We’re quickly moving into Disney territory that’s a bit more contemporary; that is, I can actually remember when these films were being released. That’s pretty much the only contemporary aspect of this movie, as it takes place thousands of years ago in ancient Greece.
I can’t help but think that after the ridiculous doom and gloom of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, everyone at Disney took a step back and was like, “Ya know what, we need something happy, something fun, to make up for all of that holier-than-thou, ‘you’re all going to hell’ nonsense.” Someone inevitably brought up Greek mythology (because that always has a happy ending…??) and the rest is ancient history.
I’m also fairly certain that whoever wrote the script for this movie didn’t actually do much research into the actual mythological stories. Instead, it seems like they picked up one of those kids books that gives you a brief overview of a bunch of stories, and then took all of those components, blended them together, and called it a movie.
It probably sounds like I’m hating on Hercules right about now. I’m not, really (okay maybe…but only a little). I liked the movie as a kid, and I still enjoy it as an adult. It’s just that there are a few too many points that stand out to me now that I never noticed before, and it’s these shortcomings that I have to focus on, since eviscerating beloved childhood memories is sort of what I do on this blog…
Starting to rethink my life choices a bit. Oh well, moving on.
The first and frankly, biggest, issue with the story is the fact that it’s not the story of Hercules. Hercules was a demi-god, born of a mortal woman and Zeus, King of the Gods. He has unbelievable strength, and he must complete tasks to prove his worthiness. That’s the story we all grew up with, and the one we all likely associate with this hero.
Then there’s Disney’s version: Hercules is a full-fledged god, born to Zeus and Hera, who is given a potion that strips him of his godhood, except for his strength. He can’t live on Mount Olympus as a mortal, so he is raised by a couple on a farm, completely unaware of his true identity, until his parents reveal it to him during his teen years.
If this storyline sounds a bit familiar to you, don’t be surprised. It’s basically identical to that of Superman. Think about it: removed from his home, raised by a childless couple on a farm (Hercules even calls them Ma and Pa), displays incomparable strength, learns the truth after his abilities wreck havoc. Someone at Disney (whether intentional or not) blatantly ripped off the Superman mythos to tell the story of young Hercules. I can’t really blame them; I mean after all, it’s a pretty damn good story. Still, I kept seeing these similarities throughout the first 3rd of the film, and the blatant comparisons removed me from the story a bit.
The rest of the movie deviates from traditional lore a bit and tells a new story: Hercules is trained in the ways of hero-dom by Phil, the wise-cracking satyr voiced by Danny Devito. In an effort to regain his god-hood, Hercules fights numerous creatures, hoping his heroic actions will restore his powers to him. Along the way he meets Meg, the tough cookie who sold her soul to Hades and has to do his bidding, which primarily includes distracting Hercules while Hades tries to release the titans and take over Mount Olympus.
Speaking of Hades:
How much do you love this character???
Hades is easily the bright spot in the film, injecting a twisted sense of humor and menace into the fray. He’s evil while still remaining likable somehow, and in that way he’s one of the best villains Disney has ever created. So many of his lines are memorable, and you can’t help but be glad that he’s a god, and so can’t really die at the end. Although I’m not a fan of Disney sequels in general, I could imagine a spin-off staring Hades would have gone off fantastically. Missed opportunity, Disney people.
The movie ends on a happy note, with Hercules risking his life to save Meg and finally becoming a God, because sacrificing your life for someone is apparently the way of the gods (seriously, have these people ever read a single mythology book??). Herc gives all of that up though, choosing instead to remain on Earth with Meg.
Aaaaand everybody lives happily ever after as all the stars align and good things happen everywhere.
Compared to Hunchback, this is certainly a more peppy, upbeat movie. Despite the inaccuracies in the history (something Disney has apparently never been very good at), it’s a good story, and yet I can’t help feeling that something’s missing from the finished piece. I love the components individually: the villain, the conflict, each character’s motive. Yet there’s something almost too generic about the movie, leaving me feeling as though a less prestigious studio than Disney could have churned this out. It just felt a bit too tame compared to some of the other recent films. I definitely enjoyed it, but it still remains a weak link in comparison to many of the films released in the decade before it.
Hercules is a fun movie, and one I would gladly watch again. There’s humor, heart, and smart-ass lord of the underworld: basically everything needed for a solid film. Although there may be some minor connection missing for me, keeping me from viewing this as one of the perrennial classics in Disney’s collection, it is nevertheless a fine film.
And still 14870437 times better than Hunchback.