reviewed by Roy Fisher
Here’s the skinny: if you go into Disney’s Hercules expecting a cartoon parody, you’ll enjoy it immensely. If you go into the theatre expecting a faithful adaptation of Greek myths—well, this is Disney after all. Unlike the execrable Pocahontas or the Hunchback of Notre Dame (the latter of which I refused to see on principle), at least there are lots of different versions of Hercules that survived from ancient Greece—so at least there’s precedent for changing the story.And change it they did. Hercules doesn’t kill his wife and children in this one. Since good guys can’t cheat on their wives in a Disney flick, this Hercules is the son of Zeus and Hera, turned mortal by a magic potion from Hades, Lord of the Underworld. There’s also only five Muses in this version, not nine (I must ask Karl whether working for Disney makes you forget basic math). And the Herculean labor of deflowering 50 virgins in one night is, uh, overlooked. Actually, the whole legend of the 12 Labors of Hercules is pretty much ignored.Enough kvetching. Hercules is just plain fun. It hearkens back to Disney’s success with Aladdin, where the artists and writers just plain went nuts.It’s an uncomplicated plot. Hercules is born to Zeus and Hera. The three Fates tell Hades that in 18 years, when planetary alignments free the elemental Titans from their prison, Hades will conquer Mount Olympus—but only if Hercules is taken out of the picture. A botched hit on baby Herc leaves the boy mortal but with godly strength. Two simple farmers adopt the baby Kal-El—uh, Hercules—who grows up a misfit. Upon maturity, Herc seeks out Philoctites, the hero-training satyr (voiced by Danny DeVito), in an effort to find out where he belongs.As Herc gets more and more famous, Hades does his best to thwart Herc’s rising heroism, eventually sending an ancient Greek femme fatale, Megara, to seduce him and find his weakness. Megara sold her soul to Hades to save the man she’d fallen in love with—a man who later spurned her for a younger woman. For Disney, this is a subtle touch.Along the way there’s lots of anachronistic references, lots of celebrity voice cameos (listen for Paul Schaffer as Hermes) and lots of self-referential nudges at the whole Disney merchandising cult-of-cartoon-personality phenomenon.The voices are perfectly cast, especially Danny DeVito as Philoctites the hero trainer and the standout, James Woods as Hades. His silky, menacing rasp really makes you believe ancient Greek gods could have American accents.Fact is, in this movie most of the Disneyfication actually works. Whenever the story slows down, the Muses do a Motown number to fill in the blanks. The deco style of animation mimics art found on ancient Greek artifacts.Which isn’t to say the movie’s actually ART. It works because its creators didn’t even try to follow the plot. Again, go to the theatre expecting a cartoon—don’t go expecting real Greek mythology. You also KNOW there’s going to be a Hercules TV cartoon series (à la Aladdin) coming up in a year or so.The standout scene: The hydra battle. It’s a cartoon monster that’s genuinely scary.