Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: Hercules

Hercules

Release Date: June 13th, 1999 (released nationwide June 27th)

Inspiration: The legend of Hercales

Budget: $85 million

Domestic Gross: $99 million

Worldwide Gross: $252.7 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

IMDB Score: 7.3/10

Storyline (per IMDB): Hercules, son of the Greek God, Zeus, is turned into a half-god, half-mortal by evil Hades, God of the Underworld, who plans to overthrow Zeus. Hercules is raised on Earth and retains his god-like strength, but when he discovers his immortal heritage Zeus tells him that to return to Mount Olympus he must become a true hero. Hercules becomes a famous hero with the help of his friend Pegasus and his personal trainer, Phil the satyr. Hercules battles monsters, Hades and the Titans, but it is his self-sacrifice to rescue his love Meg which makes him a true hero.

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue to trek towards the end of the decade and the millennium with our next film, and this is another one that is considered by many to be one of the more underrated films in the Disney canon. As I mentioned in the last review, I have not seen any of these films prior to this point and considering how these films have been more favorably looked at over the last few years, it does make me wonder if I had missed out all these years. I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the last film and I’m hoping that I get the same feelings after watching this film.

Voice Cast: After the last two films that had a slightly smaller cast than previous films, we have a significantly bigger cast in this film and the majority of it features new voices though we do have some returning actors. The first returning actor is Patrick Pinney who voices the Cyclops along with the left head of Lythos and other additional voices, and then we have Paddi Edwards who voices the Fate Atropos in what would be one of her final roles as she sadly passed away two years later. We also have the return of Carole Shelly who voices the Fate Lachesis in one of her last roles of her career and finally, we have the return of Frank Welker who voices Pegasus the horse as he was in the prime of his career to this point. We now move onto the newcomers as we have Tate Donovan who voices Hercules in what would be one of his only animated film roles, and we have Josh Keaton who voices Hercules as a teenage with Roger Bart providing the singing voice as this is the first time in a while we had multiple actors voice one character. Next, we have comedian Danny DeVito who voices Phil as he was in the prime of his career to this point, and then we have another longtime actor involved as James Woods voices Hades in one of the most memorable roles of his career. We then have Susan Egan who voices Meg in arguably the most memorable role of her career, and then we have the pair of Rip Torn and Samantha Egger who voice Zeus and Hera respectively as they were hitting the peak of their careers. Next, we have the quintet of Lillias White, Cheryl Freeman, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, and Vaneese T. Thomas who voice the Muses Calliope, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Clio respectively as they serve as the narrators of the film and also provide vocals for a few of the songs. We then have the pair of Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer who voice Pain and Panic respectively as they are Hades’ bumbling henchmen, and then we have film legends Hal Holbrook and Barbara Barrie who voice Amphitryon and Alcmene as they were hitting the twilight of their careers. Next, we have Amanda Plummer who voices the Fate Clotho as she was in the prime of her career at this point, and then we have Paul Shaffer who voices Hermes though he was better remembered for being the lead instrumentalist on David Letterman’s show. We then have Wayne Knight who voices Demetrius in a minor role and we also have Keith David who voices the God Apollo in a minor role, and finally we have film legend Charlton Heston who serves as the narrator at the beginning of the film as he was winding down his long career. It was interesting that most of the actors in this film have been around for quite a number of years, but it helps give the film legitimacy and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues going forward.

Hero/Prince: The interesting thing here is that one of the themes of this film is becoming a hero and that is the goal for our hero in this film, and that is of course the son of Zeus and Hera which is Hercules. As a baby, he is kidnapped by the henchmen of Hades who attempt to use a potion to strip him of his immortality though a farmer and his wife scare them away before they finish which allows Hercules to maintain his strength. He grows up an outcast until his adopted parents inform him of his lineage and Hercules meets Zeus, and he is sent to Phil who is tasked to train him as a hero and he saves a damsel named Meg from Nessus. He then moves to Thebes where he rescues two boys who are revealed to be the same ones that kidnapped him as a baby, and the Hydra is released though Hercules defeats him along with other monsters as he is hailed a hero though Zeus tells him he hasn’t become a “true hero”. Hercules falls in love with Meg who is in debt to Hades and he offers her safety in exchange for Hercules giving up his strength, and Hercules accepts this though he is distraught when he learns Meg was in league with Hades albeit against her will. Hercules is attacked by a Cyclops which he still defeats and Meg sacrifices herself to save him, and as a result his strength is restored and he helps Zeus and the gods defeat the Titans and save Olympus. Meg dies from her injuries and is taken to the Underworld where Hercules goes and he sacrifices himself to save Meg, and this act of sacrifice restores his immortality and he sends Hades into the river Styx. Zeus offers him his spot amongst the gods though Hercules declines and decides to stay on Earth where he begins a relationship with Meg. Hercules is an interesting hero as he is kind and good-hearted though he is a bit clumsy in dealing with his strength and is considered a freak, and after Phil helps train him he becomes famous and lauded as a hero though as Zeus tells him, these actions don’t make him a true hero as it takes something deeper. As mentioned, one of the themes Hercules has to learn is how to be a true hero as he does numerous heroic deeds, but it is not until his willingness to give up his life to save Meg that he becomes a true hero. All that being said, Hercules is still one of the better heroes in Disney history though it will be interesting to see where he ranks amongst the other heroes in the canon.

