And here lies my problem with "G". This movie gets pretty scary and pretty messed up at times. The multiple headed Hydra? G!
DIRECTORS: Ron Clements and John Musker
I hate snobs. I think I hate snobs because I'm a huge snob. If you want me to hate you, share one of your worst qualities with my worst qualities. I always get mad at people for not watching a movie or starting a book because they are above that place in life. But I skipped many of the late '90s Disney movies because it was when I first started getting too old for them. I hear an outcry from the masses of Facebook. "But, Tim! You are never too old for Disney! We have a whole new world to hakuna matata" and all that nonsense I see in that Will Eisner knock off font. Okay, I'm glad you really like Disney and that you never got off the train. I got off the train. I think it was either Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocahontas that I stopped going to Disney movies for my own entertainment. But this blog started a weird theme. With an attempt to watch everything critically, I realized I now watch a ton of more kids movies than I thought I ever would. If I was to ever give these '90s Disney movies a chance, I suppose it is going to be now. My brother-in-law swore by Hercules. He is insistent that it is a classic. I don't know about that.
I really wanted to like Hercules. Some of the movie I absolutely love. This movie has an insane amount of stuff going for it. Alan Menkin did the music, which already puts it into an elite category when it comes to Disney movies. Ron Clements directed it. He directed two of my favorite Disney movies, The Great Mouse Detective and Moana. James Woods voices the bad guy! Bobcat Goldthwait is in this movie. Look at all of those elements. But I don't think there has really been a truly great Hercules movie. I know someone is going to pull out a reference to Ray Harryhausen somewhere out there. Okay, assuming that this blog would draw the attention of a Ray Harryhausen fan, then there would be a comment on it. But I don't think that Hercules necessarily works that well for the big screen. The odd part about the fact that Hercules doesn't work is that he has this great story and we've plagiarized so many elements from this story for our modern pop culture mythology that it should work. A few hours before sitting down to watch Hercules (I swear, the kids do other things besides watching TV), we sat down and watched part two of the pilot of Superman: The Animated Series. Watching the first twenty minutes of Hercules, the beats were almost exactly the same. A supernatural child is left in a world inhabited by mortals to be raised by mortals. He has gifts far beyond those of mortal men and struggles to understand his origins because he feels like an outsider. He then has the truth revealed by his loving foster parents only to go on an epic quest to fulfill a great destiny. I mean, moment to moment. I thought, "This movie is going to be great." Then it introduced something that I really loved within the Hercules mythos: the quests. I thought this movie was going to be about Hercules overcoming the great trials and I was mad that I hadn't seen these movies. This is where the movie makes a bit of a misstep. The movie loves montage sequences, so much. There's this great story there of nerdy Hercules unable to control his abilities. Having to train under grumpy Phil, this movie could have taken the "Zero to Hero" motif and rain with it. I would have loved to see The Karate Kid with godlike super powers. Each trial could have been Herc learning to manage a new element of his abilities. Instead, Hercules simply does a training montage to show him losing the internal conflict off screen. He didn't believe in himself and then he did. Why do this? Following this, why even have the trials if we only get to see the first one and then everything summarized in another montage? All that stuff was more interesting than the main plot
The plot they chose was dull. Hades just throwing villains at Hercules until he goes away is pretty boring. Adding Meg to the story is even a worse choice. Very few of the Disney movies are led by the male lead. I'm very cool with this. Aladdin and The Lion King work, but they seem to be the exception to the rule. Meg's addition is an attempt to follow the Disney formula a little harder than is needed for this story. Meg and Hercules don't really have a relationship that is based on anything. Meg comes into the story as a deceitful character. Hercules falls in love with this character despite that little about her personality is actually based on truth. She has noble intentions, which I appreciated, but I never supported their relationship because he fell in love with the fake Meg. She also seems thrown into the story really late in the plot. This is a story about dudes I don't care about who eventually falls in love with a pretty girl because she's a pretty girl. I know the critics of Disney animated often comment on the fact that the women are there as love objects and I think Hercules might be the worst offender. I never got close to physically falling asleep for this movie because I was watching it outdoors, but I definitely got so bored at one point that I just was tuning out the movie. There's this plot with the titans, but the titans come across simply as other villains that Hades throws at Hercules that only seem successful because they come so late in the movie.
