A comedy of the ages, stuffed more than a Pita Pocket!
Turned mortal by the evil Hades, the great god Zeus’ son, Hercules, must prove himself a true hero before ascending back to godhood.
And that’s it in a nutshell… Oh what, you want me to extrapolate? Fine.
Hercules is a sprawling film. It tries to focus on several plot points all at once. Hercules has a ‘superhero origin’ plot that gives way to a ‘rising sports star’ plot that doesn’t really mesh well. These plots aren’t explored well enough here, giving way to every other characters’ plots as well. Hades’ plan is on the back burner throughout the film and isn’t given much weight or urgency, Phil’s main drive is literally solved in the last seconds of the film, and the only compelling narrative given is Meg’s plot. While we don’t really see any lasting turmoil that Hercules is going through, Meg is in constant peril, and uses her wits to get out of situations, though she eventually pays the ultimate price.
Regarding the pacing, the plot points go by quickly and frequently, yet we spend so much time with so many characters to get to know them that the action is cut short here. This film has a whole lot of set-up and a very short, small section of payoff that doesn’t land as well as it should, and comes across as too easy. Part of this is devoting stretches of time into songs instead of giving us a spectacle. Let Hercules be seen training more, let us see a fight scene or two in depth. We go through his entire life in the span of an hour and a half, and that’s my main problem with this movie: It should have started in the middle. Give us a quick rundown of what’s happened, show us the first 40 minutes in a song or two (shorten it to 10, maybe), and then develop Hercules as a character from there. But we’ll get to him in a moment…
My PLOT RATING is 7 / 10.
Hercules (Tate Donovan, Josh Keaton, Roger Bart (singing)) is the protagonist of the film, but honestly, he just gets given obstacles to get rid of. He never really has to think aside from one battle at the end, everything is solved by punching something, and it’s boring. He doesn’t have that much character development either, his time divided as an infant, teenager, and adult.
As an infant, he’s a cute baby with a few funny gags. As a teenager, Hercules is searching for more and wanting to find his destiny. He’s also very clumsy, and this flaw is remedied during “One Last Hope” where he instantly gains his footing, and for the rest of the film as an adult, he’s Mr. Perfect (no physical or personality weaknesses to speak of), just to justify the “Damsel in Distress” angle for all supporting characters. Basically all characters are physically / emotionally weaker than him, letting Hercules be the de facto hero.
Zeus (Rip Torn), Hera (Samantha Eggar), and the rest of the gods of Olympus are standard father figure / mentor characters that don’t have much screen-time, but do have interesting designs and some great voice actors, but are basically set dressing. The only gods given some development are Zeus and Hermes (Paul Shaffer), to an extent.
Phil (Danny DeVito) is a good comedic relief. He provides a good part of the comedic relief in the film, and if you know who Danny DeVito is, you basically know what you’re getting. He does have some more heart than other characters he has played, which is nice. He makes for a funny mentor character, and you sympathize with him as he trains Herc.
Meg (Susan Egan) is an awesome, savvy character. Right out the gate, you can tell that she can take care of herself, that she is in control 100% of the time (even when she isn’t). She injects sarcasm and logic into the film as a normal character amongst the mythological elements, and it’s refreshing to see someone react with a dull surprise instead of awe when it comes to the film’s many impossible characters and scenarios. She’s the most developed of the side characters, and rightfully so, being the romantic female lead.
Hades (James Woods) is the smooth-talking, quick-witted, calculating villain of the film. He’s comedic and a great contrast to previous villains before him. He’s funny and somewhat threatening, but doesn’t quite cross the bar of amazing villain, but he’s very entertaining and fun when onscreen, at least. His minions, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer), are your standard bumbling sidekicks that betray Hades’ trust a few times. They’re both fun and complement Hades pretty well, giving him a punching bag every once in a while.
The film has several more characters, too many to list, but all of them are distinct and memorable, but a main flaw with these characters is that there are just too many of them. The film is overstuffed with characters, some that appear for only seconds, and it just seems like its trying to throw colorful things at the screen instead of taking the time to develop its characters properly. A lot of the characters also boil down to stereotypes or one-note characters, and while that may be good for toy sales (something Disney was really pushing at the time, according to my vast collection of Hercules figures I got when I was 6), it isn’t good for character development in the short timespan of a Disney Animated Film.
My CHARACTERS RATING is 8 / 10.
The dialogue is great in this film. Loads of funny, and also poignant lines throughout, and several characters are very quick-witted. The dialogue and script are huge strengths here, explaining character motivations and plot details clearly and succinctly. A lot of borrowed Yiddish and Jewish phrases are used by some characters to express frustration or exasperation, and it’s all fun and tongue-in-cheek. Very ‘New York’, reflecting a ‘Broadway’ vibe, contrasting with Aladdin‘s ‘Las Vegas’ vibe. Sarcasm is also used to adjust characters to the more mythical settings, breaking the scared, helpless townspeople, and turning them into ‘New Yorkers’ who have ‘seen everything’, which is a nice touch.
My DIALOGUE RATING is 9 / 10.
This film is basically a testing ground for what’s to come in future Disney films. Glowing light effects, large crowd scenes, and a large-scale CGI creature are all features here, and they’re done fantastically. Nothing really looks that dated here, aside from the odd CG render here or there, and the Hydra holds up over time instead of degrading and looking bad, foregoing a busy scaled design for more smooth skin. Major props have to go to the creature designers, some of which would only be used for less than ten seconds in the film. All of them are great here, and I would have loved to see them in longer segments. The character designs here are also more cartoony as opposed to realistic, allowing for more comedic, exaggerated expressions.
My EFFECTS RATING is 9 / 10.
The music here goes back to Broadway, this time evoking large-scale numbers and Gospel music, of all things. It works pretty well, emulating the traditional ‘Greek Chorus’ of narrators, turning them into a ‘Gospel Choir’ of sorts.
“The Gospel Truth” – Parts energetic and kinetic, the first portion provides great backstory, while the second and third parts are shorter and more somber. The opening number is killer, though.
“Go the Distance” – A great ‘I Want’ song, sung better in the film than in the credits. Also has a good reprise with some beautiful backgrounds throughout.
“One Last Hope” – After the initial shock of Danny DeVito singing, this is a really good song. While I don’t agree with the montage it plays over, I love this song. It gives Phil a lot of personality and DeVito a lot of material to play with.
“Zero to Hero” – The showstopper of the film, and again, while a great song, it takes up too much of a stretch of time character-wise. One of my favorites here, with fun lines and a quick energy.
“I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” – The anti-love ‘Love Song’ that flips the script and is really catchy. While it reminds of something from Grease, it takes on a life of its own and rocks it.
“A Star is Born” – A quaint song that wraps up the film nicely, and fun to clap to. Good, but not great, yet it does hold its own.
My MUSIC RATING is 8 / 10.
Hercules is a great example of Disney’s potential of greatness. It also is an example of trying way too hard to put everything into a film at once. There are way too many characters here, and too little time to give them all enough spotlight. Many of the side characters here are more interesting than the protagonist, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to spend enough time with them. So many things in this film are solid, funny, age well, and are on point. This could have been great, if given some more thought and a lot of pruning. What remains though, is a film with great effects and dialogue, some solid music, and a somewhat lacking plot with more characters than even Hercules can bench press.
And that’s the Gospel Truth.
My OVERALL RATING of Disney’s Hercules is 82%.
Next time I’ll…
Make a man…
Out of you!