I guess if there is such a thing as a guilty pleasure Disney movie, Hercules is mine. I know it’s got lots of problems and is probably drawn for Saturday morning airing more than a feature film but I love the music and it makes me laugh. What’s it to you?’ 😉
It should be obvious to any Disney fan that Hercules was trying to copy off of Aladdin- male lead, pop culture references, lack of regard for traditional story or setting, and bright colors. They even have the same directors with Ron Clements and John Musker at the helm.
Interestingly enough they made a deal with Jeffrey Katzenberg to make Hercules so they could get their dream project Treasure Planet greenlit (didn’t know that!).
Their goal was to put Disney’s stamp on a superhero movie- kind of a Disney comic book movie. That’s why everything is so bright and vivid like the comic books and comic book movies of the 90s (for better or worse! Batman and Robin- yikes!.
They also brought in Gerald Scarfe who had done Pink Floyd’s The Wall to help them get a new take on the characters, and I think they are unlike any in Disney history. Very angular and comic book-like.
Scarfe’s influence also helped them see outside the box and give a Greece by way of Las Vegas vibe with a little bit of gospel thrown in and I just find it fun and original. I can see why it might turn others off, but it worked for me.
The music is where I am completely sold. Who knew Alan Menken had gospel inside him? If you look at the differences between his music it is pretty remarkable. He can do reggae in Under the Sea, Broadway in Beauty and the Beast, pop in Aladdin, choral in Hunchback and now gospel. The man is amazing!
The singers are also excellent with the muses played perfectly by gospel singers Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman and Vaneese Y. Thomas.
I also love Susan Egan as Megura who Disney debuted as Belle in the broadway version of Beauty and the Beast in 1994. She’s a richer, fuller sounding woman than Disney had ever used and I love it.
Everyone sounds like they are from Brooklyn but again it’s part of the humor. For me Hercules did what the Shrek films couldn’t. It is funny without getting obscene or crass.
The story is where the film is admittedly weak, so I won’t dwell on this. If you don’t love the music and think the writing is funny nothing in the story will convince you to stick around I can guarantee you that.
It starts with Charlton Heston narrating our Greek tragedy:
We quickly are introduced to our cast of characters. We’ve got Haedes, God of the Underworld who is voiced by James Woods in a hilarious homage to all the villains he’s played before. Everyone in this movie is very sarcastic so you have to like that kind of humor:
Hades has 2 goons and they are Pain and Panic personified. Literally that’s their names and what they are.
I thought they were very funny. They find ways of switching into sweet cuddly Disney creatures throughout, which I loved. (Disney takes a lot of cracks at its own image in this movie)
There are also 3 fates who work with Hades and they have a string and when it is cut a person dies.
Hades stumbles in on Zeus and Hera’s party welcoming their baby Hercules into immortality. I like that Zeus is friendly with Hades. He wants him to lighten up!
Instead Hades sends Pain and Panic to abduct Hercules and turn him into a mortal but he doesn’t drink the last drop of the hero potion so he stays strong like an immortal.
Just like with Superman a nice couple find Hercules and try to raise him but he can’t control his strength and literally topples the entire town columns and all.
Hercules goes to meet his real father Zeus and he talks to him as a statue. He finds out he must be a true hero to be a God like his father
Zeus tells Hercules to find Philoctetes or ‘Phil’ and he will teach him to be a ‘true hero’. We get our ‘Oscar-bait’ song Go the Distance which is ok. I wish it was the muses singing it instead!
The two meet but he is retired and not interested. He is too heartbroken by Achilles and his darn heel! Ha.
I can see if you don’t find Danny Devito’s performance funny than you will have issues. I liked it.
When he is about to finish his training Hercules meets Megura, who, again, I just love. She is sassy, smart, funny and pretty. Something new and unusual in a Disney female lead. Love it!
I also love that Hercules has the instant love but Megura totally doesn’t. She thinks he’s the ‘wonder boy’ for a long time and it takes a while to wear her down. Love that!
We find out why because she is working begrudgingly with Hades because she sold her soul to him to save her ex-boyfriend who left her afterwards! (Again, kind of a clever take on the Disney woman)
Finally his training finished, Hercules arrives in Thebes which is basically Greek Las Vegas with traffic and even guys trying to sell you cheap sundials.
At first the people reject Hercules as an amateur hero, and then he gets a chance to save 2 boys who are really Pain and Panic in disguise. This gives Hades the opportunity to corner Hercules with his Hydra monster. This scene does not hold up graphic-wise (whenever they relied on CGI in the 90s it doesn’t look great now. Makes me wonder how things like Avatar will look in 20 years)
Hercules becomes a hero, Disney style. There is even a theme park and merchandise. Pain and Panic are even shown sporting his gear.
For a stoic company like Disney to make so many jokes it is refreshing. There are quick moments you might not even notice like a scene where Hercules is wearing Scar from Lion King
Figuring being so well known, Hercules asks his Dad if he is a true hero and he is told no “being famous is not a true hero”.
