Friday, June 3, 2016

Hercules (1997) - 8 stars out of 10

Hercules (1997) - 8 stars out of 10

“Hercules” has the catchy music, epic story, and flawless animation that we have come to expect from the Disney Renaissance.  While all of these attributes are similar to the other Renaissance films, “Hercules” remains unique with its gospel music style and sinister-yet-comical villain.  You wouldn't think that Greek mythology and southern gospel music would be a good match, but it is the perfect medium for the narration of this film.  The animation of the Muses as artwork on Greek vases and statues that come to life allows them to interact with the actions onscreen while remaining unseen by the characters.  The music isn't as memorable as "The Lion King" but it has a few great songs that are underrated in the scheme of Disney songs (particularly "Go the Distance" and the double time in "Zero to Hero").  My favorite song is “(I Won’t Say) I’m In Love” with its 1960's female doowop style and excellent interpretation by Susan Egan.  It is a stylistic departure from the gospel pieces but it works because of the similar female harmonies.  The film has the great balance of storytelling and comedy that we expect from the Disney Renaissance.  It is full of great ancient puns ("Somebody call IX-I-I!") and the symbolic use of color for visual storytelling.  It is easy to see the contrast between characters as well as the transformation of Hercules through the glow of the gods, average color of the mortals, and the faded color of the dead.  One of the most impressive visual aspects of the film is the Hydra sequence.  It is a revolutionary example of early CGI, requiring 13 animators to work for nearly a year-and-a-half to create this vivid 4-minute battle.  I still remember the surprise and fear that I felt as a preteen when I first saw the boundary-pushing graphic content of Hercules repeatedly chopping off the Hydra heads.  The film goes to a very dark place with this story of betrayal and death; still, James Woods’ lighthearted portrayal of Hades helps the film to avoid the depressing tone of “Hunchback.”  Hades is a great comedic villain, complete with one-liners and sarcastic glances at the camera.  The animation of this character perfectly matches James Woods' quirky interpretation.  You would expect the star of the film to be the titular Hercules but I find him to be rather unmemorable in comparison with the spotlight-stealing Hades.  Woods creates a Jekyl and Hyde effect that makes us want to be his friend until he suddenly becomes scary.  Even then, he is the comic relief instead of the serious and scary (and seriously scary) villains of “Sleeping Beauty” and “Hunchback.”  Other memorable performances include Danny DeVito as Phil, Rip Torn as Zeus, and Jim Cummins in a brief cameo as Nessus.  I kind of wanted him to reappear later in the story, but the cameo-like nature of his scene makes it a great Disney Easter Egg.  While “Hercules” is often forgotten in the conversation about films like “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” it is worth revisiting as long as you don’t mind a very loose interpretation of Greek mythology, 

[Pictured: The Hydra sequence is one of the best battle sequences in any Disney movie]

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