Opinionated Guide to Disney's Hercules


Character Establishment

Even though you have been raised as a human, you are not one of them.
Jor-El, Superman

Well, having dicked around for fully one-sixth of the movie, now it's time to introduce the protagonist and title character. We see a fairly skinny Hercules pulling a cart filled with hay and his father. They run to some city with a marketplace, but Hercules's carelessness loses some of the hay and causes general chaos. We also get demonstrations of Herc's strength, but also some more carelessness, as he accidentally launches their goat.

OK, character establishment. Let's see where this is going.

His father tells him to stay by the cart in an exchange of dialog that tells us that he never does this. And sure enough, he sees a potter precariously carrying a large pot, and he rushes over to help. The potter is grateful until he finds out who it is, at which point he becomes clearly afraid and rushes Herc out of the store.

Herc walks outside when a discus lands at his feet. Some children his age are playing with it, and Herc wants to join them. Their leader, clearly concerned about something, makes a transparent excuse not to have him join and they split. They also establish themselves as jerks by hurling insults at him as they run away. Which is probably not the wisest thing to do to a guy who can squash you into jelly with his bare hands.

We get more character establishment as Herc walks to a water pool, and everyone else walks away. Herc sulks for a bit, but an errant discus throw causes him to run into a pillar. Herc tries to stabilize it with his super-strength, but it still causes disaster dominoes. This is compounded when more of Herc's carelessness causes him to throw that pillar into some other pillars that would have been fine, causing all of them to fall too.

Herc desperately runs after one side of them, but is unable to do anything. We see the potter from before panicking, as the two sets of pillars converge on his shop. But, the two offset each other. This lasts until Herc slips on some water and slides into the potter, causing the pillars to collapse and destroy everything.

The townsfolk are none too pleased, saying that Herc shouldn't be around them. His father tries to offer the excuse that he doesn't know how to control his strength. And that's where the movie starts to fall apart.

Nothing of what we just saw was due to a lack of "control." A lack of control would have been him grabbing one of the pillars and crushing it by accident. His problem is exactly what I said before: carelessness. He never thinks about anything; he just does it. When half the pillars started falling, he just tossed the one he was holding aside, which knocked over the other half. He didn't think about putting that pillar down in a safe place before doing something about the others. In his haste and carelessness, he made things worse.

And that's how it all started anyway. He ran after a discus and slammed into a pillar because he wasn't looking where he was going. It had nothing to do with a lack of control over his strength.

Anyway, back to the film. Herc and his father are talking. His dad naturally says that he should ignore what the people were saying, but Herc agrees with him. He says that he can't fit in and that he feels like he's not supposed to be there. His father looks rather sheepish at this, telling us that he hasn't told Herc about where he comes from.

And this clunkily segues into the first actual song of the film. I would like to remind you that we are eighteen minutes into this 90 minute film. At this point, I'd forgotten that we were in a Disney Animated Canon movie and thus were required by the Divine Will of Walt to have songs. It was very jarring to suddenly see people bursting into song.

This song continues the movie's running theme with collapsing in on itself, because the lyrics don't really make sense.

It starts off with Herc talking about how he wants to find a place where he belongs, where people cheer at his presence and such. Then he says, "I will find my way. I can go the distance." Go the distance? What does that even mean in this context? The term "going the distance" refers to winning a competition of some form, or at the very least performing a feat of endurance and/or strenuous activity. He's talking about finding his way to a place where he feels he belongs. That's more of a search with a nebulous goal, a ceaseless quest, rather than winning a contest with a clear and well-defined objective (ie: "the distance").

The absolute best you can say is that they're talking about a literal "going the distance" rather than the figurative one. That he's saying he'll go as far as it takes to find that place where he belongs. If that's true, why would they use a phrase that generally doesn't mean that? Why would they use such a colloquial term in its literal form, when they could have used a much more descriptive phrase?

Contrivance. This is nothing more than a sloppy way of establishing theme. And it's not even real theme; it's just a repeated line that bears no real meaning on the overall story. It's like they had a song they wanted to use, but couldn't find a movie to put it in.

Anyway, after singing one stanza of the song, Herc heads back to his house, where his parents tell him where he came from. They show him the medal they found around his neck, which Zeus conveniently left so that anyone who happened to find his son would know his name. The other side has Zeus's symbol on it, so Herc decides to head to the temple of Zeus. Though there is a bit of time for pathos, since he's leaving his family.

"Go the distance"'s refrain returns, where it makes slightly more sense, as he has a clearly defined objective. Sadly, the trip seems rather uneventful, as after less than a minute of montage footage, he's at the temple of Zeus. Yeah, that was such an epic trip that it called for a song about being determined.

So cut to the temple. Herc kneels before the great statue and asks Zeus to tell him who he is. Lighting strikes the statue and animates it. The statue starts to reach for Herc, who freaks out and runs away, with slapstick Komedy! in his wake. Eventually Zeus tells him that he's the son of Jor-I mean Zeus. Then we get a (thankfully short) retread of everything the audience knows, basically summarizing the salient points of the prologue in about 20 seconds.

And wouldn't this have been a more appropriate place for all of that exposition dumping? Learning as the character does, to more effectively introduce him and spend less time infodumping? You know, efficient storytelling.

Zeus then says that Herc can become a god again, if he proves himself to be a "true hero." To do that, Zeus tells him to find "Philoctetes," who trains heroes. Then he gives Herc the Pegasus from before. None of those other gifts though; I'm sure stuff he got from the God of War or the God of the Forge wouldn't be useful in becoming a hero. No, all Herc needs is an epic mount. The horse even does that stupid head-butt thing from before, after which they're BFF again.

Herc goes flying off, again bringing back the refrain from his song where again it makes very little sense. His goal is still nebulous and il-defined, and thus isn't really "going the distance." All he's saying is that he's really determined, which is more broad than what "going the distance" is about.

Before we move on, let's analyze the plot thus far. Hercules is the son of two gods from a far-off place. As a baby, a terrible disaster occurs, he is separated from them, and now must live among humans. He is quickly adopted by two very kind people who have no children. He grows up surrounded by others, but never really felt like them. Eventually he must leave his adopted home to find himself. So he makes a pilgrimage to a far-off place, where he has a conversation with his real father that gives him a purpose in life.

Did the writers not realize that they were adapting Hercules? Did they take the idea of modern superhero comics being the myths of our time too far? If they wanted to make an animated Superman movie, I'm sure DC would have been more than happy to lend them the license. Why did they feel the need to turn Greek Mythology and a classical Greek hero into a bad Superman clone?

This isn't The Themepark Version of Greek Mythology; that I could handle. Xena and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys had that. The themepark version at least makes some tacit attempt to keep true to the original. This is just taking the names and slapping together an entirely different story. When your Hercules movie has more in common with Superman (a story about a guy who can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes) than Hercules, you have seriously fucked something up.


You know, had it not been for the Critic's review of the Superman cartoon, that comparison wound never have clicked in my head until you pointed it out. I got the connection at the quote.
Psyga315 16th Nov 11
If they wanted to make an animated Superman movie, I'm sure DC would have been more than happy to lend them the license.

WRONG!! (Couldn't resist. Sorry) At this time, I am pretty sure that Warner Bros held the rights to DC content. And anyway, Superman the Animated Series had already ran, and I think that Dini and Timm had monopolised the DC Superhero scene.

Also, if you are going to bring up "KOMEDY!" in a 90's Disney Animated film, you are REALLY going to have your work cut out.
Emperordaein 16th Nov 11