This was probably a good selection for Father’s Day weekend, because our hero has two, plus another male mentor. But we’ll let you draw your own conclusions there.
Hercules (1997) is kind of loved and hated. However, I find if you aren’t aiming for too much accuracy and just see the humor, it’s pretty fun. It may not be Disney’s greatest masterpiece but it’s one my sister and I tend to watch repeatedly, and we have a good time doing so. Personally, I find the portrayal of Hercules (ably voiced as an adult by the criminally underrated Tate Donovan) as a completely awkward teenager endearing—and it makes sense if you put some thought into the idea. I also thought it worked for him to be as sheltered as he was.
Disney also cast some interesting voices that made the movie fun: Danny DeVito plays Philoctetes, the satyr training Hercules. Somehow, it was just pitch-perfect. Rip Torn (Zed in Men in Black, and oh so many other roles) playing Zeus is just funny, especially with what a marshmallow Zeus actually turns out to be. So he’s not the Zeus mythology might have us believe…
One of the most random casting decisions for me was James Woods playing Hades—and Hades being a fast-talking negotiator. I loved it. It’s fun to have a comedic villain sometimes, and it really did shed light on the point that Hades got the underworld as a gift—not a fall from grace. He was a god, not a demon, and the Greek gods tended to have all of their own motives, pursuits, and agendas. I have to give them points for this one.
For fun, they managed to get Bobcat Goldthwait (Scrooged) to play Pain. Primarily known for the way he can throw his voice octaves, he plays great crazy or highly distressed characters. For Pain it was just perfect.
Woods and company are not the only notable voices in the film—they are joined by such diverse actors as Hal Holbrook, Wayne Knight, and perennial Disney favorites Carole Shelley and Jim Cummings, among others. Add in Charlton Heston as the film’s narrator, and you have one of the more star-studded casts for a Disney Renaissance film.
As much as I enjoyed Hades, Megara (voiced by Susan Egan) is my favorite Hercules character. She’s among the ranks of Disney women like Esmeralda and Mulan, who are very active in their story, fighters who are perhaps just a little snippy.
Megara is unique, however, because she’s technically in league with the villain and is his chief minion. This is a highly unusual plot twist, but it makes things interesting. Though she does have a kind nature that makes her want to help people (which is how she got into this jam in the first place, and also leads to her saving Hercules), she has serious attitude and independence. Her way of speaking and body language are completely different from most female heroines, which makes her an odd character to meet for the first time, but again, it comes as a nice change. Her penchant for one-liners doesn’t hurt, either.
Much like its predecessor, the previous year’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the soundtrack to Hercules did not produce any runaway chart hits, though a pop version of its prevalent theme, “Go the Distance” (sung in the film by Broadway standout Roger Bart), was recorded by Michael Bolton and eventually reached #1 on the adult contemporary charts. The song was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, though it had the misfortune of being nominated alongside Celine Dion’s Titanic juggernaut “My Heart Will Go On” (you can probably guess which song ultimately won the Oscar).
Hercules was far from the most successful film of the Disney Renaissance period (both critically and commercially), but it nonetheless remains an enjoyable romp through the (admittedly) somewhat bastardized world of ancient Greece. Put aside what you remember about the Greek hero from high school, and just enjoy the film for what it is.