Putting the “Glad” in “Gladiator” (Alert Nerd Family Show)

Putting the “Glad” in “Gladiator” (Alert Nerd Family Show)

Nov 19

One of the many joys associated with parenting a toddler is the opportunity to watch the same TV show, movie, or holiday special over, and over, and over.

This is frequently torture. If the US government really wanted good intel down at Gitmo, they should have screened episodes of Dora the Explorer on an infinite loop for prisoners.

In the case of Disney’s animated output, I can’t help but turn it into critical analysis. I’ve watched a lot of these movies on my own, throughout my life, at least one time; like most kids I loved my Disney flicks, and as an adult, I’ve become a fan of animation as an art form and storytelling vehicle. So suddenly, watching Peter Pan for the 9,475th time isn’t just boring; I’m finding myself dissecting these flicks, appreciating some of them anew, and finding others a bit more lacking.

Which is a long roundabout way of saying that I kinda think Hercules kicks ass.

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It doesn’t seem to be widely regarded as one of Disney’s standout classics; it earned about $250 million worldwide according to Wikipedia. Lion King? $783 million. Yikes.

It’s one of those Disney flicks that’s surprisingly quirky and clever given that anything outside of the traditional Disney animated template had to travel through years of pre-production story work, animation, and then finishing before reaching the screen. First, there’s the religion gumbo that the film offers up; it’s of course the tale of Greek gods and myths, but the music is basically southern gospel with 60s Motown soul stirred in. At the same time, characters like Philoctetes, Hades and Hermes bring an almost borscht belt flavor of distinctly Jewish comedy to the proceedings.

That’s a level of sophistication you typically don’t expect from Disney flicks, even though they’re often quite clever and witty. It’s downright subversive in a sense to have a church-style choir of “muses” basically proclaiming that Zeus smiting the Titans before the dawn of man is the “Gospel Truth.” Think about it too long, and suddenly the Walt Disney Company is essentially saying that since the story of a super-strong boy who was born to a god and fights giant sea monsters was once “gospel truth,” the real capital-G Gospels may as well be fairy tales too. Everything is true because nothing is true anymore. Religion is the ultimate myth, a giant shell game we reinvent every couple thousand years to keep ourselves on our toes.

I could probably stand to watch Hercules a couple fewer times.

Then there’s James Woods, who chews every inch of the ink-and-paint scenery as Hades, the chief villain of the piece. If it’s possible for a voiceover performance to be considered a standout in an actor’s career, then I think Hades may be a high watermark for Woods, and a must-see for those who suckle from the histrionic actor’s teat of tics and verbage like so many thirsty wolflings.

It’s remarkably loose, and fun, and even action-packed; as a boy myself, I like the “boy” Disney movies, especially when they have actual fighting and stuff. The production design is bad-ass throughout; it’s Olympus as realized by Al Hirschfeld, except when it’s almost (dare I say?) Kirbyesque, as in the design of the underworld and Cerberus, the three-headed dog. The music is great, and composer Alan Menken puts on his Little Shop of Horrors smart-ass pop writer hat instead of his sweet and sickly-sweet Disney soundtrack writer hat, to the film’s improvement.

Is it me? Do I need to step away from the smoking DVD player and suggest perhaps it’s time to give Snow White another spin? Or is Disney’s Hercules kind of a great movie? You tell me.

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4 comments

  1. HERCULES is awesome. Of Disney’s modern stuff, I’d put it right behind ALADDIN and THE LION KING.

    Great cast. Amazing animation. Music that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. A fun take on Greek myth, not to mention obvious nods to Superman.

    I would have loved to see Disney abandon fairy tales for a while, and explore more myths in this way.

  2. absolutely Dan…myth is such a fertile ground for the kind of public-domain everyone-knows-em stories that Disney seems to gravitate toward, it’s remarkable they haven’t done more with them.

  3. Layne Alexander

    Just watched this off my netflix queue last week and I am 22 (with no kids). I love the music, the style of animation, and the voices of James Woods and Susan Egan (Meg). And there are lots of great tidbits that I totally missed as a kid. For instance when the faux kids are caught under the rock slide and yell out, Call IX-I-I (911)! Awesome.

    The only thing was that it was so far off from real Greek mythology…but who cares?

    Anyway, I’m glad other people love it too 🙂

  4. havalina

    Finally, vindication! I have always liked this movie and have recommended it to many only to be given the side-eye. Thanks for your comments!

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