Ever since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney Pictures has been known for producing new versions of old stories. They did it with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Pinocchio. Over time, Disney became known for adding a fun twist to old stories, usually with humor and music. They certainly did it with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin from The Arabian Nights. Heck, even the true story of the Native American girl Pocahontas and the Victor Hugo novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame got the Disney treatment.
The trend continues in 1997 with Hercules, the Disney version of the world of Greek mythology. (Note: The Greek name for the title is Heracles, not Hercules which is Roman. But who cares? This is a Disney movie.) You do not have to wait more than ten seconds after the start of the movie to see that the story will not be introduced by a straightforward narrator but by five singing Muses. So if you’re looking for a serious Homeric epic, move along. This movie is for the audience who wants a more lighthearted take on Hercules and familiar figures of Greek mythology.
The story is that Hercules is born on Mount Olympus to the god Zeus and his goddess wife Hera. Everything seems fine, except for the fact that Hades, Lord of the Underworld, wants to eliminate Hercules, who is the only threat to his plan to overthrow Zeus and take over Mount Olympus on a specific day when all planets are perfectly aligned. If you think that’s a stretch, consider Hades’s method of killing Hercules: using a potion to transform him from 100% immortal to 100% mortal. It almost goes according to plan, with an emphasis on “almost” because Hercules does not swallow the last drop of the potion, rendering him a mortal with godlike strength. Adding to this is the fact that Hercules gets separated from his god family and ends up being adopted by a mortal couple.
So Hercules finds out that he came from Mount Olympus and goes on a journey to prove himself a hero and earn his right to return home. Let’s remember. This is Disney’s Hercules, where humor and music come into play. As a result, the hero, despite his strength, can be clumsy as well as somewhat awkward with women. Even when he’s fighting monsters, he’s not 100% perfect. For example, when fighting a hydra, Hercules slashes the creature’s neck multiple times, resulting in a hydra with at least ten heads thanks to head regeneration per slash. Still, he finds a way to defeat this beast and save the day.
As for the villain, Hades, you gotta love this guy. He’s evil, yet amusing to watch whenever he gets angry about things not going according to plan. Again, it’s the comic touch that Disney provides here. The result is a Disney villain who is more of an unlucky character to laugh at than a real menace to fear. There is a tiny amount of human drama late in the film, but it’s such an insignificant thing that Hades still ends up looking like a goofball.
As positive as I am sounding with this review, Disney’s Hercules really is just an average movie. It’s mainly because there aren’t that many surprises in the plot or in the hyped-up physical slapstick humor. But at least it isn’t boring either. You have characters who are likable enough and a few songs to interest you, at least a little bit. At this point, I wonder what old story Disney will animate next. Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps? Whatever they do next, I just hope they keep making us laugh and smile.
Anthony’s Rating: 6/10