Walt Disney Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/15/1998
Come here, children, gather 'round the computer as Uncle Bob tells you about the soundtrack to a movie you've all seen or are begging your parents to buy you the video of. (Don't worry, Mom and Dad, I'll watch my language.)
Alan Menken has been on a roll the past few years, both with his late songwriting partnet Howard Ashman ( The Little Mermaid) and with such collaborators as Elton John and Tim Rice. His latest work, Hercules, pairs him up with lyricist David Zippel, and while it's not as strong as some recent Disney soundtracks, it is very enjoyable.
One person I know once complained to me that the main tracks in the movie were done in a gospel style - never mind the fact that gospel wasn't around in ancient Greece. This is a definite grown-up complaint; you have to allow both Disney and the songwriters a bit of a poetic license when it comes to the music. (Plus, I've heard re-creations of music in ancient Greece, in some of their plays - it would drive the kids to tears and the parents to sleep out of boredom. Trust me - the gospel is a better choice.)
Even Michael Bolton, whom some consider to be the antithesis of real music, puts in an admirable performance on the single from the soundtrack, "Go The Distance". 'Course, it's really hard to slam any single from a Disney movie - they've been very solid efforts over the last decade.
What is surprising about Hercules is the number of vocal songs - or rather, the small number. Not including the single or the spoken-word intro by Charlton Heston, there are only ten songs highlighting vocals - three of these inter-related ("The Gospel Truth" numbers). Having not seen the movie yet (sorry to my friends at Disney - I'll rent it soon!), I have to wonder about the placement of the songs in the film - I'm used to Disney films with numerous vocal performances. This just seems, well, sparse.
Of these numbers, it's surprising to hear the love song performed outside of a true ballad style (with Susan Egan handling the main vocal chores). The movie version of the single "Go The Distance," featuring Roger Bart as the singing voice of Hercules, is okay, though I thought it stretched a little too long with the reprise. Even Danny DeVito does a great job on his one opportunity to sing ("One Last Hope").
But the highlight of Hercules, in the end, turns out not to be the Menken/Zippel collaborations, but rather Manken's score for the film, which takes up the entire second half of the disc. It honestly is better to lie back and listen to this without following the CD player's display and track listing; it almost is like placing yourself in the context of the film and its score. Menken has done a wonderful job on it, bringing back memories of some of Disney's golden days.
Of course, the kids will most likely be bored stiff with the score, and will be constantly playing the hits from the film (hint: anything where the Muses are singing, there's a good chance the parents will be hearing this for the next two months). But there is enough on Hercules to appeal to both children and adults - as well as the kid within all of us. It's just a nice way to kick back for forty-five minutes and let your imagination take over.