Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Disney's Hercules

In 1997, at the height of the popularity of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, Disney released their animated feature, Hercules.  It was written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the masterminds behind The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.  Billed as "A Comedy of Epic Proportions," Hercules doesn't quite live up to its directors' previous works but it is a very funny and entertaining work nonetheless.
The filmmakers came up with the clever device of using the Muses as a sort of Chorus to help move the story along.  With the help of great gospel/r&b music by Alan Menken, the Muses spin the story for us.  Disney took certain liberties with the myths to make this film more kid-friendly.  Hercules is now the son of Zeus and Hera but he is made mortal by Hades who wants to take over Olympus and fears the hero's ability to stop him.
Hercules is raised as a mortal by Alcmene and Amphitryon but still has super strength which he's unable to control.  When Hercules is 18 years-old, he learns his true identity and seeks out the hero trainer, Philoctetes.  If he becomes a "true hero," Hercules will be able to return to Olympus.
During the course of the story, Hercules has to save a young woman named Megara from the centaur, Nessus.  Megara sold her soul to Hades in order to save a lover who then abandoned her.  Eventually, of course, she and Hercules fall in love. When Hercules is willing to sacrifice himself to save her then he's become a true hero and his godhood is restored.  But, instead of going to Olympus, Hercules chooses to remain a mortal and live with Meg.
I love the design of this film!  The filmmakers hired Gerald Scarfe as production designer.  Scarfe was responsible for directing the animation for Pink Floyd The Wall.  His artwork influenced both the character designs and backgrounds which really unified the film.  It gives Hercules a distinctive style that stands out from all the other great Disney films.
All of the Olympian gods are given a great glowing effect which distinguishes them from mortals and looks fantastic on screen.  The characterizations of the gods are perfect and very funny.  Rip Torn as the voice of Zeus and James Woods as the voice of Hades are favourites of mine.  I also really enjoy the Three Fates (voiced by Amanda Plummer, Carole Shelley and Paddi Edwards).
The filmmakers also made great use of computer generated animation.  Hercules fights a Hydra that ends up having 30 heads!  Instead of animating each head individually by hand, the animators used computers to replicate the Hydra heads and then they tinkered with each one to make them all individual.  The results are pretty impressive.
Though the story is not very faithful to the myths I love so much, Hercules is a really funny film that's a great introduction to mythology for young people.  The filmmakers succeeded in making the myths contemporary and fun.
Thus far, Hercules has only had one DVD release as part of the Walt Disney Gold Collection.  Unfortunately, it's not stellar.  The only bonus features are a music video and a brief behind the scenes featurette that's transferred from video so the quality is not great.  The film looks and sounds good and the DVD is more than good enough for kids.  I'm hoping it'll eventually get proper DVD treatment with more extensive bonus features.  Maybe in 2017 for its 20th anniversary?

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