There's this ending sequence in Hercules that just murders the pacing, but is central to the character. Hercules himself doesn't really have a moral choice within the story. He is warned from falling in love with Meg from Phil and Pegasus, but that's not so much a character shift so much as he's being bombarded with conflicting info so he can't really make an accurate decision. So the final sequence, and I think I can avoid spoilers here, is about how good of a person Hercules really is. It is about his integrity and what makes a hero and the idea behind it is super cool. But it also comes at a really weird time in the story. The primary conflict is over. It kind of has that weird Lord of the Rings novel thing where Saruman attacks the Shire. The plot has ended, yet this whole mini story comes up that seems important, but the audience is spent. On top of that, the conflict with Hades is very quickly resolved to the point of anti-climax. For intense readers of this blog, I'm a big fan of the movie following its own rules. The movie, at this point, doesn't follow its own rules with Hades's downfall. It kind of does, but in a way that is a bit of a headscratcher. I know what the movie tried to do, but the ending is not satisfying. This mini plot leads into a denouement that seems arbitrary. The main plot of the film is Hercules trying to regain his stolen godhood and that idea is resolved, but his godhood seems like such an afterthought in this movie. The movie starts with that as the inciting incident. Zeus revealing that Hercules has the ability to return to Mt. Olympus is a cool start, but Hercules almost never addresses this moment again. Rather, it becomes a better commentary on celebrity and what makes someone a hero. Having the plot return to the godhood impetus is much more of an, "Oh yeah, that's what he was shooting for" rather than any resolution that I needed. It kind of feels like Hercules should be working his entire life to prove his worth rather than an arbitrary resolution to this plot. I hate to say it, this should have been a TV show. (And it was, but let's not overinflate that.)
A couple of the Disney stories really suffer from the fact that they are being adapted to be family friendly. I hear The Hunchback of Notre Dame is really messed up. Like, I shouldn't show my kids this movie because it's so messed up. (If you have an opinion on this, please put it in the comments below.) The Greek myths are dark. Zeus is not a nice god. He's awful. But this is a Disney story so a lot had to be cleaned up. I get it. It makes sense. A lot of storytelling has been Disney-fied in the past and Hercules committed no crime that dozen of other Disney movies haven't done before. The big problem with simplifying the plot is that I'm very familiar with this original story. With all of the clean up going on with this movie, I think the plot suffers from the clean up. There's a much more interesting story that is being ignored for the sake of being family friendly. That's kind of a shame but I get it. This is all griping, I realize right now, because I have no suggestions. In no way do I want the smutty awful version of Hercules on screen, but I also acknowledge that there is a much cooler version of this story that can't be told. But again, this all goes back to my original comment that Hercules has yet to be adapted into a truly great movie.
The one thing that really rocks (for the most part) in Hercules is the animation. There was a weird revelation a while ago that the animated Beauty and the Beast from Disney is actually animated quite poorly. That's the tops, yo. People love that film. I loved that film! I started watching it fairly recently with the kids and I was appalled at how bad the animation was in that movie. Hercules looks good. I like when the design is a little stylized. Hercules might take it a little far with the stylization at times, but I tend to err on the side of risky, so I forgive a lot. The art is very fluid and looks absolutely beautiful throughout...with the exception of the Hydra. Disney was always touted as innovators in animation, especially when it came to using computer animation to add another element to the movie. Beauty and the Beast used it for the famous ballroom shot. Aladdin used it for the Cave of Wonders. These scenes dropped my jaw when I was a kid. This was a major step forward in animation back in the day, but I have to say that a lot of the look doesn't hold up today. These are scenes I know kind of cringe at. Look, me, we wouldn't have stuff like Toy Story if it wasn't for these choices. I love the look of Moana and Big Hero 6, so I guess I have to suck it up and understand that Disney couldn't get it perfect on the first try. But these scenes pull me out of the movie. That and the fact that I couldn't wait for that scene to end so my kids wouldn't have nightmares for life.
So it's a classic to some. Disney definitely has dips and highs, and I think their late '90s stuff is pretty weak. I'm not sad I missed it, but I do appreciate it is out there. My kids got bored with it pretty quickly, but that's because they don't have attention spans and we were outside. Regardless, I had an overall okay time with it. It did the job and I had a fun movie night with the kids. And now I can say that I saw it...
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.