movie film review | chris tookey


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  Hercules Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.00 /10
Hercules (Herc) ........... Tate Donovan, Megara (Meg) .............. Susan Egan , Hades ..................... James Woods
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Directed by: John Musker and and Ron Clements
Written by: John Musker, Ron Clements, Bob Shaw, Don McEnery and Irene Mecchi. Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by David Zippel.

Released: 1997
Origin: US
Length: 93


Greek legend is poured into the familiar Disney mould: young, impetuous hero/ heroine doesnít feel he/she belongs, wants to make something of his / her life, sings about it on a high rock overlooking big valley, meets Mr/Ms Right, conquers forces of darkness and lives happily ever after.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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After the preaching of Pocahontas and darkness of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Disney returned to wholesome family entertainment. Hercules, laboured over by virtually the same team that made The Little Mermaid and Aladdin , has very much those moviesí cheerful, audience-friendly approach.
The forces of darkness are engagingly represented by three Fates (spectacularly ugly hags sharing a single removable eyeball), a couple of shape-changing demons called Panic and Pain, and - best, or rather worst, of all - Hades, Lord of the Dead, who is planning to launch what he describes as a ďhostile take-over bidĒ for Mount Olympus.
Just as Robin Williams put the genius in Aladdinís genie, James Woods as Hades is hellishly funny. He voices Hades as a fast-talking Hollywood agent, forever making crafty deals to rob people of their souls. The script gives him the schtick of a quick-witted vaudevillian, with a ready riposte whenever one of his sarcastic gags falls flat
("Hey, is this an audience or a mosaic?")
Woods reveals a comic touch that heís rarely been allowed to show in live-action movies. Hades is an all-time-great cartoon villain.
Almost as entertaining is Danny De Vitoís Philoctetes, Herculesís grouchy personal trainer and something of a satyr - but not too much of one. Heís as harmless chasing Neiads and Dryads, as Harpo Marx was, searching for girls to squeeze his leg.
Greek mythology, as you may already have surmised, has been modernised and sanitised. That randy old rapist Zeus has been transformed by the miracle of Disney into a loving father and devoted husband. Good and evil are kept uncomplicated and firmly distinct.
Nothing is allowed to cloud the happy ending, where Herc - like some big, lovable, college football-player in middle America - settles down for a happy marriage to his beloved Meg. Thereís nothing here about the fact that, in later life, Hercules ran amok and murdered Megara and all their children.
Purists may reasonably object to the cleaning-up of legend, or complain that Hercules is credited here with exploits that rightly belong to other classical heroes. The film is pretty much a compilation of Greek Mythologyís Greatest Hits.
But even the myths are probably conflations of earlier legends, and several of the big action-sequences - especially Herculesís conquest of the many-headed Hydra - have an imaginative flair that will bring mythology to life for young audiences, and may even send them in search of the classical originals.
Hercules pays as much tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood as to the Golden Age of Greece. The relationship between Herc and his trainer have deliberate echoes of classic boxing pictures; and the romance between our lumbering hero and the knowing, worldly-wise Megara owes plenty to Forties screwball comedy, especially The Lady Eve , in which con-woman Barbara Stanwyck wound clumsy Henry Fonda around her little finger.
Anyone wishing to probe Hercules for deeper meanings will be disappointed. The film offers musings on the nature of heroism, but its makers are blithely uninterested in any of the harder lessons in life offered by Greek legend. The Disney boys and girls have turned ruthless myth into cheery panto, full of knowing references to merchandising, rock stars and sports heroes.
Itís a shaggy-god story, bright, brash and breezy, with serviceable if forgettable songs that combine Broadway musical comedy with sixties girl groups (music by Alan Mencken, words by David Zippel).
The dialogue is sparkling, the anachronisms witty, and the visuals much spikier and more adventurous than usual, thanks to the input of British cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe, who is credited as production designer.
Of all previous Disney movies, Hercules is most like Aladdin in its strengths and weaknesses. Itís unnecessarily noisy and brash, and it shows a very American insensitivity to the foreign aspects of the culture itís supposedly observing. Hercules lacks the lyricism of Bambi or Beauty and the Beast . Instead of the homespun sincerity of Lady and the Tramp , it presents hipster cynicism and kneejerk sentimentality.
All the same, Hercules is done with such exuberant panache that - as with its hero - the moments of crassness and clumsiness are easily forgivable. It is genuinely fun for all ages. Children will respond to the exciting action and comic slapstick. Those older will admire the visual invention and laugh at Woodsís wordplay. This is Disney on very near-to-top form.

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