I know, right? What the frick? Why is a 21 year old woman writing a spec review about an animated kids movie? That’s a fair question, and this topic seems very arbitrary to me too, but here’s what I know: 1) Hercules is truly an underrated treasure, and 2) I just finished up a big writing project yesterday and needed something new to chew over today, so we're discussing a movie as old as me because I just watched it.
I’d like to start by saying that this is not just a kids movie. I’ve recently become aware that the Netflix synopsis claims the film is for ages 5-7. First of all, how insulting. If they insist it’s for kids, at least be inclusive to more than a three year range. Secondly, the dialogue is for adults. The mythological allusions are for adults. The jokes, sarcasm, and attention to detail is for adults. The physical humor and exaggerated animation is for the kids… and the adults. So, according to my calculations, it’s a movie for grown-ups which children will also enjoy. This is true for most animations, I know, but this particular flick has been a top choice for me since I first saw it as a tot, and remains that way to this day.
While I do still enjoy their more dated accolades and a select few of the newer features, it should be noted that I’m not an obsessive Disney person— I just really love this movie. I wish I was, because I’m in a prime location to revel in their glory, but I haven’t been to Disneyland once since I got to college where their nightly fireworks are visible from my backyard. I just happen to think the company’s best days are behind it, and I’m not here to offend anyone by saying that, but it’s also my blog, so fuck it, I’ll say what I want. Frozen is garbage. Okay, the police are after me now.
From the beginning of this film, the sass is apparent. The banter between the Muses is the perfect way to introduce the headiness of ancient Greek lore, yet present it with vivacity and charm, because we all know that those real myths (an oxymoron) are brimming with themes of adultery, deceit, revenge, assault, parents eating their children, and other whack shit that should be censored from a storyline propagated and tailored for an age range beginning at 5. Mind you, every movie that Disney bases on pre-existing stories or people is altered similarly. But in regards to Hercules— they nailed the introduction. The actual tale of this hero is pretty gnarly, yet they found a way to put the plot on a track that’s main stops are depth, morality, and intelligence. Well done, team.
The overtones of sarcasm and the quick-witted wordplay and repartee between characters, especially Hades and Megara, are ingenious. As a kid and to this day, I’ve always been tickled by physical comedy or a good dramatized facial expression— and this film is chock-full of them— but behind those moments are whip smart jokes that further merge the absurdity of it all. From when I was five to when I was fifteen, Hercules became an entirely different movie to me. Kids watch the screen and laugh at outrageous sights. Adults listen to the dialogue and are genuinely amused. I can shamelessly and accurately admit that I’ve seen this movie over 20 times, and I still laugh at something new in every single viewing that I hadn’t noticed before, while continuing to appreciate the quips and certain one-liners that never get old.
The villain in his sardonic wit is the funniest character. In fact, I’ll say it— James Woods as the voice of Hades is the most flawless casting choice I can think of at the moment, and I’m not saying this lightly. Like, I’ve watched countless phenomenal Oscar-winning performances. I’ve seen Eminem portray himself in his own life story. I stand by what I said. I’ve done some petty research on him in this role, and found that he ad-libbed quite a few of his best lines, which is even more incredible to me given that he was speaking to a microphone rather than a real person who could even give cues from which to improvise in the first place. My hat goes all the way off to him.
Our hero is endearing and humble, and does not portray the hackneyed flaws of the archetypal arrogant victor. The “damsel in distress” is clever, perceptive, and biting. The mythological references are off the charts, whether they’re in your face, or so subtle that you don’t even hear them unless you’re watching with subtitles. What the fuck is not to appreciate? Granted, I love Greek legends and the stories of the gods and heroes to begin with, so maybe my affinity for this film is extremely particularized and the humor won’t rub others in the same way. But damn, it gets me every time.