The Legendary Drawings

The movie musical is alive and well – but only in animated form. Over the past decade, the Disney animation department has been carefully honing their entertainment formula – a well-balanced story, likable characters, some Broadway style songs, and funny animal sidekicks – mix it all up and ice it with enough hype to make every kid in America feel like they absolutely must see it (and get all the merchandise). It’s all such a sinister conspiracy that I’d be forced to heap criticism upon the entire process – if it weren’t for the fact that the movies are so darned entertaining.

This summer Disney delivers their 35th animated feature, and it’s not a disappointment. Cleverly, they’ve made it appear entirely different than the operatic Hunchback of Notre Dame. There’s still an underdog hero, a scheming villain, a plucky love interest, and various kooky supporting characters – but this time they went about it in an entirely different style. Hercules tells the story of what happens when the son of God (or Zeus, if you prefer) comes to Earth as a mortal man, and must prove himself a true hero before he can return to Heaven (Mt. Olympus). Along the way, he is tempted by Satan (Hades) and a fallen woman, but despite all he eventually gains the worship of multitudes. It’s an old story, but Disney peps it up with hordes of hip contemporary gags and references, much like The Flintstones. The art is radiant with colors and drawn jazzy curves, loops and sharp angles. Further abetting the design edge is some grandiose computer-assisted creations and a full range of audio enhancements – Herc faces off against some truly awesome monsters.

A further advancement of their efforts to make each picture an event was in evidence at the Saturday morning screening I attended: theater staff dressed up in togas and sandals, gave away prizes, and even performed a song and dance number in the lobby – a welcome return to the kind of ballyhoo that we don’t see much of anymore.

Hercules is fast moving, funny, thoughtful, and full of delightful visual invention – once again meeting Disney’s goal of providing perfect family entertainment.

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