Princess: For the second film in a row, we have included in this category someone that is not technically a princess, but deserves to be mentioned and that is the lady known as Megara or Meg for short. We first meet her when she is being attacked by a centaur and Hercules saves her as he quickly becomes smitten with her, and it is discovered that she sold her soul to Hades to save her lover only for them to leave her and she is still in debt to Hades. He forces her to lead Hercules into a trap though Hercules overcomes it and defeats the Hydra, and he decides to spend some time with Meg as she learns that she is in love with him and Hades uses this to his advantage. He takes Meg hostage and demands Hercules give up his strength which he agrees to if Hades promises to leave Meg unharmed which he does, and Hades reveals he and Meg were in cahoots much to Hercules’ dismay and he is nearly killed by a Cyclops. Meg rallies him to fight back and she ultimately sacrifices herself to save Hercules which causes the deal to become void and he regains his strength, and she dies from her injuries and is taken to the Underworld by Hades. Hercules goes after them and offers his own life in exchange for hers which Hades agrees to, but this sacrifice leads him to regain his immortality and he saves Meg as he decides to stay on Earth and be with her. Meg is clearly shown to be a strong, independent woman though her faith in love is shaken due to her selling her soul to Hades in exchange for her lover to be saved only for him to leave her for another woman. She has a personality that is unique to her as she is sarcastic and initially indifferent of Hercules, but she eventually falls in love with him despite her ties to Hades and she redeems herself by sacrificing her life to save Hercules. I feel that she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for how good a character she is, and it will be interesting to see where she ranks amongst the more well-known princesses especially she isn’t a princess.

Villain: We’ve been on a run of really good villains in the Disney canon and that continues here as we have the God of the Underworld, Hades who yearns to dispose of his brother Zeus and become the new ruler of Olympia. He learns from the Fates that in 18 years, the planets will align which will allow him to release the Titans and attack Olympia though the plan will fail if Hercules gets involved. Hades has Pain and Panic steal Hercules and take away his immortality, but they fail to feed him the whole potion and he retains his strength though they tell Hades that they were successful. After the 18 years pass and Hades learns Hercules is still alive, he has Meg who sold her soul to him to save her lover lead Hercules into a trap though Hercules succeeds in killing the Hydra and he constantly overcomes all of Hades’ monsters. Hades then has Meg get close to Hercules and when he realizes Hercules is in love with her, he holds Meg hostage and Hercules agrees to give his strength up for 24 hours though he makes Hades swear that Meg won’t be harmed or the deal would become void. Hades releases the Titans and has them attack Olympia while having a Cyclops finish Hercules off, but after Meg sacrifices herself to save Hercules he regains his strength and heads to Olympia where he helps Zeus destroy the Titans. Hades returns to the Underworld and Hercules follows him as he offers his own soul in exchange for Meg’s and Hades accepts, and Hercules dives into the river Styx and saves Meg while regaining his immortality and he sends Hades into the river where he is sucked down by the spirits. Hades is the true definition of a hothead and not just because he has fire for hair, he is insanely jealous of Zeus and the other gods as he wishes to be the true ruler and is willing to do whatever he can to achieve his goals. He is a fast-talker and has a silver tongue in that he can be very cunning and convincing in his words, and this is seen in Meg willingly giving up her soul to save her lover though he ended up leaving her which leaves her in a tough spot. In the end, his overconfidence proves to be his downfall as he is unable to talk his way out of being knocked into the river Styx by Hercules. Hades is still one of the more memorable villains in the Disney canon and we will see how he manages to fare against the other villains in the canon.

