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BLU-RAY REVIEW: Disney’s Hercules and Tarzan

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Disney's Hercules and Tarzan

Two Disney “second golden
age” animated features make their debut this week on two Blu-ray releases this
week, both about classic heroes and both showcasing vibrant design and
meticulous artistry, down to the minutest detail.

Hercules
offers the irreverence, romance and adventure of Disney Aladdin in a quirky style suggesting Warner Brothers and UPA
cartoons. It features a stellar cast of talent behind the scenes as well as on
the soundtrack. The goal was to achieve something different and visually, Hercules is certainly dazzling, even
more so when seen on Blu-ray. No other Disney feature has been as steeped in
the singular vision of its designer since Sleeping
Beauty
(Eyvind Earle for Beauty,
Gerald Scarfe for Hercules).

The film is more dependent
on gags and one-liners than even Aladdin
was, with scores of humorous characters both major and minor. Even the leading
lady is on the sardonic side, unusual for a Disney heroine. Meg is the
descendant of a Barbara Stanwyck film noir character, fast with a clever line
(“It’s been a real…slice”) and not eager to get close to anyone lest they wreck
her life further—and her path of bad choices led her to the worst of all—Hades.

Spectacularly animated by
Nik Ranieri, with all the best lines in the script spewed like fireworks by
James Woods, the movie could easily have been named Hades. In today’s film marketplace of villains as misunderstood
people of power driven to destroy because of their uncorked emotions (see Maleficent, Wicked and Oz the Great and
Powerful
), Hades is a character of 21st century pop culture
rather than a product of the ‘90s. And as is the challenge in many a Disney
film, the lead hero isn’t always the character who connects with the audience.
Hades so overshadows the flawed-but-nevertheless-handsome-and-buff-so-cry-me-a-river
Hercules, this may be the strongest instance of a Disney villain upstaging the
hero.

The Lion King Elton John/Don Black score enjoyed as much success as the film. In Hercules, Alan Menken went for a pop,
gospel and doo-wop sound in addition (which worked so well in the stage and
screen musical, Little Shop of Horrors,
which he wrote with the late Howard Ashman). This time with lyricist David
Zippel, Menken delivered some truly great tunes, my favorite being “I Won’t Say
I’m in Love.”

But to quote Meg in that
song, “Been there, done that.” Had Hercules
preceded Lion King and Aladdin it might have been hailed as a
breakthrough. But it was if Disney had been serving lobster thermador to
moviegoers, but after a while the public—and the critics—felt like it was the
same dish with new sauces and garnishes.

But this isn’t 1997 and the
context between films is no longer an issue. Hercules a fine film that deserves more attention than it
originally received. The new Blu-ray shows it off to fine advantage. A
making-of documentary and music video are on both new discs.

In the case of Tarzan, you may want to hang on to your
two-disc collectors edition DVD from 2000 because some of the features did not
carry over to the Blu-ray. The audio commentary—a very informative and funny
one—is still there, but only on the Blu-ray, not the new DVD.

What makes the Blu-ray worth
having is to see how the high-def brings out infinite depth accomplished by the
film’s highly-touted “deep focus,” a process in which computer art could go
beyond the scope of the multiplane camera. Glen Keane emerges as the leading
star of Tarzan with animation that is
mind-boggling in its agility and range. Good as the voice cast is (and they’re
very good indeed), the animation and new technology take the film totally out
of the flat plane, even though it is not the CG we know today.

This begs the question: why
didn’t this beautiful marriage between 3-D and 2-D extend into future films? Tarzan comes so close to having the
powerful dimension and latitude of 3-D with the unmistakable hand-made
electricity of 2-D. While earlier films also used CG to create monsters and
mechanics that were less feasible with cel drawings, the combination usually
seemed obvious. In Tarzan, the seams
are nearly airtight.

Musically it was decided to
avoid having characters sing on camera, but rather use Phil Collins’ off-screen
performances of his own songs. The only exceptions are Glenn Close’s opening
bars of “You’ll Be in My Heart” and Rosie O’Donnell’s scat singing in “Trashing
the Camp.” This approach had stood Pixar in good stead with Randy Newman’s
music, but it was still rather unusual for Disney. It works well, as it would
have seemed odd for Tarzan and Jane to do a West
Side Story
-type duet.

Tarzan was no Lion King, but it did well enough to
avoid being considered a box-office disappointment by those who set the money
bar so high after The Lion King that
some excellent films were dismissed unfairly. There’s a new generation that
will see it now, looking better than ever, and perhaps love it as much as its
sister jungle-based features, The Lion
King
and The Jungle Book.

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Comments

Nic Kramer

"Meg is the descendant of a Barbara Stanwyck film noir character"

I thought she was slightly based on Mae West.

lker

It's too bad they couldn't re-edit Gorilla Rose out of the money. Otherwise – it's a perfect film.

Ju-osh M.

Two FANTASTIC, SPOT-ON reviews! I completely agree with your assessment of both.

While I loved the visuals of Hercules, the lead character and story were rather forgettable. That said, Hades and Meg? PERFECT. Oh, and you're totally right about "I Won’t Say I’m in Love." It's a great song — simultaneously ironic and heartfelt, uplifting and lamenting.

Tarzan, for me, was a brief but beautiful return to form for Disney. After Pocahontas, Mulan and Hunchback's self-conscious attempts at 'serious animation' and Oscar glory, Tarzan felt remarkably energetic — and effervescent! The animation is goofy and gorgeous, alternately capitol-C Cartoony (the talking animals, Jane, Jane's father) and mind-bogglingly complicated (Tarzan's jungle surfing, the predatory leopard). That all of it fits together so seamlessly is amazing. The story is simple and straightforward, eliciting laughter and goosebumps at all the right moments. I especially enjoy Tarzan and Jane's relationship, which at times feels more like something out of Jane Austen than Edgar Rice Burroughs…and I mean that in a GOOD WAY!

Again, I LOVED YOUR REVIEWS and can't wait to read more!

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