It’s been awhile since I revisited the animated Disney film HERCULES, and apart from a schlocky looking CGI Hydra (hey, it was impressive for its time), the movie actually holds up pretty well. Although I don’t love the film as much or find it nearly as funny as I used to. It has a couple of good chuckles, and James Woods’ Hades pretty much steals the show. It’s not as good a film as, say, Musker and Clements’ ALADDIN, and it tries to recapture much of what made that film so popular, only sans Robin Williams, who improvised most of the dialogue for the Genie. So, Hercules isn’t one of my favorites. But it’s got some beautiful design work (which must of been a pain in the ass to animate all those sharp angles), and some great layout and background work, thanks to layout supervisor Rasoul Azadani. HERCULES is a beautiful looking film, and for the most part the story works. It’s just there’s something about it that keeps me from going gaga in love with it.
One of my favorite characters in the film is Phil, animated by the great supervising animator, Eric Goldberg and his team. Goldberg has a terrific knack for comic timing in his animation, which worked so well when he animated the Genie in ALADDIN. Another one of my favorite animators is Nik Ranieri, who supervised the animation on Hades. Hades isn’t one of my favorite villains ever, but he’s funny and effectively comical here. There are plenty of great gags I enjoy having to do with his flaming temper, especially when he gets fumed to the point of sucking up his cigar. Then of course there’s characters like Megara, but to be honest I find her a bit stale. I give points for trying in making the heroine a bit of a bad girl, but it’s this problem with a lot of women characters in animation, that once they fall in love, they lose their power and independent spirit by settling down. Whose to say that things will actually work out between Herc and Meg at the end? What if Herc runs off like her previous boyfriend did. It’s just one of those stale Disney romances I’m not crazy about.
As for Herc himself, as a hero, he’s just okay. I’m not crazy about him as a character, but one of the things I do like is that they made him not too bright. The songs are also one of the better aspects of the film, being light, upbeat, and catchy. The gospel flavor to a greek story is kind of an interesting twist.
I think one of the problems with Disney animation is something that’s gone back to Walt Disney’s days: It’s just not that funny. It’s enjoyable and charming at times. I know I’m mentioning ALADDIN quite a bit here, but it was the one time the studio took a risk and actually implemented some Warner Brothers style humor into their animation, and it worked big time. That film has a special tone and flavor all on its own, and it’s just great fun to watch, as well as having Jafar, an absolute classic storybook villain. There’s a lot to that film that HERCULES just doesn’t have going for it. HERCULES doesn’t really take enough risks with it’s humor, relying more on pop culture humor for many of its gags. It has its moments for sure, and its heart is in the right place, but the jokes are working mainly on the surface level, it doesn’t take it to a much deeper emotional place. It’s basically your average light-hearted Disney comedy. It doesn’t really let itself be much more than that or go all the way.
In the end, HERCULES is one of the better films of the late 90’s Disney films. It’s not perfect mind you, but considering some of the pop culture references, it actually holds up okay. And like I said, some of the animation and design of the film is absolutely beautiful to look at, thanks to the work of some terrific artists who worked on the film. There are just some things about it I wish could have been a little better.