Other Characters: Once again, we have a lot of characters in the film though most of them are mainly used in the background with only a handful that serve a bigger purpose in the film. At the top of the list is the satyr Philoctetes or Phil for short as Hercules seeks him out to train him to be a hero, and Phil is hesitant at first though he eventually accepts and he remains at Hercules’ side as he becomes popular. When he finds out that Meg is in league with Hades, he tries to tell Hercules who believes he is lying and Phil decides to leave Thebes, but he is convinced by Meg to return as he gives Hercules support and stays by Meg’s side when Hercules heads to help the gods. After Hercules returns to Earth, he is lauded as a hero and a god as Phil is finally recognized for helping make Hercules who he is. We then have Hercules’ horse Pegasus who is given to Hercules as a gift when he is born, and 18 years later he reunites with Hercules and assists him in his training. He helps Hercules fight off the various monsters and he takes Hercules to Olympus to help Zeus fight off the Titans, and he stays at Hercules’ side when he decides to return to Earth. Next, we have Hades’ henchmen Pain and Panic who steal Hercules as a baby and try to feed him the potion to make him mortal, but they are unable to feed him the whole thing and he maintains his strength as they tell Hades they were successful. After Hades learns Hercules is still alive, Pain and Panic continue to support him until he is sent into the river Styx and they appear happy that he is gone. We then have the Gods led by Zeus and Hera who rule Olympia and have a son named Hercules, and when Hades leads the Titans against Olympia Zeus leads the charge though he is captured by Hades until Hercules saves him and the gods. After having his immortality restored when he saved Meg, he is welcomed to Olympia by Zeus and the Gods though he chooses to stay on Earth with Zeus and Hera’s blessing. We then have the Titans that are released by Hades to invade Olympia as the Cyclops is ordered by Hades to kill Hercules, but Hercules manages to kill the Cyclops despite having lost his strength before heading to Olympia and sending the remaining Titans into the cosmos where they are destroyed. Next, we have the various humans throughout the film starting with the farmer Amphitryon and his wife Alcmene who find Hercules as a baby and raise him, and they eventually tell Hercules of his past and continue to support him through his journey. We then have the 5 Muses who serve as the narrators of the film and also sing various songs throughout the film, and then we have the 3 Fates who tell Hades that he is destined to conquer Olympia and become the ruler so long as Hercules doesn’t interfere. They are shown at the end of the film where they cut the string of those that end up dying including that of Meg, and they look to cut Hercules’ life string though he regains his immortality due to his sacrifice. Finally, we have the citizens of the village that Hercules lives in as he is growing up and then the citizens of Thebes that are unsure of Hercules at first, but he wins them over and they idolize him to the point that he becomes a celebrity. I think that it is good that they put a lot of focus on the main characters, but there some background characters that are just as memorable and you would think would be more integral to the film as we will see how that continues to play out.

Songs: One thing I can safely say is that even though these last few films may not be as highly lauded as the big trilogy from earlier in the decade, they have produced some pretty memorable songs and that trend continues here as we have some good songs featured here. The first song is the opening piece called “The Gospel Truth” sung by the Muses as they set the stage for what’s to come in a solid song, and then we have the song “Go the Distance” that Hercules sings as he laments on his life and vows to become someone and it is a good song for him. Next, we have the song “One Last Hope” sung by Phil as he basically lays all his hopes and dreams on Hercules in what ends up being a pretty fun song, and then we have “Zero to Hero” again sung by the Muses as they recap Hercules’ path to glory in Theses in what ends up being an energetic song. We then have perhaps the centerpiece song of the film which is “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” sung by Meg and the Muses as Meg struggles with her feelings towards Hercules, and it is a pretty good song and as mentioned it is perhaps the most memorable song in the film. Finally, we have the song “A Star is Born” which the Muses sing at the end of the film as Hercules is given his place in the stars, and it is a fine song to close out the film much like “The Gospel Truth” was at the beginning of the film. As I have done for the last few films, we also have a pop version to quickly mention and that is the pop version of “Go the Distance” sung by Michael Bolton for the soundtrack. While these songs may not be quite as memorable as songs from the previous films, they are still fairly solid songs and work well in the film.

