strikingly well. Hades has red or blue
fire shooting out of his head depending on his mood, and Meg has
provocative bangs and a slightly revealing gown.
As Hercules grows up, his nickname is Jerkules because of his
clumsiness. Through the help of a little satyr named Phil
(Philoctetes), played with his usual style of humor by Danny DeVito,
Hercules trains to become a superhero. Hercules has been promised by
his father Zeus (voice by Rip Torn) that if he proves himself a true
hero, he can become a god again.
As in most Disney creations, comical sidekicks abound. Hercules
rides on Pegasus, "a magnificent horse with the brain of a bird."
Hades has two bumbling assistants, Pain (voice by Bobcat Goldthwait)
and Panic (voice by Matt Frewer). Someone goes to the underworld, when
one of The Fates (voices by Amanda Plummer, Carole Shelley, and Paddi
Edwards) cut their soul's string.
The show has many good musical numbers with the best songs by a
group of black soul singers called The Muses (voices by Lillias White,
LaChanze, Cheryl Freeman, Roz Ryan, and Vaneese Thomas), who come off
of a Greek vase.
The best jokes, and the film needs even more, come from its
self-deprecating humor. Once Hercules become famous, his action
figures are sold everywhere and his image adorns everything including a
fast-food cup in the shape of a pillar. There are even fancy Hercules
Stores and AirHerc sandals.
Hercules reasons with his father that he is ready for divinity.
"I'm the most famous person in all Greece," he brags. "I'm an action
figure!" But Zeus demands more from his son and gets it.
After many battles, the best being the well choreographed
destruction of the almost unstoppable Hydra, Hercules does return to
his place in the clouds.
In the press kit, conveniently on CD-ROM these days, the
filmmakers say one of their main goals was to make the story
"accessible." They succeeded admirably and delightfully. More
families should skip one of those homogenous action flicks one week and
see HERCULES instead. That way they could laugh with the film rather
than at it.
HERCULES runs just 1:30. It is correctly rated G and is fine for
all ages. My son Jeffrey, age 8, and his friend Alan, also 8, both
thought the movie was "really good." They both said they liked it much
better than THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and even better than THE LION
KING. As they left the theater, they were busy ticking off their
favorite monsters from the movie. I recommend the picture to you and
your whole family and give it ***.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes