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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Disneyear: Hercules (1997)

The late 90's were not kind to Disney. After Pocahontas, the films started to decline and people lost interest in Disney animated films. While I think Hunchback was great, it wasn't a big hit when it first came out. So the staff went back to the drawing board to try and come up with a film that could bounce them back to super-stardom. Hercules... well, it was a box-office hit when it first came out and people liked it just fine. I know I really liked it as a kid. Now... let's just say it doesn't age well, at least for my tastes. This is just a very confusing, oddly put-together film. It's almost as if the writers were playing a game of Mad Libs when they put together this film. In fact, how do you think that meeting went?

"Ok, guys! Let's get started. Our next story is going to be: Hercules!"
"Our guest designer will be: Gerald Scarfe"
"Alrighty then"
"The look and tone will be in the style of: Las Vegas"
"The musical style will be: gospel"
"...wait, what?"
"The main ballad will be sung by: Michael Bolton"
"That no-talent ass clown?"
"He'll get us an Oscar!"
"...good point. Let's give him a call."

Well, let's get to the story. In Mount Olympus, Zeus (Rip Torn) is celebrating the birth of his new son by inviting all the gods, including his brother, Hades (James Woods). Due to receiving news from the fates about Zeus' son Hercules (Tate Donovan) mucking up his plans of taking over Olympus in the future, Hades wants to make the little sunspot mortal then killed by his cronies Pain and Panic (Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer) but fowl up when they find out the baby still has his god-like strength and whips the two. Then an old couple who have no kids find him and raise him his own. Growing up, young Hercules doesn't really fit in until he finds out he's the son of the god Zeus. Zeus tells him to find someone named Philoctetes (Danny Devito) who can train his son to be a hero and gives him a Pegasus to find him. They do and over the years, Hercules trains to be brawny (though no one is as brawny as Gaston!) Before they hit the first town, Herc hears a damsel in distress and rescues a woman named Meg (Susan Egan) and falls for her. After that, Herc battles various monsters and demons set loose by Hades and over the course of... weeks, maybe?... and becomes a celebrity. But fame ain't enough. After a date with Hercules, Meg meets up with Hades revealing she's been working for him all the time. Hades then offers Meg's freedom for Hercules' strength, to which our hero agrees. He defeats Hades of course, all is forgiven, and Hercules is declared a true hero.

Okay, so what problems do I have with this film? The biggest fault is the story. It's really a bunch of recycled elements from Rocky and Superman with some other tired cliches. I know I shouldn't harp on it too much since these stories are the inspiration for many superheroes. But the choices they made to tell this story and how to present it is what makes it... odd. There's a lot of very bizarre modern-day references all throughout the film. My guess is that the filmmakers wanted to try and do what they did for Aladdin. But those made sense because you could make the argument that the Genie was magical and could go forward in time to see all this stuff and bring it back to the time the story took place. You can't make the same argument here. No rhyme or reason. Just Air-Nike shoes, drinks in souvenir cups, and movie references out of thin air and those are the jokes with some bad puns. I just didn't think it worked too well.

I wonder if Nike sponsored this...
Huh... I thought it was the hyenas that offed him...
The characters... are recycled too. We've all seen Hercules in other films. He's not very bright but has a good heart. He's as gullible as Elmer Fudd but gosh durnit, he's so wide eyed that we have to feel sorry for him. Meg isn't that interesting either. She has a few good one-liners, but that's all. They tried to give her a past, but that doesn't help make her a better character. Phil is sort of the same thing. He's Mickey from the Rocky films, the trainer. Nothing's new except that the story is from Greek mythology. The only character I was entertained by throughout the film was James Woods as Hades. It's just another weird choice that works in the film's favor. Hades doesn't really talk like your typical villain. He's more like a car dealer. He's entertaining and funny, but not really enough to save the film.

The artwork and animation are the only things I still like about this film. Specifically, Nik Ranieri and Eric Goldberg's animation on Hades and Phil respectively have the best character animation here. The voice acting is also decent. I do actually like Scarfe's work because of how unique and weird it is like what he did in Pink Floyd's The Wall. But his style isn't used to it's advantage here. In a story about Greek mythology, his designs could work but not the way they're telling it. It feels more like Caesar's Palace in Vegas is telling you the story instead of Scarfe and traditional Disney. The songs... except for I Won't Say I'm in Love, I don't care for them. But honestly, that's the only one I kind of like. It's the least schmaltzy and annoying and this one's the only one I'm humming from time to time.

 I guess that Disney tried to copy it's success from Aladdin, but boy does it backfire. What made Aladdin work though was that it had better characters, a believable romance, and actual suspense in the climax. Sadly, that's not what I got when I saw Hercules again. It's clumsy and flawed with a recycled plot and cliche characters. I know this film has it's fans, but when I look at Greek statues and artwork and I hear that Walt Disney animation is going to bring these stories to the big screen, this isn't what I think of. It's definitely one of the weaker Disney films. I suppose if you still like this movie or find it entertaining, good for you. Nothing's wrong with that. I would probably give this one a skip. It's way too flawed for me.

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