Plot: For the second time in three films, we have a story based on a historical figure which in this case is the mythological deity known as Hercales, or Hercules as he is known in Roman literature. Most that known about Greek mythology and history are probably aware of this legend and the tales of his heroics, and he was certainly interesting enough to merit a Disney film about him. The story begins with Hercules’ birth as Zeus’ brother Hades plots to overthrow Zeus and become the ruler of Olympus, and the Fates show him that in 18 years the planets will align which will allows him to free the Titans and conquer Olympus so long as Hercules doesn’t get involved. Hades has Pain and Panic kidnap Hercules and feed him a potion to strip him of his immortality, but they fail to feed him the whole potion so he maintains his strength as a farmer and his wife take him in and raise him. Once he is 18, they tell him of his lineage and Hercules meets Zeus who tells him he can reclaim his immortality by becoming a true hero, and he trains to be a hero under Phil and they head to Theses on Pegasus. On the way, Hercules saves a damsel named Meg from a centaur and he falls in love with her unaware that she is being held as a slave by Hades, and he arrives to Theses where he overcomes various monsters and is lauded a hero by the citizens though Zeus says he hasn’t become a true hero yet. He decides to get closer with Meg which Hades uses to his advantage as he offers to free her in exchange for Hercules giving up his strength, and Hercules agrees on the condition that Meg won’t be harmed which Hades agrees to. Hades releases the Titans and they attack Olympus while a Cyclops fights Hercules who defeats it, and Meg saves Hercules from a falling pillar and the agreement is voided which gives Hercules his strength back. He heads to Olympus and saves Zeus while destroying the Titans though Meg dies and her soul is sent to the Underworld, and Hercules goes to the Underworld and offers his life in exchange for Meg’s. He dives into the river Styx which nearly kills him though his sacrifice restores his immortality and he sends Hades into the river, and he is welcomed to Olympus as a God though he decides to stay on Earth with Meg. I’ll be honest in that I haven’t read that much about Hercules given the subjects that I learned in school, but I thought that this plot was fine and worked well for a Disney film while showing Hercules in a new light to a younger audience.

