“Oh Yes! Hades RULES!” – Hades
We passed the bad Disney films all the way back at 48, and we’ve seen a ton of good Disney films with a variety of faults. Now, however, we are past the point of good and rapidly approach the point of great Disney films. It is striking that we’ve already hit this point and we are only at 35. There are so many films that I wish I could put in the top 25, but I can’t. Even the next couple rankings were extremely hard to put together. Know that I constantly debated the position of the next 6 films. They were extremely close in ranking, and it took me a very long time to come up with the concrete list.
Anyways, let’s get on with Film 35, shall we? Hercules is another directing effort of the Ron and John duo, and was released in 1997. The film is loosely based on the stories of Greek Mythology, and uses the Greek names and locations rather than the Roman versions.
The film begins with the birth of Hercules and the celebration of his birth by the Gods, including the lord of the underworld, Hades, who is jealous of the rest of the Gods. When he returns to the Underworld, The Fates tell him that in 18 years we will have the opportunity to take over Olympus using the Titans, but if Hercules lives, the plan will fail. Hades sends his two minions Pain and Panic to make Hercules mortal, but they fail, and Hercules ends up being adopted by a mortal family. 18 years later, Hercules, searching for his place in the world, discovers his true heritage and is challenged to become a true hero. Hercules enlists the help of hero trainer Phil and flying horse Pegasus, and through his interactions with Hades and the lovely Meg, he learns what it means to be a true hero.
This is another film where the best and most memorable element of it is a character, that character being Hades. This is a true example of the voice actor creating the role. James Wood’s audition impressed the crew so much that they completely rewrote the character to fit the fast talking style James Woods tried. In the end, Woods still improvised most of his dialogue. Hades has most of the film’s laugh, is an extremely unique version of the character, and is a character you wish there was much more of. Also, I love the film uses fire in conjunction to Hades. It is a very good design and good function of the design. And through all of this, Hades still feels like a threat due to his quick thinking ability, which makes him an even better villain than he already is.
Hercules’s journey from zero to hero is extremely strong. Though some may find it to be cliché, the film does a good job at building his view of being a hero at the beginning of his journey in contrast to his view at the end. The arc makes sense, it is presented well, and the events that push the development are good and sensible.
I also like the relationship between Hercules and Meg, though I’ll be the first to admit that there could have been a little bit more between them. Besides that, the pairing and the way they fall in love feels natural and not forced, and the two of them are important in altering each other’s lives, which is especially true for Meg. While I won’t call it a classic Disney Romance, I do think overall it is a good romance.
Overall, character relationships are very strong. Even though I may like certain characters or personas, I really do feel that each character has a strong connection to the other, in both the good and bad relationships. Another relationship I feel is especially strong is the one that occurs between Hades and Meg. Even with Hades’s humorous style, one can feel the tension between the two in every scene they are in. Excellent work in this regard.
Finally, as a Latin student with great familiarity with the old Greek stories, I was happy to see many short references to those stories, especially the very quick ones to the Trials of Hercules stories. Also, Hades has one fantastic line that is hilarious to the knowledgable Greek Scholar.
And as that Latin/Greek by association scholar, It is very hard for me to talk about this film without mentioning that Hercules has absolutely nothing to do with its source material. The story is not close to anything from mythology, the characters have completely different personalities, and the only recognizable aspect of them is the most basic element of their character is present. It is not necessarily a weakness, but it does bother me. It’s the most drastic change from any Disney adaption ever. Normally, the changes Disney makes doesn’t bother me, but since this is such a drastic altering, I dislike it.
In some cases, though, being closer to the source material would have helped the characters. This is true for Zeus for than anybody else. While Disney doesn’t have to go through with the full “Woman Chaser” aspect of the character, the somewhat mischievous personality of Zeus (one that comes out in the Fantasia version of the character) could have made a very fun character. And while the story is not bad as it is, I do wonder sometimes if a slightly altered, but more closely adapted version of an actual Greek tale would have made for a better film. I can’t say for sure, but I do think it would have made the film feel more focused.
The film puts a ton of comedic elements into the characters and stories, and honestly, the humor is 50/50 for me. Most of Hades stuff works, but Phil is much more hit and miss, his running gags getting old pretty quick, and the film does overboard on the modern-day references to the point that it gets distracting. Much of the time, the humor takes away from the momentum of the dramatic moments. Right when Hercules is having a heartfelt moment asking Zeus to help him discover himself, Zeus comes in and acts over the top. Right when Hercules and Meg have their moment, Phil comes in and acts over the top. Right when we have the great moment where the Titans start their destruction, Hades has a hilarious yet momentum killing moment. Hercules needed to have some emotional scenes that purely exist on their own.
What this film really lacks is a good straight man to reign in the insanity, which is something that other Disney Comedies do extremely well. Just as Aladdin reigns in The Genie and Pacha reigns in Kuzco, the film needed a character to reign in Phil, Hades, and the other crazy characters. Hercules is set up to fulfill this role, but I don’t believe he is the right choice, since the cocky nature of his young character requires him to have his over the top moments. He is the closest the film gets to what is needed, but as I begin to wonder again, I wonder what would have happened if Phil would have been toned down and made the straight man.
Finally, I really don’t like this soundtrack. Having the Muses be a gospel choir makes very little sense to me, and I just dislike that style for this movie and for the songs. “The Gospel Truth” is not a very good opening number. “Go the Distance” is the only song in Disney history where not only do I like the short reprise better, but I also like the credits version better. And while I like the visuals in “One Last Hope” and “Zero to Hero” the songs never really click for me.
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
There is one song in the movie I do enjoy. and it is “I Won’t Say I’m in Love.” I feel that it is the only song in the film that uses the Muses effectively, and I like how it is different from that traditional Disney Love song.
The best moment to me is the Hydra fight. There is no other moment I remember better from this film, and no other moment I think is as iconic. Though I notice Hercules was unable to GET UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK. (Cookie if you get that reference.)
As I mentioned at the beginning, the rankings for these next couple of films changed many times during this process. Indeed, Hercules was close to getting a higher rating, due to some genuinely funny moments, characters, and some great arcs and relationships. However, it does have a weak soundtrack and some momentum killing moments, which ultimately puts it in the 35 spot.