As it happened, my parents rolled genetic snake eyes and I had an
enzyme deficiency at birth, which meant a number of things, not the least
being I was a late bloomer. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was in my
mid-twenties, and so it wasn’t until a
couple of years later that I
fully realized the advantages of having sex on the moon. Naturally, my
delayed sex life had shifted my fantasy life into overdrive. When I
discovered, as we all must, that in the real world, limbs tend to go numb
if someone is pressing all their weight on them and that every
wasn’t as, ah, cinematic as Penthouse promised, I hoped that one
day I would get my chance to tango in space, perhaps with a comely
But the space race was kaput by the ’80s and the space shuttle didn’t
have quite the appeal that the big NASA rockets of the ’60s did. Just the
name space shuttle makes it sound way too ordinary, sort of like fucking
on the subway .
Thank God that my sexual emergence coincided with Hollywood’s decision
to revive one of its most potent collusions: sex and cartoons. Born in
the wide, fluttering eyes of Betty Boop, this craze continued in the
slinky lines of the ’30s cartoon serial, Tillie the Toiler, and
was later mimicked by a loose-hipped, cross-dressing Bugs Bunny. Several
decades of relatively prudish cartoons followed before Jessica Rabbit
steamed up the screen in 1988 in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Of course, sex burbled under the inky surface of even the chaste
cartoons of my adolescence: Charlie Brown and his pals were a caldron of
sexual dysfunction — males and females constantly teasing each other,
pulling away the sexual football before it got kicked. Only the
unflappable Snoopy, the Peanuts gang eunuch, had a worry-free life. And
then there was Betty and Veronica, who never did go for the threesome
with Archie despite the painstaking brain signals I sent them.
These days less is required of young imaginations. They can slather
their eyeballs with the tongue-jousting, lite S/M of Aeon Flux or
languor in the pheromone haze of the retooled “Batman” and “Superman.” Or
they can waddle into Disney’s
Hercules — the animated musical now
flexing its golden biceps at multiplexes hither and yon.
Taken as a whole, the movie is, as most of Disney’s recent animated
parades, overly frenetic, mildly amusing vaudeville. Crammed with
characters and stuffed with big, blaring
songs, Hercules is a
hokey firecracker that explodes often enough to keep even the most severe
cases of Attention Deficit Disorder interested. Randy Greek mythology
has been scrubbed and polished for the American family, Zeus now a
benevolent father. In this Hercules, none of the other Greek Gods
descend from their cotton-candy Olympus to screw with, literally or
figuratively, the mortals.
But the two romantic leads, the title character (voiced by Tate
Donovan) and his auburn-haired object of affection Meg (voice by Susan
Egan), aren’t so innocent, or at least they aren’t drawn that way. Both
characters manage to generate some low-wattage sex appeal. It’s an
effort, but you can watch “Hercules” and get turned on.
This is no small accomplishment, because the characters are drawn in a
more stylized, abstract manner than their predecessors. Along with an
ice-cream scoop chin, Hercules has little swirls for knees and elbows
and Meg — well Meg has a long, red mouth with edges so sharp they could
Still, Meg and Herc are endearing, largely due to their voices.
Donovan plays up the contradiction between his hero’s mighty, sculpted
torso and his gee-whiz, I’m-just-a-super-strong-doofus demeanor. Even
after Hercules has grown up (he begins as a gangly, clumsy adolescent
with meat-sized arms and legs too big for his frame), he remains a boy.
And like most boys, he’s a sucker for bad girls.
Meg is a bad girl by Disney’s standards — a hard-bitten moll shipped
straight from a ’40s noir film with a voice that brings to mind whiskey,
cigarettes and sweaty sheets. She moves with a smoldering sashay, her
hips swinging like a hypnotist’s
watch. That said, Meg is more human than
most of her predecessors, most of whom are hyperbolically silly or
credulous, missing the rough edges of real sexiness. Jessica Rabbit’s
appeal was belied by her self-conscious, I’m-just-a-cartoon wisecracks.
Boop was just too sweet and impish to imagine in a sticky
situation. Meg, however, is given a past — the plot returns to the
infidelity of her former lover. Meg’s weapon of choice, sarcasm, is
especially biting beside the gooey, puppy-like pronouncements of
Hercules. She comes across as sexual predator; he, dim beefcake.
The plot of Hercules doesn’t jive with this. The happy ending
demands that Meg throw herself under a Greek column to save the life of
Hercules. You don’t want that. You want Meg to tie Hercules to one of
those Greek columns and go Caligula on his ass. Maybe bite into his
swirly knees, exposing one of the abstract breasts viewers struggle to
get a purchase on (I imagine @ symbols for nipples). Alas, all we get is
a mawkish tease — though it is a hell of a lot sexier than Charlie