Monday, January 15, 2007

Movie Review: Hercules 4 Stars

I’ll have to pull out my Bulfinch’s text to confirm this, but I think the Disney story team may have taken liberties with Greek mythology. Squeak-cleaning the torrid tale of lust and greed and envy and betrayal and murder, Disney has produced the new and improved Hercules in which Zeus is a doting father, Hera a loving wife, Hades an evil, fast-talking ad man/Hollywood agent and Hercules, the strongest mortal ever to have lived.

In this highly entertaining version, young Hercules is kidnapped by Hades’ minions, Pain (Bob Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) who force him to drink an elixir which will strip him of his godliness. But before they can finish the dirty deed and kill the former deity, Hercules is rescued by kindly mortal farmers who raise him. Pain and Panic royally screwed up, considering the Fate Sisters predicted that only Hercules can stop Hades (James Woods) from unleashing the Titans and taking over Mt. Olympus.

Hercules (Tate Donavan) grows up into a gangly, geeky teenager with superhuman strength, nicknamed Jerk-ules by other youngsters. Not understanding why he doesn’t fit in, Hercules embarks on a journey to the Temple of Zeus, where his godly father reveals the truth and informs Hercules that he must become a true hero before he can return to Mt. Olympus a god.

Hercules and his faithful companion, Pegasus seek out Phil (Danny Devito), a satyr who trains Hercules in all things heroic. He and Hercules strike out for Thebes where Herc becomes the resident champion, besting all manner of beasties. However, Hercules’ biggest test yet awaits in the form of Hades and the lovely Meg (Susan Egan).

Despite the whitewashing given to the rich story of the world’s strongest hero, Disney’s Hercules is one of their best animated features to date. Alan Menken and David Zippel’s score, which employs a gospel choir as Greek chorus, actually enriches the story rather than encumbering--the unfortunate circumstance in a lot of Disney musicals. The songs hearken back to Menken’s earlier work in the terrific musical Little Shop of Horrors. Design consultant, George Scarfe’s influence is felt throughout. Best known for his animations in Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Scarfe’s terrifying monsters definitely are a radical departure for Disney.

DVD Bonus Features:

Unlike most Disney animated feature DVDs, this package actually had some bonuses, including a brief but interesting “Making Of…” electronic press kit. However, for the life of me, I can’t understand what a Ricky Martin Spanish-language music video of “Go The Distance” has to do with a movie about ancient Greece.

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