Meanwhile Hades forces Meg to flirt with Hercules to try and discover his weak-spot. Trouble is she is falling for him. He’s so innocent and sweet that it is making her nuts. We get one of the best girl songs in all of Disney
Hades discovers watching the flirting that Meg is Hercules weakness and he says she must obey him as part of their deal. Phil overhears this conversation and he tries to warn Hercules Meg is up to no good. He becomes angry with Phil and the two part ways.
Hercules confronts Hades and agrees to give up his immortality for 24 hours as long as Meg isn’t hurt. Meg tries to stop him but does it anyway and then he finds out Meg and Hades have been working together.
With Hercules nullified Hades unleashes the Titans which are admittedly weak and their destruction goes on too long. He also imprisons all the Gods and takes over ruling the heavens.
The cyclops tries to kill Hercules and at first he is letting himself get beaten. Meg see’s this and gets Phil in hopes he can inspire Hercules to fight back. It works and Hercules fights and defeats the cyclops as a normal man but Meg is crushed by a pillar.
This breaks Hades promise of not hurting Meg so Hercules can defeat the Titans and release the Gods.
Unfortunately Meg dies before Hercules can get back to her so he goes to the Underworld to confront Hades. Hercules makes Hades an offer to swap places with Meg. I love the design of the Underworld . My guess is Scarfe had a big influence in this scene:
Hercules can’t be killed because he has proven himself a true hero who loves more than himself.
He puts the spirit back into Meg and reunites with his parents.
Of course, he realizes he wouldn’t be happy in immortal world without his love Meg and he agrees to live with her on earth instead.
And we get a very good Disney kiss!
And we get a closing out with a great song from the muses! It may be my favorite of the movie
As I was typing up that analysis it made me realize there is a lot more going on in Hercules than I initially gave it credit for. Maybe the story isn’t so bad after all?
But I don’t think many people are going to like Hercules because of the story. It’s kind of like Robin Hood. If you find the one liners funny you will like this movie. If you don’t it will be rough going.
Same goes for gospel music. If you aren’t a fan than the movie won’t do much for you. It is kind of like Fantasia is to classical music. If it isn’t your favorite you probably won’t like the movie which relies so much on it.
I guess it’s something different from Disney which felt refreshing and it made me laugh. I know it isn’t the prettiest to look at and the story is Superman all over again but what can I say we all have our guilty pleasures and on that level it has a lot going for it.
So if it sounds like your cup of tea give it another watching. You might be surprised!
Overall Grade- B
ps, I can do without Go the Distance especially the Michael Bolton version…The 90’s and ballads were rough!
26 thoughts on “Movie 35: Hercules”
This movie is enjoyable and entertaining…that’s about it.
Yep. That’s basically what I say about it. I know it has its problems but I like it.
The plot holes in this one drive me nuts! For example: Hades is the leader of the underworld but doesn’t notice that Baby Hercules never ended up there? In all those years none of the other gods mentioned that Zeus son is now living on earth? Why are the gods initially not able to fight the titans, but then they suddenly are? More or less nothing in it makes sense, and there is no understanding for the core of the original legend. I get why the Greeks tend to be insulted by it.
Why would Hercules be in the underworld if he was still living on earth? It had only been 20 years. Hades seemed like a loner so probably didnt talk to other gods much and I dont know how much Zeus talked about it?
But it doesnt really matter. Like I said it’s a guilty pleasure. I like it for the music and Meg and the one liners make me laugh.
The story is not its strong point thats for sure.
The issue is that Hades send his minions to kill him, yet he is totally surprised when it turns out that he is still alive. One would expect him to notice that the guy he wanted dead never turned up in his realm.
They arent sent to kill him but make him mortal.
As far as I remember they make him mortal in order to kill him.
Maybe my take was they just had to make him not a God so they gave him the mortal juice so Hades was upset when he was still had the 1 drop of Godlike qualities.
But yeah guilty pleasure. Love gospel music and it makes me laugh but story not great for sure.
Every last drop to be 100% mortal. One drop and he keeps his strength.
Well, I agree with Swanpride about the plotholes in this film do get jarring and a bit ridiculous for me. I wish that they added some of the darker and more mature themes of the myth (but not a lot of these aspects), and keep the comedy, so there would be some depth in the movie. Hercules is not a good lead at all, Hades is not that strong of a villain, and while do like all of them, there is some improvements that could have been made. This film is on par with Pocahontas to me.
