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IN SHORT: A delightful flick with gags for the littlest Disney video watchers and the oldest jaded critics.
The Modern Age of Disney animated flicks continues with Hercules, which puts the capital letters back into Greek Tragedy, while kicking the comedy quotient back to levels unseen at Disney since Aladdin. Writer/directors John Musker & Ron Clements, who helmed Aladdin again show that they can kick out the gags with the best of 'em, and rock every demographic group in the house. The pair told Cranky at the Premiere that they set out to salute the superhero comics of their youth, so if you start thinking about a guy with a big red 'S' on his chest, it's an intentional nod. As is the cape Hercules wears.
Now that I've ticked off my friends at Disney...
900+ artists were needed to put the drawings down for Hercules, and there is a significant portion of CGI tech animating the greatest Grecian Monster of all, the Hydra. Very cool looking, especially contrasted against the cartoony style of the hand drawn animation. Enough tech details, let's get to the important part...
Hercules is almost more fun than is Godly possible. (Only one more pun coming, folks, hang tight)...
...Who the Devil suspected actor James Woods could be so funny? (that's the last pun, promise). Woods, an ace villain of live action movies stars as the voice of Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Tired of the Dark, Hades plans an unfriendly takeover of Olympus. In his way is the newly born baby Hercules, the only God with the power to defeat him when the Plan comes together in 18 years' time. The fast talking, quick shmoozing God sends lackeys Pain and Panic (Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer) to steal the kidlet and feed him a potion to strip him of his godhood. They fail, of course, and baby Herc grows into an awkward and abnormally strong teen (Joshua Keaton).
All along, the story is narrated in song by the Four Muses whose gospel and 60s girl group styled songs by Alan Menken and David Zippel kept at least eight of Cranky's ten toes tapping. When his potential for Godhood is revealed, Hercules takes the path to transform himself from "zero to hero" by employing a satyr named Phil (Danny DeVito) to teach him the warrior ways. The adult Hercules (Tate Donovan) is almost immediately pulled off course by the luscious Meg (Susan Egan). Meg, of course, is secretly enslaved to Hades and the Fate of the World rests on the relationship that develops between her and the man she is to betray.
Which is more than enough story to hold the chariot full of jokes that fleshes out the story. Hercules is packed so full of gags that it may take a second viewing to catch up on the visual jokes you missed while you were laughing at witticisms. It works on so many levels that even Cranky missed (actually I'm a bit slow in my old age) the cameo appearance by The Lion King's Scar, which had the kidlets in the audience booing at the screen.
Despite its setting in ancient time, the mindset of Hercules is so set in the 90s that you'll be pummeled by merchandising jokes, and brand name puns like "Air-Herc" and "Herculade." It's a most minor criticism, granted, but 40 years down the line will the gags still be funny? Or will the puns fall victim to the Blade Runner syndrome, in which all the products are all long gone. Ask me in 40 years. Right now, it's one of two things keeping me from calling joy an instant Disney classic.
There's one song that I actively, absolutely abhor. And one I actively, absolutely adore. Any regular Cranky reader knows I have problems with musicals, in general. If you don't, feel free to ignore this 'graph.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Hercules, he would have paid...
But I'll probably see it again before it hits laserdisk. A couple of other names in the cast that should be mentioned: Charleton Heston (who narrates the opening), Hal Holbrook and Barbara Barrie (as Herc's human parents) and Lillias White, Cheryl Freeman, Lachanze, Roz Ryan and Vaneese Thomas who rock as the Muses. Hercules is most definitely recommended.
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