(I told you it’d be up very soon!)
It was the late 80’s, Disney were just about to unexpectedly create a Renaissance with four successful feature films (and one other film that is never remembered by anyone and is a sequel to The Rescuers), but before the world could truly consider the studio being back on form, they needed to get themselves out of the Dark Ages, and the failure of The Black Cauldron. And they managed to do that partly thanks to two guys: John Musker and Ron Clements. This duo went to CalArts, they were hired by Disney, they had done some animating on a few films, and in 1986 they made their directorial debut with The Great Mouse Detective, which is probably the real film that started the Disney Renaissance; it got them out of their rough spot, and it certainly gave them the confidence they needed in their animation department. So after this, Ron and John were thinking of story ideas for the next potential Disney film, and the story they really wanted to put to film was a re-imagining of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, but set in space (which I have already reviewed). But Eisner, Katzenberg and co. didn’t think it would be very profitable, so they offered the duo The Little Mermaid, and that was extremely successful. So into the 1990’s, Ron and John still had this idea of Treasure Island in space, but it was rejected again and they were offered Aladdin, and that was extremely successful too. Feeling pretty confident with themselves, Ron and John told the executives that now was the time to do this Treasure Island in space…but no, it just wasn’t thought to be a big seller. So the studio offered them a Greek myth idea, and so they reluctantly accepted – but only if their next project could be Treasure Island in space, assuming that the Greek myth idea was commercially successful.
And so it was, kind of. It did alright at the box office, and it did alright with the critics, but it was still treated the way Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame were before: they just weren’t the films of the early Disney Renaissance. And…I think it’s still liked today? Apparently some people hate it, and some people love it? I don’t know, I can’t really do my research on that. All I know is that I used to love the film as a kid; I remember getting up really early for the premiere on Disney Channel to record it off the TV, and I remember it all pretty well. So I came to it as an adult and…well, I think it’s changed, like a few other Disney films I’ve already reviewed.
Very very loosely based on Greek myth Hercules, the story is set in Ancient Greece, where Hercules is the son of Gods Zeus and Hera. Out of nowhere, Hades, Lord of the Underworld, wants to kill Hercules after hearing a prophecy that Hercules will one day defeat him. Only in order to kill him, he must turn the God mortal, which does happen, but his god-like strength remains inside of him. Learning of his past when he’s older, Hercules must go out on a journey, train himself up and become a ‘true hero’, but not until he defeats the many obstacles in his way.
Well, you can certainly tell that the directors of Aladdin directed this film – and in a way, this film is very similar to Aladdin…you could almost say that it is trying to be Aladdin. A few choice similarities the two films share are that they have a pretty modern feel to them, they have pop culture and movie references, you have a comedian voicing a main character, it’s more comedy than drama, the animation is very fast-paced and fluid. I focus mainly on the ‘modern comedy’ aspects because it’s what sticks out to me with these two films. With Aladdin, the modern references only come out of the Genie, who is a fantastical character who could be from any time period. In Aladdin, the modern-ness works. In Hercules, it really doesn’t. It’s really jarring to see all these modern jokes and references, particularly in the ‘Zero to Hero’ scene; did they really need to put the Hercules merchandising in, like the shoes and the drink and the mosaic billboard and the fan-girls? None of the modern-ness fits in this world because it’s Greek mythology, and there’s no place or reason for it. With the humour in general (as this film is more of a comedy), it’s kind of half-and-half: Pain and Panic are never funny, Phil isn’t really that funny, but Hades is really funny, and Meg has some good snarky lines too, even if they do seem a little modern.
Hades is starting to become a sort of classic Disney villain: a lot of people love this villain because he’s so funny and yeah, he is. Some fall flat, but it’s only some, and even though he might be the most modern character in the film, it…kind of works with the character: he’s a bargaining guy, a schemer, but has some anger management issues – and what would you expect when you’ve been exiled from all the other Gods? The animation on him is great too, I love it whenever he flips out and explodes and just goes straight back to his normal blue colour. Maybe my only problem with him is that sometimes he is too modern, and his comedy sometimes overshadows his villainy. Another character I love is Meg I’ve loved her since I was a kid, and I think I relate to her more as a teenager, and it’s because she’s pretty cynical when it comes to love. I won’t lie, I’m a cynical, jealous girl who hates every couple in the world because I’ll never know what it’s like for someone to love me, and so I’ve got to like Meg quite a bit, with her ‘sometimes it’s better to be alone, so no one can hurt you’ look on love, though it is still quite a modern look. But I love her design, I love her voice actress and she’s a fresh Disney heroine – well, I guess she’s a little similar to Esmeralda.
As well as Meg, I like Hercules, but only as a teenager. I like my nice Disney heroes, and Hercules is your typical underdog, and a very clumsy one at that. But I was feeling sorry for him at first, and I love his ‘I Want’ song ‘Go the Distance’ – yeah, not many people like it, but I do! But then as soon as he becomes ‘adult’, and has done all his training, he just…changes, and I don’t like him as much – and it’s not because of his appearance. He jus t gets arrogant and big-headed, and he’s meant to be naïve but he just comes off as stupid. And I know that he’s meant to become arrogant because of all the fame he’s getting, but the whole time, I was thinking: ‘the teenage Hercules would never act like this!’ And sure, he does learn something by the end about becoming a true hero, and he’s revealed to be a total hopeless romantic, which is kind of cute (and Meg and Herc’s romance is okay), but it doesn’t seem like he’s learning anything at first. Once Zeus basically says: ‘You need to become a true hero and stop being an ass’, Hercules does have a bit of a moment where he wants to reject the fame – but when and after he’s with Meg, he gets all stupid and arrogant again! I would have much preferred it if the teenage Hercules led the rest of this story, and not this bland hero he becomes.
I think one of the things that possibly splits people’s opinions on this film is the music: some people absolutely love it, others outright hate it. I…am on the fence. I like most of the songs: as I said, I love ‘Go the Distance’, but I also love ‘I Won’t Say I’m in Love’, they’re probably my two favourites, but I would be lying if I thought that those songs fit in seamlessly with the gospel-inspired songs sung by the Muses that appear throughout the film. Like a lot of people, I wonder why the Disney studio chose to use gospel music and these Muses for the majority of the songs, and to me, the songs do add to the film’s modern feel.
Overall: There are things I like, such as certain characters and certain songs, but there are things I don’t like, such as certain characters, some of the humour and the all-round modern feel and references. I will give it points for trying something different, particularly in the overall design of the film, but when your film is more focused on comedy than drama and heart of the story, and the comedy isn’t that funny, I can’t love this film too much, like I did as a kid.
Next time, I’ll be reviewing…1940’s Pinocchio.