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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hercules

Starring: Tate Donovan, James Woods
Director: John Musker
Rated: G
RunTime: 87 Minutes
Release Date: June 1997
Genres: Animation, Comedy, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Roger Bart, Danny DeVito, Joshua Keaton, Bobcat Goldthwait, Matt Frewer, Rip Torn, Hal Holbrook, Charlton Heston, Amanda Plummer

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

It is no wonder that the Disney executives are scratching their collectives heads over the disappointing performance of their big animated movie of the summer. Whereas their last two and much more financially successful summer movies, POCAHONTAS and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, featured unlikely cartoon heroes, their latest has a star straight from central casting.

Since we live in an age of superheroes and action figures, what better place to look for material than the gods of Greek mythology? And what better choice for the protagonist than that guy with bulging pecs, Hercules? Surely, the executives must have reasoned, the kids will flock to HERCULES in droves and come back to see it again and again.

Why this has not transpired as anticipated is unclear. Perhaps there is something lacking in the implementation of the idea, but more likely it has to do with the picture's competition and with the obsession of this summer's audiences for the action blockbuster of the week. For whatever reason, the film is much better than its box office receipts indicate, and worth a visit if you have not seen it yet.

Like most Disney movies, the script by John Musker, Ron Clements, Bob Shaw, Don McEnery and Irene Mecchi, plays fast and loose with the traditional story so as to extract the maximum number of laughs and to pack a lot of mythology into an hour and a half. Except for classical scholars, the rest of us will happily accept the results.

In Disney's version of the story, Hades, voiced with great glee and energy by James Woods, plans a "hostile takeover " of Mount Olympus. Hades is told that only Hercules will be able to defeat him so he tries to makes baby Hercules mortal, but through a slip-up, a small portion of his deity remains, leaving him with the strength of the gods.

Hercules, as voiced by Tate Donovan and as drawn by British illustrator Gerald Scarfe, is arguably not the most interesting character in the film. Much better is Hades, and even better still is Meg (Megara), voice by Susan Egan. ("My friends call me Meg, that is if I had any friends.") Meg, Hercules's girlfriend and Hades's human trap to try to bring Hercules down, is played with sassy and mocking humor. Meg's confidence and smart mouth makes many good lines come off like jewels. She keeps taunting Hercules by referring to him only as "wonderboy."

Hercules and some of the other characters are drawn with strange and awkward proportions, especially the feet. Hercules's, in particular, are half again too large. Gerald Scarfe's drawing style becomes one of the movie's low points. On the other hand, some, Meg and Hades being two, are drawn strikingly well. Hades has red or blue fire shooting out of his head depending on his mood, and Meg has provocative bangs and a slightly revealing gown.

As Hercules grows up, his nickname is Jerkules because of his clumsiness. Through the help of a little satyr named Phil (Philoctetes), played with his usual style of humor by Danny DeVito, Hercules trains to become a superhero. Hercules has been promised by his father Zeus (voice by Rip Torn) that if he proves himself a true hero, he can become a god again.

As in most Disney creations, comical sidekicks abound. Hercules rides on Pegasus, "a magnificent horse with the brain of a bird." Hades has two bumbling assistants, Pain (voice by Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (voice by Matt Frewer). Someone goes to the underworld, when one of The Fates (voices by Amanda Plummer, Carole Shelley, and Paddi Edwards) cut their soul's string.

The show has many good musical numbers with the best songs by a group of black soul singers called The Muses (voices by Lillias White, LaChanze, Cheryl Freeman, Roz Ryan, and Vaneese Thomas), who come off of a Greek vase.

The best jokes, and the film needs even more, come from its self-deprecating humor. Once Hercules become famous, his action figures are sold everywhere and his image adorns everything including a fast-food cup in the shape of a pillar. There are even fancy Hercules Stores and AirHerc sandals.

Hercules reasons with his father that he is ready for divinity. "I'm the most famous person in all Greece," he brags. "I'm an action figure!" But Zeus demands more from his son and gets it.

After many battles, the best being the well choreographed destruction of the almost unstoppable Hydra, Hercules does return to his place in the clouds.

In the press kit, conveniently on CD-ROM these days, the filmmakers say one of their main goals was to make the story "accessible." They succeeded admirably and delightfully. More families should skip one of those homogenous action flicks one week and see HERCULES instead. That way they could laugh with the film rather than at it.

HERCULES runs just 1:30. It is correctly rated G and is fine for all ages. My son Jeffrey, age 8, and his friend Alan, also 8, both thought the movie was "really good." They both said they liked it much better than THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and even better than THE LION KING. As they left the theater, they were busy ticking off their favorite monsters from the movie. I recommend the picture to you and your whole family and give it ***.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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