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Hercules (1997)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/12/2014

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/4/2014

The late 90s must have been a weird time for Disney's animation department. Following their success in the earlier part of the decade with Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin, things went somewhat awry as the millennium approached. The monumental Mulan aside, their output got a little, well, strange. Was this a reaction to the rise of Pixar? The company which had partnered with Disney unleashed Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2 during this period, beginning CG animation revolution. So, during this time, the quasi-experimental Hercules appeared.

Hercules is Disney's take on the classic Greek myth. On Mount Olympus Zeus (voiced by Rip Torn) and Hera (voiced by Samantha Eggar) are celebrating the birth of their son, Hercules, where Zeus presents the baby with a special present, Pegasus. Hades (voiced by James Woods), the Lord of the Underworld, learns of the birth and he consults The Fates (the three blind sisters) who inform him that in 18 years Hercules will thwart his plans for world domination. Hades sends his minions, Pain (voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (voiced by Matt Frewer) to make Hercules a mortal and then murder him, but they fail. However, their plot takes Hercules to Earth, where Zeus allows him to stay. Adopted by a mortal family, Hercules (voiced by Tate Donovan) grows up as an awkward, but incredibly strong young man. Hercules wants to use his strength to be a hero, so he's sent to Philoctetes (voiced by Danny DeVito), a satyr who has been known to train heroes. Following, his tutelage, Hercules goes out seeking adventure and meets Meg (voiced by Susan Egan), and he’s immediately attracted to her. What Hercules doesn’t know is that Meg has an ulterior motive which could lead to his demise.

Hercules continues the time-worn Disney tradition of bringing an old story to a new audience and stories don't get much older than Greek mythology. For the most part, the major points of the script stick to the ancient tale. We get Mt. Olympus, Zeus, Hera, Hades, and Hercules heroic feats on Earth. The story brings in the Titans, those gigantic beasts who were apparently always threatening to take over the Earth. I'm not saying that you should reference this movie if you have a school report on Hercules due, but it doesn't go too far out of its way to be modify the narrative.

Where Hercules does attempt to be novel is in the way in which the familiar story is told. The movie wants to take these age-old ideas and present them to us in a very modern and hip way. The story is introduced by a group of muses, which makes perfect sense. However, instead of being a traditional Greek chorus, they are a group of soul singers. Is this something which the kids are clamoring to see? Having a gospel-esque song introduce Hercules is so weird that it draws far too much attention to itself and frankly, it doesn't work. (Adding modern music to The Emperor's New Groove worked in that film due to the movie's overall funky attitude.) Hercules also attempts to be contemporary by having Hercules become a celebrity, complete with merchandise endorsements. By 1997, this sort of joke feels very played out and lame.

Having said that, Hercules does have its high points. The movie is well-paced and is rarely short on action. The voice-acting is good, with James Woods stealing the show as Hades and Danny DeVito bringing life to what could have easily been another Mickey from Rocky rip-off. There are some funny moments and the finale is well-done. Still, one can't help but wonder what Hercules could have been like if Disney had played it straight and made this an action/adventure instead of attempting to be too hip for their own good.

Hercules is a little too cocky for his own good on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, with the palette skewing towards teals and oranges. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, but it doesn't reveal any flaws in the animation. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a nicely detailed track which shows off a very precise mix. The action sequences produce a great combo of audio from the front and the rear which helps to pull us into the action. We can often pick out individual sounds here and the stereo effects show good separation.

The Hercules Blu-ray Disc is pretty light on the extra features. "The Making of Hercules" (9 minutes) is an archival feature from 1997 which contains comments from the cast and the Directors, along with a look at some rough animation. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "No Importra La Distancia" which is Ricky Martin's cover of "Go the Distance" and a "Sing-Along" for the song "Zero to Hero".

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long