That’s fair. It could have been better but guess a guilty pleasure is you know it isnt that good but you still like it, so I cant really defend it’s problems. I see them. As i said in the revuew if it doesn’t make you laugh and you dont love the music it will be rough going. No doubt about it
Great review once again. Interesting that you gave both this and Tarzan the same grade (which, as you know, I liked Tarzan better and gave that one an A+ because of that). Anyway, I definitely agree with you giving this one a B. I don’t know if I would agree about that the Muses should have sang Go The Distance. I mean if you think about it, if Hercules hadn’t sang it, we might not have seen that much character development in him and the film might not have been as likable because of that. Also, I agree that Meg’s song was amazing and the ending song too. I especially like how in Meg’s song “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” mainly since, well, she’s basically expressing the conflict she has because of her live for Hercules. Also, I agree that she’s sassy, funny, smart, & extremely pretty (although she might have been smarter if she hadn’t sold her soul to Hades). Wow, who wouldn’t want to pursue her and likely even marry her? By the way, you forgot to mention at the end that, SPOILER ALERT, SO DON’T READ IF SOME OF YOU HERE STILL HAVE YET TO SEE THIS FILM: Hercules punches Hades and sends him flying into the green whirlpool of death that Hercules saved Meg from. END OF SPOILERS. Just curious, did you not mention that to avoid spoiling the film, for those who haven’t seen it yet, even more so? Anyway, just so you know, Rotten Tomatoes said that 85% of critics gave this film positive reviews. I guess that means that while many of the critics like it, the general audience might not like it as much, eh?
Maybe I was a little tough on Tarzan. I do really love it! Oh well. Did the best I could to grade the films. It’s tough to compare the grades for each film because they are all so different. Aside from being animation and having a male protagonist there isn’t much in common with Hercules and Tarzan but I like them both.
You could be right about Go the Distance. I just love the Muses.
I guess with the ending I didn’t think it really mattered how he got rid of Hades. That seemed kind of like a throw away. The plot is not why I like Hercules. It is the writing, satire, witty banter and great music. I like characters such as Pain and Panic and Megura. Glad to hear Rotten Tomatoes is behind me on this one. Such a fun movie!
Yeah, I’m glad Rotten Tomatoes is behind us on this too. As far as comparing this to Tarzan goes, I guess a couple other things that they have in common are that both of the main characters end up being adopted by a other couple and then that couple ends up telling the truth about their original heritage. Oh, and let’s not forget that in both cases either the main character or the love interest ends up sacrificing going back to their original home to stay with the person they love. Aside from that, you’re right, Hercules and Tarzan don’t have that much in common with each other. By the way, I especially like Pain, Panic, & Meg as well.
Yes, the writing, witty banter, satire, and mostly great music is awesome. I’m glad you liked those things about the film too.
Oh, and for the record, I love the Muses as well.
Oh, and I’m curious, is it strange for me to say that in this case, I kind of wish that Hercules had a sequel, but only if it meant that both Hercules and Meg could be trained to go to Olympus in the end (or in Hercules’ case, retrained)?
That would be fun! Meg would tear it up!
I’m a Classics student, and so I have a sort of love/hate relationship with this movie; it is as you said very entertaining, upbeat, funny and even catchy at points, but if you’re well versed in Greek mythology it comes off as more the mad-libs of Greek myth rather than any sort of adaptation. But all my friends manage to find something to like about this film, even if it is the comedy and mythological easter eggs; all the girls in my Classics group will burst into song if “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” comes on!
So while I do see it as incredibly flawed in certain areas, its too entertaining to cast off as a failure; especially given how much James Woods steals the show every time he appears. And speaking as a non-Michael Bolton fan, his rendition of ‘Go the Distance’ really does get me pumped and emotional!
I am pretty well read but for some reason I have never read or studied the Greek myths. Somehow I missed that in school. I am sure that’s part of the reason I’m more responsive than some like you are saying. I think they were trying to make more of a superhero movie than a greek myth and it has kind of that 90s era pulpy comic book feel. It’s just such an odd combination of Vegas, Greek myth, comic books and gospel that I get why it’s not for everyone but I like it’s quirky differences like you said and it entertains me. Glad you can appreciate it too.
What story do you think Disney should tackle that they havent? I would love to see Rumplestilksen.
Two ideas spring to mind: on the fairy-tale side of things I’d like to see an animated ‘Don Quixote’ film which sees the titular hero striving to uphold honour and chivalry in an increasingly cynical world despite being a very inept hero, equal parts decon-reconstruction of the myth of chivalry whilst done in a hopeful and possibly musical fashion, and I’d imagine a romantic and evocative score sounding very reminiscent to James Horner’s work for ‘The Mask of Zorro’.
The other, as mentioned earlier, is Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’, which I’d love to see done similarly to the adventurous and epic style of ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’ albeit with a slightly smaller cast, no human villains, and (optionally) a few songs to spruce the story up. I even started writing down ideas on how the story would work translated to animation (ideally the medium shown to us in the Paperman short), complete with cast ideas, acceptable changes from the source material, dinosaur species, and thematic exploration as inspired by the Renaissance masterpieces.
Fun ideas! You could even use the already written Man of la Mancha songs and score. The Impossible Dream is a great song. I wish we could get the Book of Life people on a Don Quixote project. That movie had problems but the visual style was amazing.
I’m not that familiar with Lost World but it sounds neat. I think the world is more open to steampunk style and stories than they were when Atlantis came out (a movie I really like. In the minority on that one but true).
I’m excited for Moana coming up. I love Polynesian culture and Hawaii so should be up my ally