Hercules

He's the star of the film and he knows it.
"Uh, guys? Olympus would be that way."

Now that Maleficent has become a huge hit ($521,580,000 global box office and counting), Disney should really get off their backsides and make a movie called Hades.

Along with the Muses (everyone’s favourite mythological gospel girl group/Greek chorus), Hades is the best thing about Hercules. Voiced with obvious relish by the brilliant James Woods, Hades is one of those villains who is almost too good for the movie they're in. He's so much more entertaining than the film's titled character that I ended up rooting for him to win, and was terribly disappointed when he lost.

Hercules is the polar opposite of The Hunchback of Notre Dame - a light and breezy take on Greek myth that is the most unashamedly fun movie Disney has produced since Aladdin. It is also the funniest Disney film since Aladdin. The film is loaded with in-jokes to Greek myths and other Disney films that will no doubt go over many people's heads (I didn't get the Narcissus line until now). That said, Hercules is not one of my favourite Disney films. It is fun, but ultimately disposable. Hercules himself is one of Disney’s blandest heroes. His mentor, Phil, grates as do Hades’ minions, Pain and Panic. Meg is great, but her romance with Hercules is dull and predictable and, disappointingly, she ends up being a damsel in distress in the final act.

The Nemeean lion looks strangely familiar.
As this is Disney, the myth has been reworked so parents won’t have to explain to their kids why Zeus is such a sleaze. Herc is now the son of Zeus and Hera (no infidelity for the king of the gods here) who is kidnapped, made mortal and raised by some kindly farmers on Earth. So far, so Superman. Once he grows up Hercules learns his true origins and goes off to become a hero. Again, very Superman. His chats with Zeus in the temple even recall Supe’s talks with Marlon Brando’s head in the Fortress of Solitude.

Alan Menken returns to score the film, his last work for Disney until Tangled. If, you know, you ignore Home on the Range, which I do. Sadly, this is one of Menken’s more forgettable efforts. I’m not too keen on many of the songs. After a successful partnership with Stephen Schwartz on Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Menken teams up with David Zippel for this film and the results are mixed at best. ‘Zero to Hero’ is the clear standout track, but ‘Go the Distance’, the film’s big “I want” number, is horribly uninspired. How it landed an Oscar nomination is beyond me.

Gods and Titans

--The film was followed up with a direct-to-video prequel, Hercules: Zero to Hero, which served as the pilot to the spin-off series, Hercules: The Animated Series. Pretty much the entire vocal cast of the movie returned for the series, including Woods.

--In Greek myth, it was the Graeae, perpetually old women who helped Perseus find Medusa, who shared an eye, not the Fates.

--Originally, the filmmakers went after Jack Nicholson for the role of Hades, but he was too pricey and wanted merchandise rights. Disney shares slices of that pie with no one. They then went with the far cheaper John Lithgow, but he didn’t work out and was let go. Numerous actors read for the role after that (including James Coburn, Kevin Spacey, and Rod Steiger), before Woods nabbed the role.

--Apparently, the Spice Girls were considered for the roles of the Muses. Let us thank the gods that horror never came to be.

Hercules: "Wow. What a day. First that restaurant by the bay... And then that, that play, that, that, that Oedipus thing?! Man! I thought I had problems!"

Meg: "Well, you know how men are. They think 'No' means 'Yes' and 'Get lost' means 'Take me, I'm yours.'"

Hades: "How sentimental. You know, I haven't been this choked up since I got a hunk of moussaka caught in my throat! Huh?! [No one replies.] So, is this an audience or a mosaic?"

Hercules: "But, Father, I've defeated every single monster I've come up against. I-I'm... I'm the most famous person in all of Greece. I'm... I-I'm an action figure!"

Zeus: "So, Hades! You finally made it! How's things in the underworld?"
Hades: "Ah, well, it's just fine. Y'know, little dark, little gloomy, and there's always-- Hey! Full of dead people, whaddya gonna do?"

Hades: "I got 24 hours to get rid of this bozo, or the entire scheme I've been setting up for 18 years goes up in smoke...and you... are wearing... HIS MERCHANDISE!?!?!"

Phil: "I trained all those would-be heroes. Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus. A lot of 'yusses'."

Hermes: "I haven't seen this much love in a room since Narcissus discovered himself."

Hades: "He's gotta have a weakness, because everybody's got a weakness. I mean, for what? Pandora, it was the box thing. For the Trojans, hey! They bet on the wrong horse."

Two and a half out of four sundials.

4 comments:

Emily Ecrivaine said...

This film is definitely a Disney guilty pleasure of mine. The plot is so bad...SO BAD! Full of plot-holes and ridiculousness that I prefer to see it as a parody than as any semblance of serious story-telling.

That being said, I am a hopeless mythology geek. It's all my mother's fault for reading me the story of Circe turning Odysseus' men into pigs as a child (the censored version, of course) and I haven't looked back since. So I really appreciate all of the in-jokes this film incorporates. Hades is a riot and definitely deserves his own spin-off, Meg is a lot of fun and deserved better than what she was given in the story, and the music is a lot of fun too. With the exception of 'Go The Distance' which is so boring I use it as a bathroom break whenever I'm watching this film. I completely share your bewilderment as to how it ever got an Oscar nomination.

LaureMack said...

I am so distraught that I will never see The Spice Girls as muses. It really might have pulled this whole movie together.

(:

Juliette said...

I love this one. My favourite Disney films are The Little Mermaid and Aladdin by a long, long way (and Frozen, but that one isn't part of my childhood, obviously!). But this one is such a good fun, and the only other one I own, though I bought it for work purposes. I just love Meg, who's such a great, cynical character - though I am forever disturbed at the inclusion of an attempt rape scene in a Disney movie, no matter how much they wanted to incorporate elements of the ancient mythology.

topher darling said...

Not in the realm of the best Disney cartoon but Meg's song 'I Won't Say I'm in Love' is a favorite of mine.