[Some of these early reviews were written for my college newspaper with Kimber Kay, in the format seen here.]
ERIC: For a while there, some people were really worried about the Disney cartoons.
The boring “Pocahontas” and not-for-kids “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” while lauded by some, were generally not well received, and many people began to think that the Disney animation arm, which was only rejuvenated eight years ago with “The Little Mermaid,” was beginning to fall apart again. Were we again doomed to watch things only as good as “The Black Cauldron” and “The Fox and the Hound”?
Fortunately, “Hercules,” which opens Friday, shows that the answer is no. “Hercules” is a throwback to the good ol’ days of “Aladdin” — funny, fast-paced, with references to everything from “The Karate Kid” to “I Love Lucy,” and some dead-on satire of merchandising, mass-marketing, and the icons we falsely consider to be “heroes.”
KIMBER: This was actually fun to watch, and you had to be quick to get the jokes. This is one of those Disney films enjoyed more by adults because of the slick jokes.
The music is the best I have heard in a Disney flick for years. I just might get the soundtrack. The Muses, the musical narrators of the show, sing some good old gospel music, telling the story of Hercules. Unfortunately Hercules has as much soul as Michael Bolton, who sings the radio version of the show’s theme, “Go the Distance.” Meg, the heroine, tries her best to give a top 40 rendition of her solo song, but it gets stolen by the magnificent Muses.
Of course, Disney cleaned up the epic story of the superhuman hero. Those who know the original Greek myths will find the sanitized versions humorous.
ERIC: I must disagree with Kimber’s point about the music. Most of the singing is done gospel-style, which is fine, but gospel isn’t very imaginative or creative, music-wise. This means that instead of having three or four great, hummable songs (remember all the good stuff in “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”?), there are maybe two.
I really like “Go the Distance,” the inspiring, I’m-gonna-make-it-someday song young Hercules sings, but Michael Bolton’s version over the closing credits ruins it. Not only is it the worst part of the movie, it’s also the worst crime ever perpetrated against humanity.
Part of the charm of this movie is that Hercules is such a rare item: A three-dimensional, sympathetic MALE character in a Disney cartoon. Quasimodo and Beast were sympathetic characters, but only in a freakish sort of way, and we never saw much of Aladdin’s feelings. Hercules, with his bouts of isolationism and loneliness, seems so human and so real. He seems like a guy you could get to be pals with, someone so nice that he would never crush your skull with his bare hands, even though he could.
KIMBER: Nice point, but I guess only those who are freakish and lonely can relate to that.
ERIC: Remember Ursula the sea witch in “Little Mermaid?” I’m sittin’ next to her.
KIMBER: Hades, the villain, was a riot. James Woods plays Hades as a pathetic failure, someone who can almost can rise above his lowly station in life, but can’t. He provides a lot of the comedy, as do his dim-witted minions.
A cartoon cameo by Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s faithful musical sidekick, as the Greek god Hermes brightens up the screen. He is drawn as a small bald man with small colored specs.
ERIC: Three things make this a particularly original Disney movie: The characters are drawn stylishly, rather than realistically; there are TWO two-parents families, with no deaths among them; and the villain is more funny than scary.
Furthermore, the theme, as stated by Zeus in the movie, is the best yet: “Being famous is not the same as being a true hero.” In this day of over-blown basketball stars and false celebrity gods, it is important that we learn what a real hero is all about. This point is well-made without being beaten into us or turned into a cliche. Overall, it adds to the general feeling of warmth and charm that defines the movie.
KIMBER: This is supposed to make us all want to be a “true hero” but that is the part I hate about Disney films. Call me cynical, but the message was trite. Isn’t this the same point they make in all the Disney films? Just be yourself, and everything will work out. Whatever.
Check out the way the characters are drawn. Meg has the most bizarre eyebrows ever to hit the big screen.
This film is good enough to see, no matter what message Disney is brainwashing the youth of America with.
A- (1 hr., 33 min.; )