Wednesday 11 September 2013

Munir's Disney Retrospective - Animated Classic #35: Hercules (1997)

Last Week’s: Munir’s Disney Retrospective - Animated Classic #34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

After two darker and more "mature" affairs, Disney opted for a more lightweight and colourful tone for its next project. Borrowing heavily from Aladdin's wacky tone, Hercules is a fast-paced action romp with lots of jokes and funny punches in nearly every scene. It's a complete departure from its more heavy-natured predecessors, but that doesn't mean it's bad. On the contrary, Hercules, from the same team that created The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, comes off marvellously, as a very funny but at the same time touching Disney film. It also a very interesting film to dissect with its very linear aesthetic and carefully and uniquely constructed characters. The film's a great addition to the Disney studio and great entertainment for the whole family.

The legendary duo of Ron Clements and John Musker are back and this time they take many Greek and Roman myths and mix them with contemporary culture in a blend that might seem slightly dated nowadays, but is saved by the film's fast rhythm and colourful personalities. Hercules, in the same vein of Aladdin, makes for a compelling hero with a great plight; Hades is another superb creation, one of Disney's most popular villains; Phil is phenomenal as both funny sidekick and powerful mentor and friend Pegasus, Pain and Panic take most of the laughs with hilarious moments in nearly every scene they are in. However, I think the most interesting character in the film is Meg. Instead of a damsel in distress, the filmmakers opted for a "femme fatale" kind of character and the result is a complex woman that you can feel has real issues, one that life has hurt in many ways. By making her some sort of double agent, you don't have the typical love story or your typical heroine. In any case, Meg can be seen as an anti-hero and that's something you don't see too often in Disney films (especially with female characters). Perhaps, the film's somewhat "crazier" atmosphere prevents the audience from picking out this kind of stuff, but I think that beneath its wacky surface, Hercules offers lots of interesting interplays between its characters. And, despite its fun approach, there's no denying that there are moments packed with lots of heart. The moment where Hercules discovers Meg's betrayal is burdened with sadness and heartbreak, and the moment where Meg saves Hercules from the falling pillar is gut-wrenching. There's no denying that the directors, true masters of the art, know how to carefully balance both fun and heartfelt moments to make a layered and memorable film.

The film's themes are also very relevant, especially for teens (the search for identity, to figure out where you belong, what your place in the world is) are elements of life that anyone can relate to. The message that a true hero is measured by the size of his/her heart is something that rings true in today's world too.

Another point of remark is Alan Menken's music. His last collaboration to date with Clements and Musker, the music may not be as memorable as his previous outings but the gospel tone he brings to the film works perfectly for the film's story and tone.The music is fast, full of rhythm and helps maintain the picture at a balanced pace, adding immensely to the film as a whole.

Some people have stated that Hercules is a "love it" or "hate it" experience, but I can't see why someone would hate such an entertaining film, filled with great animation, funny jokes, catchy music and compelling and complex characters. Hercules may not be Clements and Musker's best film, but it is nonetheless a great addition to their excellent filmography, and to the Disney canon. Rating: 4.5/5.

Next Week - Animated Classic #36 Review: Mulan (1998). 

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