Random Watching Thoughts: Much like the last film had a running message about who is the monster and who is the man, this one asks what makes a true hero; I like how they told the prologue of the story through the use of these various depictions along with the Muses singing, and it was interesting they treated it like they were singing Gospel music; Hercules is the most jacked baby I’ve ever seen; Zeus says Hercules won’t hurt himself with the thunderbolts as he zaps himself in the mouth; That has to be a record for that column to be fixed mere seconds after getting destroyed; The first thing Hercules does when he meets Pegasus is headbutt him; So looking into the background of the film, James Woods ad-libbed most of his dialogue as Hades and I think it made it better, and it definitely draws comparisons to Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie; Zeus was benevolent enough to invite Hades to the party yet Hades immediately tries to kill him; Zeus was so proud of that joke he made to Hades; That one piece of meat was not going to be enough for a 3-headed dog; So the Fates can end people’s lives simply by holding a thread and cutting it; The Underworld: Over 5,000,000,001 Served; That one Fate was spot on about the indoor plumbing; I don’t know if I would want to know my future because you would have nothing to look forward too, or you might not like it and try to change it; We never do learn exactly what planets are the ones that align though we are to assume Earth is one of them; That was a quick transition from day to night; Zeus seems like the one God you would never want to piss off; If only Pain and Panic were able to feed Hercules that one last drop; If Hades can see everything, wouldn’t he know that Hercules was still alive?; Someone actually yelled out “Sunday Driver” to Hercules even though he wasn’t driving; That horse got some hangtime there; Clearly, Hercules has caused so many accidents that the villagers didn’t want him to help them; All the work it must’ve took to build all that and Hercules inadvertently destroys it in a matter of seconds; I almost thought that mob was going to try and do something to Hercules; Considering how strong he was, you would think Hercules would be more built than he is even though he is just a teen; That was quite the trek that Hercules had to make just to get to the temple of Zeus; It’s a good thing that no one else came to the temple while Zeus was talking to Hercules or they would’ve been frightened to death of a statue talking; Pegasus headbutts Hercules to remind him of their friendship; Zeus says that Pegasus has the brain of a bird which sounded a bit like an insult; How did Hercules even know where to find Phil?; Phil is quite the leech spying on the nymphs like that; Phil calls animals disgusting when he is a half goat; Hercules pulls the door off the hinges and Phil manages to put it back in place like nothing happened; I guess know we now where the term “Achilles’ Heel” comes from; Phil was prepared to reject Hercules for good only for Zeus to “persuade” him by zapping him with lightning; Who gets a trophy for finishing in 11th place?; That’s quite the job they did in cleaning up the stadium; How many rules does he have?; I don’t think it was talked about enough of how well Danny DeVito did in singing “One Last Hope”; Your basic DID: Damsel in Distress; Phil tells him not to barrel in without thinking and that’s exactly what Hercules does; It would be like Hercules to try and reason with Nessus before having to fight him; Phil tells him to use his head and he hits a running headbutt into Nessus’ ribs; He punched Nessus so hard he knocked him right out of his horseshoes; Pegasus is like “No way I am having that chick on my back”; That moment where Pain and Panic realize they’ve screwed up royally; Call me crazy, but I doubt that “Jason” and “Brittany” were big names in ancient Greece; Hades goes into a rage and Meg just casually looks at him; Thebes, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere; Phil pulling a Dustin Hoffman from Midnight Cowboy when he says “Hey, I’m walking here”; Someone with a pita cart; Funny bit where it seems like that one guy is flashing Hercules and Phil, but then we see he is selling sundials; Snowball looks like he’s seen better days; Last I checked, that was a cricket and not a locust; Meg is scared to death about flying and Pegasus loves it; A fur wedgie just sounds terrible; Somebody call IX-I-I; Hercules presses up a massive boulder to save two boys and all he gets is a golf clap from the crowd; So the Hydra gets its head chopped off and it manages to grow three heads back; You’d think Hercules would’ve realized soon that constantly cutting off the heads would just cause new ones to grow; So for those who didn’t know, Hercules defeating the Hydra was one of his Twelve Labors which we then see the rest done during “From Zero to Hero”; Grecian Express credit cards; Air-Herc shoes; Hades asking “What are those?’ long before it became an Internet meme; Even Pain and Panic can’t resist getting on the Hercules bandwagon with the merchandise; That’s putting it mildly that the Trojans bet on the wrong horse; That was a real douche move by Meg’s lover to leave her after she sold her soul to save his life; Again, we go back to what makes a true hero which Hercules hasn’t learned yet; The Pecs and Flex Gift Shop; Buns of Bronze workout scroll; A pretty interesting and fairly creepy Easter egg is Hercules is wearing the skin of a lion and if you look closely, you will see that it is Scar; The Daughters of the Greek Revolution; Hercules even has his own groupies; Hercules is the greatest thing since they put the pocket in pita; Hercules does have a point, Oedipus has some issues; Meg clearly trying to seduce Hercules and all he does is lift her one shoulder strap up; Leave to Hercules throwing a rock too hard at the statue of Venus de Milo to make it what it is; Of course there would be a statue of Cupid that Meg would hit; First kiss attempt thwarted by Phil and Pegasus; Pegasus flapping his wings like he’s a helicopter; It is a nice juxtaposition of Meg trying to convince herself not to fall in love with Hercules and the Muses telling her to just accept it; Meg does her best to keep Hades away from Hercules though he quickly figures out she loves him and vice versa; That is quite the horse that Pain and Panic made to draw Pegasus to them; Even though he’s a villain, Hades does have a way with words; It is interesting that they basically had Hercules lose his color when he lost his strength; The Titans were so excited to be free and destroy Zeus, but somehow they didn’t know the right way to Olympus and Hades had to show them the way; The Gods were clearly unprepared for the Titans; Phil was taking his sweet time getting to his boat considering Thebes was in flames; Hercules beating Cyclops with his brain as opposed to his strength; Even near death, Meg remains as sarcastic as ever; Hades barely got to sit down in his throne when Hercules arrived; Only Hercules would be able to grab a tornado by the base and whip it around while also sucking the rest of the Titans in it and throwing it into space; Hercules found the Underworld fairly quickly; You’d think Hades would’ve realized that Hercules sacrificing himself for Meg would allow him to regain his status as a God; The moment where you think Hercules’ life thread will get cut, but it doesn’t because he becomes immortal; Hades still tries to talk his way out of this only for Hercules to punch him into the river; Pain and Panic were all too pleased to know that Hades might be gone for good; Second kiss attempt interrupted by Zeus bringing them up to the gate of Olympus; Hercules finally realizes what it means to be a true hero; Third time’s the charm as Hercules and Meg finally get their kiss; Even Phil got his wish fulfilled in the end; I believe this is the first time we have a character talking during the credits as we hear Hades one more time to close things out.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, this was a pretty solid film and continues the string of good movies, but it is a step down from the last film and not quite as good as I was hoping it would be. Again, this is one of those films that did ok when it first came out and its reputation has gotten better over the years, and most think it is pretty underrated though I feel that it is properly rated when compared to other films from the Disney Renaissance. Having said that, the 1990s have been a pretty profitable time for Disney as the theme parks are continuing to grow and they are gaining more traction on TV. We are nearing the end of the decade and we will see how these next few films play out and if the decade can end on a strong note, As for this film, it is a solid film though to this point it is probably the weakest entry of the Disney Renaissance.

Final Grade: 7/10