Review Summary: Here's a hero who can please the crowd.
The usage of artistic license is as part of modern film-making in the same way that explosions appear to be welded to Michael Bay movies. Take Ridley Scott's Gladiator, for example: the only warriors that Maximus (Russell Crowe) fights in the film are those who are complete strangers to him. This probably wouldn't have happened in reality, as most gladiators were actually encouraged to be well-acquainted with their competition; many were even close friends. The (rather disturbing) underlying logic behind this was the belief that gladiators who had trained together would likely be more familiar with each other's fighting styles, thus leading to longer and more spectacular fights. Then we had the debauchery-ridden gorefest of 300, which deemed it necessary to include King Leonidas' flattering description of the Athenians as "boy lovers" as part of the movie's canon. This outright fail in script-writing would have stuck out like a sore thumb to anyone who had read half a page on ancient Spartan history - Greece's dominant military land-power was well-known for having incorporated institutional pederasty into its educational system.
Yet, those two films manage to look like chaste angels once placed next to Disney's 1996 flick Hercules - mainly as the American animation studio's adaptation of the ancient mythological hero makes the term "artistic license" seem like a complete euphemism. Indeed, the Walt Disney execs probably looked at the book on Greek mythology, said "fu
ck this", and then proceeded to rewrite a civilization's worth of folklore. The end result: an entirely fabricated collage of events where Hades is somehow the world's biggest douchebag (said bloke was actually quite altruistic in the original lore) and Hera isn't thinking of gouging out amorous Zeus' eyes every five seconds or so. Should one ever be compelled to compile the movie's numerous bloopers, anachronisms, and outright bastardizations of Greek folklore into a single list, the damn thing would take about fifteen years to recite - so just thank God that the resulting cartoon (and its soundtrack) manages to hit it out of the park in just about every other scene.
As an accompanying musical piece, the Hercules soundtrack - a transportative 24-song juggernaut - is in a league of its own. Indeed, the overall tone of excellence is laid out very early on by the combined cohesion of Parts 1, 2, and 3 of "The Gospel Truth". Ever wondered how to condense eons' worth of years into a more manageable package of time? This opening triumvirate shows you how, delivering the entire low-down on the golden age of powerful gods and extraordinary heroes in an epic four and a half minute skit (and it doesn't even feel rushed!). The effortless, graceful delivery of Muses Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freemand and Vanéese Y. Thomas is undoubtedly the most successful component of this three parter - despite their constant spouting of wholly fabricated prose and propensity for tale-padding. The quintet weave listeners in with the use of soaring arias and incredibly engaging tonal inflections, all while displaying quintessential Disney magic at its absolute finest.
A recollection of the motley cast of characters soon follows; take Alan Menken's soaring orchestral compositions, which readily allows one to recall stills of Hercules' winged steed Pegasus. That being said, this may be for better or for worse, as based on film evidence the winged horse may be anywhere within the triangle whose end-points are labeled, "annoying cock-blocker", "bestiality proponent", and "outright gay". I can think of no better summation for this feathered steed that fails to recognize a transvestite horse and openly opposes Hercules' relationship with the sexiest babe Disney has ever drawn up since the bra-totting Ariel. Danny DeVito's gritty appearance on "One Last Hope" (as the trainer/satyr Phil) is a treat too. On this number, the comedian spouts out choice lines like, "Won't settle for low fees/At least semi-pro fees", and "You need an adviser/A satyr, but wiser/A good merchandiser" as he runs Hercules through a gamut of training procedures (which unfathomably involves rescuing damsels who are either strung up the sides of cliffs or trapped in open bonfires).
However, the ultimate pantheon of Grecian achievement is reserved for none other than the phenomenal pairing of "Zero To Hero" and "I Won't Say (I'm In Love)". The former is our mandatory Disney training song (think songs like "Man Out Of You" from Mulan or "Son of Man" in Tarzan), and it's insanely hard to refrain from cheering along as ol' Herc makes steam look cool. As the song takes listeners through their paces, Hercules gradually turns into The Big Olive's latest messiah, thereby giving eternal justification to unforgettable lyrics like, "Bless my soul/Herc was on a roll/Person of the week in every Greek opinion poll!".
"I Won't Say (I'm In Love)" is more mellow, but as an awkward teenybopper tune it is probably second to none. Actress Susan Egan turns in a sultry performance as the 36-32-36 Megara, with the five Muses proving that their pillow talk skills are right up there with the best of them. In terms of style and function, it's the closest the Herculean villa ever comes to approximating a Broadway show - and boy is it glamorous. The track also works well as an alternative to modern pop's teenage heartbreak music, which has gotten uncomfortably crass and increasingly unsubtle over the years; be sure to ditch Hilary Duff and play this instead for that swooning female friend in your life. The main body of pop music on this record is ultimately book-ended by the rippling pectorals of the soundtrack's official single, "Go The Distance" - which is obviously only here to fulfill the obligatory Disney requirement of at least one inspirational song per movie. Despite the occasionally over-singing Michael Bolton, the track succeeds where so many of its counterparts failed, creating a palpable degree of emotion through its well-structured soft rock style. There's an alternative version to be found on the album as well, but to be completely honest the less said about Roger Bart's reedy vocals, the better.
The Hercules animated film was ranked the 28th best Disney flick of all time in a recent fan poll (no mean feat considering the company it's in), further entrenching its reputation as the film many of us grew up to (or wistfully watched from a distance) and loved. Unsurprisingly, its accompanying soundtrack is also an all-time classic, and indeed there is no vessel which is better suited for recapturing the spirit of this (entirely fabricated) Greek mythological hero. So, if at any point in your life you recall having wished for a winged pony, wanted a satyr for a personal trainer, or even desired the strength to flatten a thirty-headed hydra with your bare fists, then this soundtrack is for you.
And should you still have any doubts about shelling out some of your cold hard turkey, then just ask yourself this: who put the "glad" in "gladiator"?