Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Donald McEnery, Bob Shaw, Irene Mecchi
Starring: Kaan Kalyon, Kelly Wightman, Randy Cartwright, John Ramirez, Jeff Snow
Sky-high aspirations, no matter where one stands in life display admirable intentions to reach the zenith of one’s potential. For some, it may be reaching the top of their line of work but in Hercules, it centers on a demi-god trying to reach the status of hero and receive recognition from those on Mount Olympus. Throw in some fun songs and a hilarious villain and you get this entertaining and enjoyable feature.
Taken away from his parents Zeus (Rip Torn) and Hera (Samantha Eggar), Hercules (Tate Donovan) still keeps his strength while not retaining his god status. Now with the hopes to join his parents up on high, he tries to prove himself a hero, which becomes challenging when the ruler of the underworld, Hades (James Woods) tries to produce his devious plan in trying to eradicate Hercules as well.
Stories surrounding Greek gods have always fascinated me in their attempts to explain the world away in a much more entertaining way than the Abrahamic religions. You have gods representing elements from the sea to even war to try and put together some reasoning as to why things occur on Earth so any film utilizing these characters will immediately have my interest. Hercules does not dwell too much time at Mount Olympus with all of the gods as it centers more on the titular character on Earth trying to raise his profile in order to gain admission from his father. With it comes the introduction of the many monsters he must take on. However, the best facet of the film comes from the relationship Hercules builds with those on Earth, both in mentorship and in love.
This film may be titled after the male protagonist but the star of the show is undoubtedly Megara (Susan Egan). Such an incredible mix of humor and light sexuality surprised me for being a Disney animated character. Egan’s voice acting here does plenty to sell this character as someone who had her heartbroken and is willing to open it up, if not just slightly, for someone like Hercules. The conflicts she battles within this feature make the relationship she has with the demi-god much more complicated and within it, she faces the moral quandary of this feature. Hercules’s story is pretty simple when you look at it, just fight monsters and save people while Megara has the more complex ethical dilemma she faces throughout. She also contains the best song of the entire feature, so that certainly also helps.
On the side of mentorship, you have Phil voice-acted by the always-great Danny DeVito. He adds a little something extra here as his voice can be distinguished out of many. This character grounds Hercules on more than one occasion but also carries a sorrowful past in his efforts to raise up other heroes. The journey he has with Hercules becomes equally defining for himself as it does for the demi-god’s journey to fully reach hero status, which makes the moment where conflict arises between them so much more difficult to watch.
With great characters galore, the film does falter a bit when looking at the story overall. A simple journey for Hercules but the number of detours it takes for seemingly unnecessary jokes and references does the film harm overall. I completely understand the intention the filmmakers were going with but it ultimately does not aid in telling the story. These detours stand in the way of what could have been some economical and stronger storytelling instead of looking for easy laughs that, in the end, did not even really register overall. This constant distraction kept the film from being fully loved by me.
However, the fight scenes do bring the juice, as it ultimately becomes the big draw. With Hades, Hercules has a terrifically fun villain to take on as the former unleashes all sorts of legendary monsters out to kill the latter. From the first scene with the hydra and the terror it brings, Hades can be quite intimidating while also very funny as well. A hilarious portrayal of a character meant to be running the Underworld, especially when his insecurities show themselves along with the pettiness of his goals.
An enjoyable entry within the so-called Disney Renaissance, Hercules combines its fun songs with good action, and lovely relationship work for its titular character. It sets up these Greek gods in a humorous way but ultimately shows why Hercules eventually wants to be like them. The film stumbles on more than one occasion throughout, but the final product still shows quality and amusing work by the filmmakers.