Director-Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring-Tate Donovan, James Woods, Danny DeVito
Scott’s Review #1,109
Reviewed February 7, 2021
Hercules (1997) is a modern-day Walt Disney film that centers on the world of Ancient Greek mythology. The premise is one I find fascinating and the characters of Hercules, Zeus, Hades, and Pegasus are the focus. The names alone hold intrigue and appeal but the film is only an adequate watch.
The product feels “produced” and lacks the authenticity and sincerity that is rich and seamless in beloved Disney classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) or Bambi (1941). Besides the initial story intrigue, the animations are nothing particularly special and it feels too kiddie-like.
It’s like comparing The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band historical album to a latter-day solo effort by Paul McCartney and that’s being generous. It may be fine but can’t hold a candle to the former. And “fine” is not what I wanted from a Disney film. That’s what I felt about Hercules. It’s okay and entertaining but not up to snuff as compared with finer films.
The film is equipped with a fantastic villain though, the best part of Hercules other than the mythological elements. James Woods, who voices the character of Hades, is wonderful and I’m hardly a James Woods fan but for other reasons, like his politics. Anyway, the rivalry and competitive edge of Hercules and Hades is unique and compelling and will hold one’s attention.
It all begins in a perfect Disney way when Hercules (Tate Donovan), a son of gods, is snatched as a baby by Hades and forced to live among mortals as a half-man, half-god. When he grows to be an adolescent, Hercules needs to perform a rite of passage on Earth to prove himself worthy of living with the gods on Mount Olympus. With his sidekick, Philoctetes (Danny DeVito), in tow, Hercules must learn to use his strength to defeat evil creatures.
The strong message is written in Hercules to appeal to a sense of good overthrowing evil. It’s a Disney film, trust me it will. Though predictable the story feels good in a world where far too often the bad guys get away with bad things and the good guys don’t get enough credit.
Appealing and targeted mostly to kids, the film made a ton of money which means a lot of kids saw it. A great reminder is that with any luck truth and honest will win out. So will remaining true to one’s self.
Woods makes Hades a villain with an edge rather than a generic, cookie-cutter type. Hades speaks rapidly, like a used car salesman trying to sell a customer a good deal. We can tell we are trying to be swindled but there is fun in that. Megara (Susan Egan), the intended love-interest for Hercules, is working for Hades, which adds a level of intrigue.
Unfortunately, the romance between Hercules and Meg never gets off the ground or works too well. The main issue is that there is little chemistry or rooting value for the couple. Meg isn’t my favorite Disney character. She is a sarcastic damsel whom Hercules saves from the centaur Nessus. After Hercules and the others leave, Meg is revealed to be Hades’ servant, having sold her soul to him to save a lover who then left her. She’s had a tough life and finally does the right thing but I never felt invested in the character.
The main song from the film is okay but rather forgettable. The title of “Go the Distance” is a song of determination but also generic and unmemorable. The look of the animations has a 1990’s vibe with bright, vibrant colors that look “of the time” instead of feeling classic or alive.
A decent effort, Hercules (1997) hits its mark sometimes and other times misses completely. I was enraptured with the historical and mythological gods and the trimmings that go along with that mystique, but the modern spin doesn’t work and only made me yearn for the classics from the 1940s and 1950s.
Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“Go the Distance”