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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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!