As Christmas is a time of sharing, I’ve decided to do my first Top (insert number here) list. (To be honest I just need to talk about something good, well something better than I expected, after last week’s train wreck of a film.) But before I go into that, this cartoon series is based off of the Disney Hercules film, so I suppose I should do a quick little review of that.
The film is fine. Well on to the cartoon then.
Ok, ok, for a bit more detail. It’s a fun little film, it’s energetic, it’s funny and moves along nicely enough. Yes its nothing like the Greek myth it’s based upon, but this is Disney, their adaptations are about as loyal to the source material as a cat is to its owner. The characters don’t really have much depth to them. Hercules is sweet and a little charming, but that’s it. Meg is a Lois Lane impersonation. Phil is, well, Danny DeVito. Hades is probably the best character, he’s a great laugh and a real joy to watch. He makes the film for me. The songs are pretty good too, they’re not classics, but they’re fun and bounce along nicely. I also like the design of the characters, especially for the Gods (which we really don’t get to see enough of, another flaw with the film), it’s really creative and a decent break from Disney’s usual house style. Though I can see how it can sometimes hinder the film though. The film is just a little too Las Vegas, it’s Aladdin on acid, it just gets a little too much in my opinion. I do enjoy the film, and I have re-watched it a couple of times, but it kind of sits in the middle of the Disney table, it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. Now on to the cartoon.
The cartoon is set in Hercules’ early years, where he goes to school while training to one day become a true hero and rejoin his father on Mount Olympus. Now most of this show is exactly what you’d expect from Disney, your typical corny high school drama with an obvious moral-of-the-day. Most of it is kind of meh.
I will give them credit for actually trying to adapt a couple of myths, and throw in a few references, so it feels like the creators have at least flicked through a book on Greek myths (as opposed to the film, which just doodled dirty pictures in the back). Though the cartoon does take the same approach to continuity as the film did to its source material, i.e. ignoring it completely (explain to me how Hades spends most episodes trying to kill Hercules, when he’s not even meant to know he’s alive until he’s grown up?).
Another good part of the cartoon is that we get to see more of those great designs for the Gods. It’s great to see all the creativity and imagination that went into them, seeing as how we only got glimpses of them in the film. Though, while it’s good to see the gods, it’s less so with our supporting cast. The worst offenders are the token girl, Cassandra, who gets visions when the plot demands it, and generally likes to be sarcastic and sulk around. Then there’s Icarus. If anyone deserved to fly too close to the sun and burst into flames, it’s this annoying little gremlin. He starts off as your typical annoying sidekick, making lame jokes with a voice dedicated to gradually grate on your nerves like sand paper. It doesn’t help that he’s obsessed with Cassandra, and constantly pursues her no matter how repulsive she finds him (I’m with her there). This isn’t funny, it’s creepy, and I suggest Cassandra gets herself a good restraining order (or failing that a strong can of mace).
So the show has good and bad qualities that leave it hanging somewhere around the fair to middling mark. Now I didn’t grow up with this show, I only went into it to check a couple of episodes I’d heard about, and a handful of episodes really impressed me. Now let’s finally get to the point and list my Top 5 episodes. Just to clarify this is my Top 5, and therefore this is entirely opinion-based, feel free to disagree and maybe make your own list. If you haven’t seen any episodes of Hercules, give these ones a look and see what you think.
- Hercules and the Yearbook
Now this is a clipshow (put those pitchforks down, we don’t need to burn this one.) Basically this episode is set after the film (it’s a little late to try and create continuity now), we see Hercules and Meg living happily ever after. This is the first reason I like this episode, the characters aren’t the greatest, but it’s so rare that we get to see life after the happy ending that I’ll gladly take this. Meg stumbles across Herc’s high school yearbook, but Herc is embarrassed and tries to hide it. I do like the message (and the song) at the end of the episode, about how even though you may mess up and be awkward in school, those experiences will shape you into who you are. Also I care a lot more about the couple’s relationship after this episode, they have great chemistry together and it’s sweet to watch them play off of one another.
- Hercules and the Gorgon
Now this is kind of a simple episode, but it’s one of the first ones I saw, and I have to say I like it mostly because I really like Medusa. She’s funny, she has a lot of charm, and her torment is a tragic one. I’m sure you all know the story of Medusa. Snakes for hair, and one look and you turn to stone. Turns out a life of loneliness isn’t much fun, so she beseeches the gods to make her look normal. Honestly the scene between her, Hades and Aphrodite is hilarious. I also have to mention that Aphrodite is brilliant every time she shows up in this cartoon, though it is creepy how Hades keeps hitting on her. Yes the moral is obvious, but I like the jokes (ok, the jokes featuring Medusa, Hades and Aphrodite are funny). My only complaint about this episode is that Medusa doesn’t show up again in the series, have I mentioned that I really like her?
This is a simple story, but a fun one.
- Hercules and the Song of Circe
In this episode Cassandra finally gives Icarus the boot (about time!), but by some divine prank, he gets a new girlfriend in the beautiful sorceress Circe (I only ask that you turn out to be evil and turn him into a pig or something). Wait a minute, Circe’s voice? It sounds familiar. Oh. My. God! It’s Idina Menzel. Idina Fricking Menzel! And she’s singing! (Thus proving that Idina can make any song sound great.) My ears are having an orgasm, is that physically possibly?
Also, this episode has my favourite joke with the narrator (who we learn is called Bob). Basically it’s the Muse’s line “Bobby? Are you ok? I’ve never seen you like this? In fact, I’ve never seen you at all”, it’s silly, but it tickles me. On with the story though, Circe is of course evil, and more importantly comes to her senses after five minutes. She dumps Icarus and turns him into a platypus. Herc also gets turned into a lemur, which is pretty funny. I especially like how he misses the tail afterwards. Of course Cassandra has to realise her mistake and go to save them. Well I suppose we have to count that as a happy ending.
- Hercules and the Dream Date
Now this may sound a touch insensitive and cruel to a dedicated team of TV animators, but who let the real animators do this episode? The animation for most episodes is pretty standard, nothing flashy or special, but this episode? It’s bloody gorgeous. The motion is so fluid, and the shape-shifting especially exquisite.
But what’s the story? Well there’s a big dance coming up and Hercules needs a date, trouble is he’s useless with women and no one will go with him, so he decides to make a date out of clay (a natural conclusion). This is based on an actual myth again, so kudos guys. Now Aphrodite steals the show again. I love the scene where she asks Herc what personality he’d like his dream date to have, to which he replies that he just wants her to be crazy about him. “Digging deep, huh?” Yeah, this goes about as well as can be expected, and Hercules ends up dating a crazy woman who attacks any other woman near Herc. I especially like the terminator references in this episode. Yeah Herc is a bit of a jerk, and the moral is obvious, but this is a really fun episode, and the fights aren’t too bad either.
- Hercules and the Arabian Night
Now this is the episode that caught my interest. This is the one where Hercules meets Aladdin. Our two heroes work well off of each other, but for me the best scenes are between Hades and Jafar, who meet up and plot to pit our plucky heroes against one another. Hades and Jafar are just fantastic together, every scene just has me laughing all the way to the underworld. This episode doesn’t disappoint, so I’m not going to talk about it anymore, just go and watch it already.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.