Tate Donovan (voice)
Danny DeVito (voice)
Susan Egan (voice)
James Woods (voice)
Released in 1997, Hercules was Disney's animated (and very loose) take on Greek mythology, specifically the story of hero, and son of Zeus, Heracles. The film did well both at the box-office and with audiences, though it wasn't quite the Aladdin or Lion King-sized hit Disney was aiming for.
After the relatively grown-up and sober The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, this was clearly an attempt by Disney to scale things back a tad and deliver a fun, light-hearted and colorful animated film with enough familiar tropes, catchy songs and pop culture references to keep younger viewers, in particular, entertained. The art style was inspired by Greek vase paintings and psychedelic caricatures from the 1960's and this gives the film its own unique look. Music-wise, the film attempts an Aladdin-esque eclectic stylistic clash: that movie mixed jazz with a Middle Eastern setting and this one brings gospel music to Ancient Greece.
Plot-wise, we see Hercules (Tate Donovan) being brought into the world as a god on Mount Olympus before being denied his divinity by Hades (James Woods), god of the underworld, who turns him into a mortal so he can eventually bring back the Titans unchallenged and win the battle against Zeus. Hercules is raised by humans on Earth and, after he finds out his true identity, he gets the help of satyr Philoctetes (Danny DeVito) in order to master his significant strength and become a true hero worthy of being a god.
Along the way, Hercules meets Megara (Susan Egan), who becomes his love interest while, at the same time, being bound by a deal she made with Hades, who is actively trying to render Hercules powerless for good. You would expect a Hercules film to focus primarily on the legendary 12 Tasks but these are thrown in there at random moments and, instead, everything is just one big build-up to Hades getting his way then facing off against Hercules. It works but it all feels a bit too familiar at times as the film follows the typical Disney template whereby a character feels he doesn't belong somewhere, sings about it, then somehow wins in the end.
This is a visually appealing film, though the fully CGI Hydra hasn't aged particularly well. The cast is excellent (Woods' Hades steals every scene he's in) and the songs, while not too memorable save for one or two, are pleasant enough. It sometimes tries a little too hard to be cute or witty and it's missing one good villain song (see Hercules: The Animated Series for that one) but, overall, this is an enjoyable Disney outing.
It may never reach the heights of Aladdin but Hercules manages to bring back an element of goofy fun after the lacklustre Pocahontas, and that is definitely something to celebrate. While it would have been more interesting to see an actually faithful adaptation of the story, this is a harmless, entertaining animated feature the whole family can have a good time with.