Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hercules (Clements/Musker, 1997)

Hercules tries to recall where he's seen this girl before ...
Oh yes! Aladdin!

In the closing moments of Disney's typically frenetic animated update of Greek mythology, Hercules, Zeus tells his legendary son that strength is not what really matters. What matters is the size of your heart. Fair enough, but it also doesn't hurt to be a demigod. Nobody can bellow out vague, toothless pseudo-philosophy quite as convincingly as Disney. Never mind that the rest of the film does little to support these messages, opting instead to present a cavalcade of characters careening across the stage, getting thumped on the head or throttled by the throat, bursting into flames or crashing into Corinthian columns. Amidst the wise-guy sarcasm and the ever-present anachronisms thrown in to make sure that the audience remains fixed comfortably in their own banal world, is there any room for genuine humanity? Something that would elevate the tale to the level of mythology? I don't think so. Not unless you count the Disney mythology that had been substituted instead, that of the awkward hero who finds himself through determination, courage and a well-timed chessy pop ballad. 'Go the distance' we're told. Which is a lot like saying 'Do what it is you're doing.' There's also the idealized female love interest who is not, I repeat NOT, a mere object of affection because she's 'sassy'. Sassy, I tell you! And can someone really go from 'zero to hero' when they are already part god? I mean, Pinocchio started out as an inanimate puppet for pete's sake. Now that's an accomplishment.

OK, looks like I've gone off-track here. Anyway, the point is that when you place so little trust in the audience -- fearing that they will be bored if there isn't a loud crash or a pop culture reference, fearing that they will be offended if you take a stand for anything but the most obvious truisms -- you really stand no chance of creating a piece of art that is anything but disposable. Which is why Disney will assuredly be back next summer to offer you more of the same -- cotton candy for the soul.



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