Hercules

on June 15, 1997 by Christine James
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   Disney's latest animated film takes on the tale of fabled demi-god Hercules, with hit-and-myth results. As in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Pocahontas," accuracy doesn't seem to be a goal, even starting with our hero's parentage. Hercules (voiced by Tate Donovan) is depicted here as being born to Zeus and Hera, whereas in Greek mythology he was sired when Zeus seduced the mortal Alcmene. Jealous Hera was the villain, forcing Hercules to perform 12 hazardous labors. None of that made it into this telling, which instead has Hades (James Woods), Lord of the Underworld, plotting to kill newborn Hercules, who has been prophesied to thwart a world domination scheme. A plan to turn baby Herc human doesn't quite succeed: He's made mortal with a magic potion, yet he retains his super strength. But the loss of his godhood prevents him from returning to Mt. Olympus. The child is found by a kind elderly couple who raise him as their own.
   As Hercules matures, his strength proves more of a curse than a blessing, ostracizing him from the fearful townfolk, to whom he is "different" (a favorite Disney theme). But soon he discovers his divine origins and strives to regain his godly status, with the help of a hero-training satyr (Danny DeVito). But Hades and his minions, Pain and Panic (Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer), try to stop him at every turn, using the cynical but beautiful Megara (Susan Egan) as bait.
   The audience doesn't get to know Hercules, except on the most superficial level, and there's no revelatory moment leading to his metamorphosis from "zero to hero." The character of Meg is much more interesting, finally breaking the mold of Disney heroines past, with her astringent anti-heroine attitude belying a tragic history. The overly familiar set-up--with the naive hero, sardonic villain, bumbling sidekicks, traitorous pawn, ignorant townspeople and over- simplified life lesson--lacks any real twists and turns, but some punch is provided by humorous dialogue and a few surprisingly inspired one-liners (though the use of anachronism as a gag source is too heavily relied upon). Woods as the ever-exasperated Hades is the comic highlight, bringing an acrid wit to the proceedings, thereby balancing out some of the over-the-top feel-good elements indigenous to the genre. Voices of Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Susan Egan and Rip Torn. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. Written by Ron Clements & John Musker, Donald McEnery & Bob Shaw and Irene Mecchi. Produced by Alice Dewey, John Musker and Ron Clements. A Buena Vista release. Animated. Rated G. Running time: 93 min
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