HERCULES is the first animated Disney film in a long
time that doesn't seem like it came from Disney. It's entertaining,
yes, and has the usual Disney trappings -- a story, adapted from
classic literature, about stumbling hero who strikes it big, has a cute
animal sidekick and a beautiful cartoon woman, but has to fight a
very-evil villain with a cute animal sidekick of his own -- but it's got
the cheap laughs of a Warner Bros. effort. It's more SPACE JAM
than HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
Visually, HERCULES is on the Warner Bros. level, or
maybe half a notch above the Disney afternoon cartoon shows.
Its characters all look like caricatures and the backgrounds are
generally unimpressive, but there are a few beautifully-animated
scenes, all of which seem to take place in the evil underworld. The
other scenes are pretty autopilot, which makes me wonder where
Disney's priorities lie. Maybe these people _are_ as aligned with the
devil as folks at the American Family Association say.
I've pretty much forgotten all the Greek mythology stuff I
learned in freshman English, so forgive me if I don't rattle off the
names of the gods with the greatest of ease. I remember Hades,
Hermes, Herpes, Sneezy and Doc, and at the head of it all -- the
gods of the gods -- are Zeus and Hera. They have a baby at the
beginning and name him (what else?) Hercules. Zeus gives him a
playpen companion, a winged horse baby named Pegasus. I'm all for
pets but a baby and a horse sleeping together is a little odd, even for
Things are peaceful on Mount Olympus, but as we all
know, when a baby is born in the Disney world, there's a villain
there to sabotage. This time it's Hades, lord of the underworld, who
is so evil he has blue fire for hair. Voiced by James Woods, Hades is
one of the best things about this movie, an enemy worthy of Disney.
His two cute animal sidekicks, Pain and Panic (voices of Bobcat
Goldthwait and Matt Frewer, both of whom needed the paycheck),
can change themselves into whatever form they wish.
Old Hades kidnaps Hercules and strips him of his god
status, but since he didn't drink all the evil potion, he still has the
strength of a god. So he's trapped on earth, raised by an elderly
couple who think he fell from heaven, just like Superman. There are
a couple unintentionally amusing scenes that follow, where we see
a 12-year-old Hercules called Jercules by his insensitive peers, who
just can't accept that he's different. Ever wonder what it's like to
wander the world, knowing you're a god, and not having anyone
believe you? By the way, Shirley MacLaine, that's a rhetorical
Hercules grows up and finds out he can't return to the table
of the gods until he proves himself a true hero, which is cartoon
code for "the end of the movie." That means he has to save the world
from centaurs, giants, Limbaughs and all sorts of mythological
beasts with the aid of his half-goat personal trainer (voice of Danny
DeVito). There's also the femme fatale, Meg, who tries not to fall in
love with Herc but can't resist.
HERCULES is good fun, but it's definitely one of the lesser
movies of the Disney revolution that began with THE LITTLE
MERMAID. It's the only one besides POCAHONTAS in which the
attempts at drama fall completely flat, leaving only the surface-level
jokes and songs to entertain. You get the feeling the Disney people
are reaching with a lot of that present-past humor too -- once
Hercules becomes a hero, all the cool Athens kids are wearing
Air-Herc shoes. Flintstones, meet the Flintstones...
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks