Saturday, June 22, 2013

Movie Review: Hercules (1997)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Plenty of laughs, fun, most of the songs
Cons: Some dated jokes, "The Gospel Truth," and not accurate to myth
The Bottom Line
Some dated laughs in
Greek myth with a Disney flair
Not classic but fun

Disney Takes on Greek Mythology

Over the years, Disney has taken on many famous fairy tales or other books and turned them into animated classics.  In 1997, Disney turned their attention to Greek myth, specifically Hercules.  The result is fun, but not up to their best work.

In this version of the story, Hercules is born to Zeus (voiced by Rip Torn) and Hera (Samantha Eggar).  While there is much rejoicing on Mount Olympus, Hades (James Woods) is upset because prophecy says that if Hercules lives, he will stop Hades from his plan to take over Olympus.  So he sends out his henchmen Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) to kidnap and kill the newborn god.  Only they are interrupted before they can make him mortal, so he grows up on Earth but with super human strength.

Eventually, Hercules (voiced as an adult by Tate Donovan but as a teen by Josh Keaton) learns the truth about his heritage and sets out to be trained by Philoctetes the satyr, Phil for short, (Danny DeVito) to become a hero so he can become a god again.  Meanwhile, Hades is going full speed ahead with his plan to take over Olympus.  Will Hercules be able to stop him?

I've been wanting to re-watch this since I started reading the Percy Jackson books, but I put it off until I had finished them since, knowing Disney, I figured they'd get the mythology all mixed up.  My knowledge of Greek myth is almost nil, so I can't point to any specific areas where things are wrong, but I'm sure you shouldn't go my much of anything here as fact when it comes to the real stories.

What Disney has provided is a fun story.  Even if you just know the names of the gods, you'll still follow what is happening no problem.  I know because I just defined myself.  And if you know the myths?  Well, try to turn off that inner critic and enjoy what Disney gives us because it is entertaining.  The story is always moving forward, and I love how they incorporate a Greek chorus into the story, just like the famous Greek plays.

This movie makes a turning point in resurgence of Disney animation.  The movies of the mid to late 90's were marked with a decided formula of hero with a couple of cute animal sidekicks and several songs.  While that's definitely the case here (okay, Phil isn't exactly a cute animal, but we do have the winged horse Pegasus), it is still relatively new and fun.

There are several songs as well.  In fact, most of the back story is given us via the long "The Gospel Truth."  That one really irritates me because of my Christian heritage.  I know how they meant it, but it bothers me to hear the term Gospel used in this way.  On the other hand, the rest of the songs are good.  "Go the Distance" is an underrated ballad, and I absolutely love the love song that female lead Meg gets, "I Won't Say I'm in Love."  (And in some random Disney trivia for you, Susan Egan, who voiced Meg, originated the part of Belle in the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast.)

The animation for this movie is bright and colorful and reminds me of Greek art.  It's a bit of a departure, but I think it works.

The movie is also filled with references to pop culture in the mid-90's.  While those jokes are certainly funny, they also date the film more than the timeless films Disney has done.  Still, I can't help but laugh with Air Hercs show up.

The voice acting is fine.  Filled with comedians, is it any wonder how much I laugh at the film?  I have to give special praise to James Woods who manages to give Hades the menace while delivering many of the best one-liners of the film.

Hercules does have some flaws, but it is filled with laughs and a general sense of fun.  For that reason, it is worth watching.

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