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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 Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

HERCULES is the first animated Disney film in a long time that doesn't seem like it came from Disney. It's entertaining, yes, and has the usual Disney trappings -- a story, adapted from classic literature, about stumbling hero who strikes it big, has a cute animal sidekick and a beautiful cartoon woman, but has to fight a very-evil villain with a cute animal sidekick of his own -- but it's got the cheap laughs of a Warner Bros. effort. It's more SPACE JAM than HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

Visually, HERCULES is on the Warner Bros. level, or maybe half a notch above the Disney afternoon cartoon shows. Its characters all look like caricatures and the backgrounds are generally unimpressive, but there are a few beautifully-animated scenes, all of which seem to take place in the evil underworld. The other scenes are pretty autopilot, which makes me wonder where Disney's priorities lie. Maybe these people _are_ as aligned with the devil as folks at the American Family Association say.

I've pretty much forgotten all the Greek mythology stuff I learned in freshman English, so forgive me if I don't rattle off the names of the gods with the greatest of ease. I remember Hades, Hermes, Herpes, Sneezy and Doc, and at the head of it all -- the gods of the gods -- are Zeus and Hera. They have a baby at the beginning and name him (what else?) Hercules. Zeus gives him a playpen companion, a winged horse baby named Pegasus. I'm all for pets but a baby and a horse sleeping together is a little odd, even for mythology.

Things are peaceful on Mount Olympus, but as we all know, when a baby is born in the Disney world, there's a villain there to sabotage. This time it's Hades, lord of the underworld, who is so evil he has blue fire for hair. Voiced by James Woods, Hades is one of the best things about this movie, an enemy worthy of Disney. His two cute animal sidekicks, Pain and Panic (voices of Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer, both of whom needed the paycheck), can change themselves into whatever form they wish.

Old Hades kidnaps Hercules and strips him of his god status, but since he didn't drink all the evil potion, he still has the strength of a god. So he's trapped on earth, raised by an elderly couple who think he fell from heaven, just like Superman. There are a couple unintentionally amusing scenes that follow, where we see a 12-year-old Hercules called Jercules by his insensitive peers, who just can't accept that he's different. Ever wonder what it's like to wander the world, knowing you're a god, and not having anyone believe you? By the way, Shirley MacLaine, that's a rhetorical question...

Hercules grows up and finds out he can't return to the table of the gods until he proves himself a true hero, which is cartoon code for "the end of the movie." That means he has to save the world from centaurs, giants, Limbaughs and all sorts of mythological beasts with the aid of his half-goat personal trainer (voice of Danny DeVito). There's also the femme fatale, Meg, who tries not to fall in love with Herc but can't resist.

HERCULES is good fun, but it's definitely one of the lesser movies of the Disney revolution that began with THE LITTLE MERMAID. It's the only one besides POCAHONTAS in which the attempts at drama fall completely flat, leaving only the surface-level jokes and songs to entertain. You get the feeling the Disney people are reaching with a lot of that present-past humor too -- once Hercules becomes a hero, all the cool Athens kids are wearing Air-Herc shoes. Flintstones, meet the Flintstones...

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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