A film that goes the distance, despite more than a few flaws
Hooo boy, Hercules. I have a love/hate relationship with this film - no, wait, hate is too strong a word. Love/dislike seems more fair. I am a mythology buff - or at least, I try to be. And that's why I'm conflicted over this film. This film defines In Name Only - the thing is, this actually works to the film's advantage. Even though my inner mythology buff is screaming "HERESY!", the movie is still an enjoyable and fun Disney flick. First off, we'll talk about Hades. Now, Everybody Hates Hades is one of my least favorite tropes. Ever. Hades, along with Hephaestus, is the Nice Guy of the Jerkass Gods in the Greek pantheon. Luckily, Disney manages to make this complete and utter heresy into something good - by making Hades their most Affably Evil villain since Ratigan. Hades steals the show more than any other Disney villain, ever. Herc himself is also pretty fun - he's one of the most Adorkable protagonists of any animated film, ever. He's expressive, he's loveable, and he's human despite being a super strong demi-god. The soundtrack. Holy CRAP, I love this movie's soundtrack. The only song that's just good is I Won't Say I'm In Love; the rest of the soundtrack is phenomenal, with Alan Menken throwing back to his work on Little Shop Of Horrors. Hell, it actually managed to make a good Michael Bolton song before The Lonely Island. The humor is pretty similar to Aladdin, which is by the same directors. However, it's a little bit more hit-or-miss - everything Hades, and, to a lesser extent, Phil says and does is either laugh-out-loud funny, or chuckleworthy. However, some of the Anchronism Stew, like the credit card during the otherwise awesome Zero to Hero number... Well, it doesn't work that well. The plot is also a mixed bag. It's definitely Hijacked By Jesus to the extreme, but the things that make the plot stand out is that it's Superman in ancient Greece! While it's really got nothing to do with the original Hercules, it still manages to stand on its own merits. Ultimately, while it has more than a few flaws, the soundtrack, the characters, the art design by Gerald Scarfe, and, of course, the sheer hilarity that is Hades make this film a worthy entry in the Disney Animated Canon. I give it a B+.
Hercules... and a confession.
I must confess I didn't really care much about this movie for looong years. I only watched it to the end today, in 2014. Yeah that's right, 17 years after it came out. Judge me. The reason I waited for this long was because I am a bit of a mythology fan, and boy was this a mess in that respect. The character designs, especially for adult Herc, though sorta faithful to the antient Greek urn/vase painting style, were not entirely my thing. The reason I ever even decided to watch this movie was because of the songs. Specifically, Gospel Truth I, Zero to Hero, I won't say I'm in love and A Star is Born. Those were pretty great. Oh and I saw some funny scenes with Hades. He did not disappoint, and neither did the songs. Who did, though... was Meg. Yes I know I'm gonna be unpopular because of this. I heard a bit about her backstory (mostly from perusing TV Tropes), and I have listened to her song a couple of times before watching this movie. I read some of her quotes and I thought she was a pretty fun and complex character, with a sweet romance with Herc. And for the first part of getting to know her in the movie proper, she was like that. She lost me at the scene where she seduces Herc. And when I say lost me, I mean it literally. I couldn't believe her song after that, nor her weak pleas that "it wasn't like that" when Herc finally finds out she has been playing him for a fool. The way that scene is acted really made me doubt if she actually ever loved Herc, and that doubt lasted right to the end and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I know this might sound sorta biased... but somehow I can't help it. I wish they had handled her character better.
It tries too hard
Hercules is quite frankly, a mess. To Hades with it. It tries and fails to accomplish what Disney's Aladdin achieved so much better. How to describe it? There's no restraint, tact, or pacing here at all, it jumps around trying to snatch your attention, which is truly mind-boggling. There's never enough calm, quiet moments for character development. I don't know if this was the end-product of executive meddling, or sheer desperation to get them out of the rut Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame put them in, but it seems to take so many bizarre choices and directions with its art style, music, songs and overall story... and it just doesn't stop. Besides that, I honestly think Hercules as a character lets the film down the most (Greek mythology notwithstanding). He's the focus yeah but he's nothing new - the big dumb stereotype good hero guy, gaaaah, we've all seen this a million times before. The rest are just one-liner-characters, not much to say about them at all. Now the good bits: James Woods' performance as the Faux Affably Evil, Deadpan Snarker, Hades is wonderful, simply wonderful, but alas he's just one guy, he cannot save this disaster of an animation all by himself. Then there's Pegasus. The mythological winged horse is fantastic. I strongly believe Maximus from Disney's Tangled is channeling him. I personally would rather have Disney make an adaptation about the friendship and trials of Bellerophon and Pegasus. Yes. Exploring themes of heroism, betrayal and eventual forgiveness. Yeah I know, the buddy-buddy-road-trip scenario is done to death, but guess what? It's a tried and tested formula for success. It would have been far safer and far more rewarding to see those two characters work off one another as comic foils, bond, and form a friendship that spans beyond life itself, rather than take all the unnecessary risks Hercules does, and end coming up miserably short.
This film goes the distance
Hercules is one of the films of Disney's Renaissance that seems to have been forgotten by the company, along with Tarzan, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and such. Like those two, it deserves much, much better treatment. It was actually the last Disney film that involved Alan Menken until the disastrous Home On The Range. Let's just say that this film should really be considered his last film up until Enchanted. Why? The music is some of Disney's best. Its Award Bait song, Go the Distance, actually does something amazing; it's a Michael Bolton song that actually works, a feat that wouldn't be repeated until The Lonely Island's "Captain Jack Sparrow." Hell, they even managed to make Danny De Vito sing well for the catchy One Last Hope. As for the story, it's an In Name Only version of Greek mythology, as are the majority of modern adaptations; it owes far more to Superman and Rocky than the actual mythological Hercules. However, this is hardly a bad thing in this film's case. While Everybody Hates Hades usually works to the detriment of the film, here, Hades is easily the show stealer. He's voiced by James Woods, who delivers one of the most Evilly Afabble Disney villains since Ratigan. Pretty much everything Hades does in the film is a Crowning Moment Of Funny. Since Hades is far more comedic than Nightmare Fuel, the usual Disney Accidental Nightmare Fuel is provided by the monsters he pits against Herc, especially the Hydra and the Titans, who are here portrayed as elemental Eldritch Abominations. As for the rest of the characters, Hercules is, like most other Disney heroes of the 90s, much more of a character than early heroes like Prince Charming; he wants to find his way back home with his family, which, in a rather unusual case, are both alive, since they are gods. In short, this film is much better than The Nostalgia Chick says; it's not quite The Lion King or Aladdin, but it's certainly no slouch like Pocahontas.