Walt Disney Pictures’ 35th full-length animated feature is the best cartoon movie since Disney’s own "The Lion King". Reminiscent of their earlier hit "Aladdin", "Hercules" features clever characters, deft storytelling, heartfelt romance and gobs of humor in what is sure to be one of their most successful films ever. Drawing on the rich tapestry of Greek mythology, it traces the life of the strongest man in the world from his birth as a god to his destiny as a mortal hero of Thebes. Along the way, there are many battles to be fought, monsters to be vanquished, and obstacles to be overcome. All of which makes for a superlative movie-going experience.
We first meet Hercules as the infant son of gods Zeus (Rip Torn)and Hera on Mt. Olympus in ancient Greece. To celebrate his birth, all of the gods give him presents. All but one, that is. Hades (James Woods), the god of the underworld, despises the divine youth because the Fates have foreseen that Hercules could foil his nefarious plans. In 18 years, when various heavenly bodies align, Hades will be able to wrest control of the world from his brother Zeus, if Hercules does not intercede. The only way to stop Hercules is to kill him, and the only way he can be killed is if he is made mortal first.
While still in diapers, the young god is whisked away from Mr. Olympus by Hades’ henchmen Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer). Given a potion to make him mortal, Hercules retains his supernatural strength by virtue of not having drank the last drop. Only after growing up a mortal with adoptive parents does the boy discover his true lineage. Zeus informs the mortal Hercules that he can again become a god and return to Mt. Olympus if he proves himself a true hero. So he turns to hero trainer Philoctetes (Danny DeVito), known to his friends as Phil, who puts the awkward youth on the track to fame and glory. Along the way he will meet a beautiful and beguiling woman named Megara (Susan Egan) whose allegiance is sworn to Hades.
Unlike those from Disney’s animated fare of the last two years, the soundtrack for "Hercules" is a top-notch achievement in both scoring and song writing. Disney mainstay Alan Menken can be credited for both, while David Zippel gets the nod for his clever lyrics. James Woods was an odd choice to voice the film’s villain, but his selection turns out to be inspired as he is able to infuse the wicked god with a joyfully demonic personality. Tate Donovan and Susan Egan also shine as the other leads, while Bobcat Goldthwait is noteworthy as comic relief.
Certainly, "Hercules" isn’t without its flaws. There is more than enough here to scare small children, and someone actually thought it would be a good idea to allow Danny DeVito to sing. But with colorful characters, a stunning computer- animated dragon sequence, and plenty of Disney and non-Disney in-jokes, the film offers something to endear itself to every member of the family. Don’t be surprised if find yourself going back to see it again and again.