Watching “Hercules,” feels almost like what Disney would have done to Superman if DC ever let them turn the character in to an animated feature film. It has all the hallmarks of the Superman mythos. Not to mention it embraces the classic hero’s journey, and is one of the few Disney features based around mythology rather than an age old story. Disney could very well have approached the tale of a young God in training with an animation style that could have rendered the film bland and forgettable. Instead, “Hercules” is one of their more unique and outside the box animated adaptations.
There’s something really interesting about the way Disney approaches the film, side stepping traditional narration in favor of excellent soul music by the mysterious muses (the wonderful Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman, and Vanéese Y. Thomas, respectively). “Hercules” also ignores most of the violent mythos in favor of a sweeter and adventure soaked tale of the Greek God Zeus who births his son Hercules with his wife Hera. After the god of the underworld Hades desires to take over mount Olympus, the three fates predict he will be stopped by the heroic Hercules. With his minions Pain and Panic, they use a magic potion to turn him mortal. But the plan is botched when Hercules is kidnapped and turned mortal, but left with super strength.
Being told by his adoptive parents he is a super human, he leaves home and re-connects with Zeus. He has to now undergo a series of trails with his trainer the satyr Phil, who coaches him in learning about being a true hero. Meanwhile, Hades has his own plans to stop Hercules, all the while weakening his resolve with a female minion named Megara, who sold her soul to Hades, but begins forming a love for the young God in training. Much of “Hercules” has a satirical bent to it, but it never takes the tone so far that the feeling of fun or adventure are lost.
The voice cast really lends a spark to their animated counterparts, including Danny DeVito as Phil, Rip Torn as Zeus, and Paul Schaffer as the messenger Hermes. I also really like James Woods as Hades, playing the lord of the underworld as a ticked off gangster short on temper, but filled with evil master plans. I also really enjoyed Tate Donovan and Susan Egan , both of whom play off of each other well as characters drawn by fate, but meant to be enemies. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Frank Welker as Pegasus. “Hercules” is a bold new angle on the Disney adaptation front. Sure, like most of the Disney iterations, it omits much of the nastiness with Greek mythology, it still keeps many of the dazzling creatures and battles within the Hercules legends, while also delivering some great action, unique animation, and keen sense of fun.