by D.W. Lundberg

Saturday, January 21, 2012


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: Hercules (1997)

The Plot: Through the machinations of Hades, Lord of the Dead, the son of Zeus is adopted on Earth, and must prove himself a hero in order to reclaim his immortality.

The Songs: "The Gospel Truth I / II / III," "Go The Distance," "One Last Hope," "Zero To Hero," "I Won't Say (I'm In Love)," "A Star Is Born," "Go The Distance (End Title)"

A Little History: Production on Hercules began in late 1994, under the direction of Disney veterans John Musker and Ron Clements (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid). The original myth was considered too adult for family fare, however, so Musker and Clements were forced to clean up their story considerably. (Among the film's many gloss-overs: Hercules is actually the illegitimate son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Alcmene; Hera, Zeus's wife, tried to kill Hercules in fits of jealous rage; and later, drove Hercules to murder his wife Megara and six sons. The film also makes only fleeting reference to the 12 Labors Of Hercules, including battles with the Hydra, Stymphalian Birds, and the capture of Cerberus.) The characters' quirky design was the brainchild of artist Gerald Scarfe, best known for his work on Pink Floyd's The Wall. Hades was originally written as a big, booming villain until actor James Woods impressed the producers with his fast-talking, huckster-type approach to the character (Woods ad-libbed most of his lines, and enjoyed the role so much, he continued to voice Hades in Disney's Hercules: The Series and Kingdom Hearts video games). The line, "Don't let your guard down because of a pair of big, blue eyes" was changed to "goo-goo eyes" after Megara's eye color changed during production. Composer Alan Menken had previously written Motown/gospel-inspired musical numbers for 1982's off-Broadway Little Shop Of Horrors - which, coincidentally, is what landed him a job at Disney in the first place. The Spice Girls were initially considered to play the Muses; Belinda Carlisle recorded a pop cover of "I Won't Say (I'm In Love)," but this version was cut from the final film. Hercules opened in U.S. theaters on June 27th, 1997, and eventually grossed $252.7 million worldwide. "Go The Distance" was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, but lost to "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic.

How It Broke New Ground: Disney's first full-length Animated Classic based entirely on mythology, rather than folktales or fairy tales.

How It Holds Up Today: Imagine that. After trying (unsuccessfully) to prove their political/ intellectual worth with Pocahontas and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Disney took a sharp left turn toward comedy for their next animated feature, and still couldn't make everyone happy. Never mind that Hercules plunders Greek mythology for the sake of entertaining the masses (this is Disney, after all, of course they'd do that), or that it takes one of our deepest, darkest myths and turns it to feel-good formula instead. I happen to like the switch-up myself, which - despite some lazy writing (the script is a virtual riff on Richard Donner's Superman) and obvious in-jokes (Marilyn Monroe, The Karate Kid, and Scar from The Lion King all make appearances) - still manages to score important points about staying true to yourself, and what it takes to be a hero. The Alan Menken/David Zippel song score is fun, as is the sultry-on-the-outside, tortured-on-the-inside Megara (Susan Egan), who easily tops my list of all-time favorite Disney heroines. Even James Woods as the whip-smart, wisecracking Hades comes close to matching Robin Williams' Genie for sheer verbal wit. Hercules will never be mistaken for art, but it's bright and it's breezy and won't insult your intelligence too much. Sometimes, that's entertainment enough.

Grade: B 


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