Hercules - * * *

Disney’s latest animated adventure has plenty of flaws, but a solid sense of humor and an excellent villainous performance save the show.

As has been the custom with Disney’s most recent cartoons, Hercules deviates wildly from its source material. In this version, Herc (Tate Donovan) is the immortal son of Zeus and Hera. Hades, Lord of the Dead, (James Woods) believes that Hercules could ruin his ultimate plans, and has his henchmen poison the strong tyke. However, when the job is botched, Hercules is merely rendered mortal, and must live on Earth, rather than on Mt. Olympus.

Although cute as a baby, as Hercules grows he becomes more and more freakish, thanks in large part to Disney’s new animation style. While it is fitting for his adolescent years, when his godly strength makes him a disaster waiting to happen, as a young adult his odd looks are simply distracting. It might have been able to be overlooked, but, as presented here, Hercules is a very bland character, and you can’t help but pick out the flaws.

Anyhow, Hercules is on a quest to regain his immortality, and he can only do that by becoming a true hero. His mentor/hero-trainer on his quest is Philoctetes (Danny DeVito), or Phil for short, a gruff but wise satyr. DeVito gives his best shot, but you can’t help but feel you’ve seen this character somewhere before (Burgess Meredith in Rocky, Pat Morita in The Karate Kid, etc…)

Still contriving to overthrow the gods, Hades sees Hercules as his only obstacle. His two primary henchmen, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer), are shapeshifting demons who get many of the best lines. The ace in Hades’ sleeve is Megara (Susan Egan), a mortal who foolishly sold her soul and now must do his bidding. This time, she must seduce Hercules into a trap, if she doesn’t fall for him first.

James Woods performance as Hades is arguably the best Disney character since Robin Williams’ Genie, and the best Disney villain in a long stretch. He plays the Lord of the Dead as a slimy salesman, working the room, constantly scheming and instantly irritating (in a entertaining way, that is). He steals the show from his first scene, and makes you wish the film was titled Hades.

Disney is trying out a new animation style in the film, and it definitely has a look all its own. Half the film seems to be drawn from Greek art, the other half seems to be cariacture. The downside to the new animation is that it doesn’t look as polished as previous Disney films. At it’s best, the film merely equals the quality of previous years. At it’s worst, it looks like a Schoolhouse Rock video.

The score, by Alan Menken with lyrics by David Zippel, doesn’t stand out. Most of the songs are easily forgettable. Although they don’t stick in head, at least they don’t make you squirm in anguish, but Disney films of the past have set a higher standard.

Hercules is an entertaining, yet oddly one sided affair. The villains have captured all the humor and entertainment this time around, leaving the heroes to wade through boring mediocrity.

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