tek's rating:

Hercules (G)
Disney Movies; Disney Wiki; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikia; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Disney+; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu; YouTube

Caution: potential spoilers, maybe.

This came out in 1997, and I've always wanted to see it, but I didn't get around to it until February 2016. (I wanted to see it before the second half of season five of Once Upon a Time started in March, because a live-action version of Hades was going to appear on the show.) Anyway, the animation reminds me more of the films DreamWorks was making in that era (before they switched to CGI) than of Disney animation. I expect that's a coincidence (or just my imagination), and that the animators were going for a vaguely ancient Greek style, or something. In any event, I liked it well enough. And the music was pretty decent. And there was a pretty good story, with decent characters and humor and all that. Some of it was darker than I'm used to seeing in Disney movies, and some of it was maybe slightly more suggestive (though maybe not quite risqué). I should also say, I don't think the story pays much heed to chronology (though to be honest, I am not well-versed in mythology, at least not enough to be sure of when anything happened in relation to anything else). And certainly there are some major differences here, such as that Hercules seems to be the son of Zeus and Hera, rather than the son of Zeus and Alcmene. (Also, technically Hercules is his Roman name; in Greek he'd be Heracles.)

Well. There's some opening narration about... whatever. More importantly, there's some Gospel singing by the Muses, who are mostly responsible for lyrical exposition, throughout the movie. And we see the gods up in the clouds at the top of Mount Olympus, celebrating the birth of Hercules. Zeus (Rip Torn) creates a baby flying horse, Pegasus, out of clouds, as a companion for Herc. Meanwhile, Hades (James Woods) is planning to take over Olympus. He consults with three Fates, who tell him that his plan to free the Titans (whom Zeus had imprisoned long ago) could be enacted 18 years hence, when the planets align. However, Hercules could ruin his plan. So he sends a couple of demons, Pain and Panic (Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer) to kidnap baby Hercules and feed him a potion that would make him mortal, so that they could kill him. Unfortunately for them, they get interrupted before Herc could drink the last drop, so even though he does become mortal, he retains his godlike strength. He gets adopted by a couple of humans, and the demons tell Hades that they killed him. The gods do find Herc, but they can't take him back, because only gods can live on Olympus.

Flash forward about 18 years, and Herc (Tate Donovan) is a pariah, because he can't control his strength, so all the locals think he's a freak. His parents finally tell him that they'd found him when he was a baby (though they have no idea where he came from). He goes to the temple of Zeus to pray for answers, and Zeus inhabits a statue of himself to talk to Herc and tell him everything. He says he can't help Hercules, but Herc could regain his godhood by becoming a true hero. He also reintroduces Herc to the now full-grown Pegasus, and sends them to find a trainer of heroes named Philoctetes (Phil, for short; voiced by Danny DeVito), who turns out to be a small, kind of pervy satyr. (This feels so anime to me; why are little old men, especially trainers of heroes, always pervy?) Anyway, Phil doesn't want to train him at first, because he's given up on training a champion, after all his former students had ultimately failed. But finally he agrees to help, and we get a training montage that ends with Herc much more muscular and skilled. Phil decides to take him to Thebes, a city that has a lot of problems, and needs a hero. On the way there, they meet a beautiful (and amusingly sarcastic) damsel in distress named Megara (Meg, for short), whom Herc rescues from a monstrous centaur named Nessus. And he immediately falls for her, though she's not interested in him... yet. (And both Phil and Pegasus seem to dislike her, though of course Phil was attracted to her, at first.)

Once Herc and Phil get to Thebes, the locals don't believe he's a hero (since he hasn't done any heroics yet, which seems rather catch-22, to me). But Hades finds out Hercules is alive, and starts sending monsters to try to kill him. He beats them all, and the locals start seeing him as a hero. And he becomes rich and famous, and has to evade fangirls. Also... viewers learn something about Meg that I don't want to spoil, though it's a very important plot point. Anyway, Herc figures that after all his heroic deeds, he must be ready to return to Mount Olympus, but when he visits Zeus's temple again, he learns that he still hasn't become a "true hero," and Zeus can't tell him what that actually means. And... eventually Hades appears to Herc and makes a deal with him that would temporarily deprive him of his strength, and then Hades enacts his plan. And it seems like there's not much Herc can do about it, although... I couldn't help but think that all this seemed very much like a self-fulfilling prophecy that would ultimately be Hades's undoing. And what could be more faithful to Greek mythology than that? But it didn't go quite as I expected. I mean... it was a bit more complicated than I expected it to be. Of course, Herc ultimately does become a true hero, and foils Hades's plan. (Though I'm a bit confused about it, because they made a second deal, and as far as I can see Herc didn't live up to his end of it. Granted, Hades wasn't particularly scrupulous, but I didn't feel like he technically violated his end of the deal, so I really don't understand... I mean, I kind of get what happened, but... meh. I guess it doesn't matter.) Anyway, there's a happy ending for everyone. Except Hades.

There's also a direct-to-video prequel, "Hercules: Zero to Hero," which I haven't seen, and a TV series, of which I've seen just a bit. (Actually, I guess the prequel movie and series are more of an interquel, set after Herc meets Phil. And um... I'm not at all clear on how old he was supposed to be at that point. I assumed while watching the movie that he was nearly 18 and that the training montage covered maybe a few months or so, but it may have actually been a few years. So maybe the third paragraph should say "flash forward like 15 years or whatever." And then the part where they head to Thebes was when he was 18. I dunno.)

animation index