Opinionated Guide to Disney's Hercules



Well, that was something. Something wretched.

It's often the case that, when a creator hits on something that works, their next project will involve a lot of what worked, as they don't really understand why it worked in the first place. And that's what we have here, as this film clearly owes a lot to Aladdin.

Both films use a lot of pop-culture-based humor. The difference is apparent in the degree and the way they use them. Aladdin's references come from exactly one place: Genie. Nobody else spouts anachronisms and such; it's just him. In Hercules, they are etched into the very soul of the world. Everyone does them. Genie is voiced by Robin Williams, who is an accomplished comedian; he is capable of delivering these jokes in a way that makes them funny. In Hercules, everyone's doing it, and most of the cast are not accomplished comedians. Thus, the jokes frequently fall flat.

Their respective villains is also similar on the surface. Both villains have comic relief sidekicks, and both are trying to usurp a throne. They are both villains who are in powerful positions and are plotting in secret. But it is the differences that really show us this film's problems. Jafar is never comic relief. If he says something funny, it will always have a cruel edge to it. He's a villain, but he's a serious villain. He's slick, clever, resourceful, and cruel; he's evil you respect and fear. When he's on screen, the tension of a scene instantly increases.

James Woods's performance of Hades may be the highlight of the film, but it is also one of the anchors around the film's neck. Hades is quite simply not a threat. Apparently, Woods based the performance on a used-car salesman, and I can believe that. The problem is that used-car salesmen are not threatening. And that's the biggest problem Hades has in this film: he is at all times a fop. There are no clever plans, no subtle strategies, nothing. He makes deals so badly and stupidly that it is the only reason Herc was able to win.

You never respect or fear Hades. He's just along for the ride, nothing more than a part of the plot. You remember the ham and the performance, not the character.

The central theme of the movie, as established by the intro, is the nature of being a hero. And this is certainly explored. The problem is that the conclusion that this film comes to is that you can't be a true hero unless you fall in love with someone and give your life for them. Everything else is considered lesser by contrast. Being ready to die to save thousands of extras? Yeah, that doesn't count.

The film is so focused on its empty romance that it misses the real heroism of the story: Hercules being ready to die to fight the Cyclops. That would have made a far stronger statement than this tacked-on romance issue. But that bit of heroism is ignored; the film itself never emphasizes or touches on it. The moment was given no greater gravitas than any other time Herc went into battle.

This film poorly sets up themes and motifs, and almost never follows up on them. And the ones that it does are so ham-fisted that they come of very insincerely. The entire third act is an avalanche of stupidity from one character after another. The ending is wretched, the songs are terrible, the characters are bland, the romance is hollow, and I hope whoever decided that a film about a Greek Mythology hero was an appropriate place for a gospel choir is currently unemployed.

The film tries really hard. But it just can't go the distance.


Funny you mention that about James Woods, because in Recess: School's Out, he actually DID play a villain who was at least somewhat threatening, thanks to his acting while performing the character. This was balanced out by his character having what could possibly be the DUMBEST, pettiest, and all around overblown evil plan I have ever seen in a work of fiction. It's up there with Dr Doom's "Absorb knowledge from Elementary School Kids" plan in terms of sheer badness.

But anyway, great Liveblog. I think you shouldn't have been THAT hard on the comedy aspects, as that stuff was ingrained in ever single Disney film at that era, even when it wasn't appropriate at all *Cough* Hunchback Of Notre Dame *Cough*, and some of the comedy scenes still make me laugh, but otherwise you touched upon alot of moments that were just badly executed, badly thought out, contradicted the message and could have easily been fixed.
Emperordaein 20th Nov 11
This was a very well done Liveblog and I'm glad I've read it. Thank you.
Psyga315 21st Nov 11
Everything you've said is absolutely and completely true and yet on the whole I still enjoyed the film. Perhaps Woods as Hades carried for me; I also found Phil rather amusing and I actually enjoyed at least a couple of the songs.
JMQwilleran 20th Sep 12