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  Hercules Mythed Opportunity
Year: 1997
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Stars: Tate Donovan, Josh Keaton, Roger Bart, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Susan Egan, Bobcat Goldthwait, Matt Frewer, Rip Torn, Samantha Eggar, Barbara Barrie, Hal Holbrook, Paul Shaffer, Amanda Plummer, Carole Shelley, Paddi Edwards, Charlton Heston, Keith David
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Here are some of the Muses to tell the story of the Greek Gods to us through the medium of song, starting with the Titans who ruled the world before Zeus (Rip Torn) arrived and banished them. After that, he was the King of the Gods and one day, his wife Hera (Samantha Eggar) bore him a son he named Hercules, but there were dark clouds on the horizon in the shape of Hades (James Woods), God of the Underworld and the dead, who hatched a scheme to usurp Zeus. First step in that plan: render the baby Hercules mortal...

The Disney directing team of Ron Clements and John Musker had provided the studio with one of their most memorable hits of the nineties in Aladdin, proof that the House of Mouse were back and enjoying success once more as one of the leading animators around. Yet while applying the irreverent, gag a minute style to the Arabian Nights had paid off, when they adopted the same approach to Greek mythology in their next effort, there were rather more grumbles, especially as turning the sex and violence of the material into something family friendly meant that the source was effectively bastardised in the name of entertaining the kiddies.

And possibly the kiddies' parents, but there was plenty to be irked at here; for a start, our narrator, Charlton Heston, is interrupted by a decidedly non-Classical rendering of the Muses, and has to encourage them to take over the storytelling with a frankly embarrassing "You go, girl!" As if the thought of adapting pagan tales was a bit too much like giving into Satanism, those Muses proceeded to sing their way through their scene setting by informing us without a hint of irony that this was "the Gospel truth", underlining a Christian, and pretty much neutered handling of the originals which could be salty and alien to the values we have now.

Fair enough, Disney were not the only moviemakers to appropriate Greek myth for their own ends, heaven knew that the Italians had been turning stuff like that into decidedly non-Classical flicks for decades, but at least there was a sense of respect being paid to their inspiration. Here there was nothing but hitting the banalities of plot, so Hercules (Tate Donovan) grows up thinking he is mortal, finds he has super strength, is trained by a satyr (Danny DeVito apparently channeling Burgess Meredith from the Rocky movies), falls in love, and becomes a celebrity for some hollow-sounding moralising about heroism not being the same as fame. All the while the weak jokes and Alan Menken's songs come thick and fast.

But compare this to something like Ray Harryhausen's take on mythology, something that has enduring popularity for all ages, and you can see this Hercules has a tin ear for the power of such legends. Everything about this is shallow when it should have been eliciting a sense of awe, and with Gerald Scarfe performing design duties that makes it doubly disappointing, where you can see hints of his spikiness have been ironed out to make for frenetic yet oddly bland visuals. Not even the tunes are up to much, as you'd be hard pressed to recall how any of them go ten seconds after they been performed, and anything that might have made for an edgy, never mind faithful, diversion looked to have been ruthlessly pruned. Hades is the Devil by another name, another example of how they had no feel for their material, but that said, James Woods apparently loved doing this film, so somebody enjoyed it. He was funnier on Family Guy, though.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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