'Hercules' Lives in the Netherworld of Good Enough

Hercules is a Disney animated film that shows the studio riding the wave of its '90's renaissance, but not reaching the heights of earlier classics.


Distributor: Disney Home Video
Cast: Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Susan Egan, Rip Torn, Charlton Heston
Directors: John Musker and Ron Clements
Rated: G
Blu-ray: Hercules (Special Edition)
US Blu-ray release date: 2014-08-12

When The Little Mermaid ushered in a new golden era of Disney Animation, it was inevitable that the studio would mine mythology for story ideas, and Hercules was a natural choice for a character to build a film around. Brawny and brainy, with a supporting cast of gods, goddesses, monsters, and fantastic creatures, Hercules gave Disney a chance to break away from an animated mold based mostly on fables and homegrown characters like Mickey Mouse.

The story is based largely on the Hercules myths most people know: the son of Zeus and his wife Hera ends up living among mortals, not knowing his divine heritage. His foster parents, who are simple farmers, show him the mysterious necklace they found when they took him in, a revelation that sets in motion the teenage boy's quest.

Meanwhile, Zeus' brother Hades has been plotting to take over Mount Olympus, and he needs to eliminate Hercules so the boy can't interfere with a planetary alignment that will allow Hades to free the mighty Titans and use their help. He has minions who will do his bidding on Earth, but, of course, they're bumbling idiots, and Hercules is able to stay one step ahead of their schemes.

Zeus sends the winged horse Pegasus to help Hercules find the satyr Philoctetes ("Phil"), who will train him in the ways of warriors. Along the way, Hercules teams up with Megara ("Meg"), who, yes, becomes his love interest. The stage is set for the ultimate showdown between Hercules and Hades, so the story can be wrapped up with a nice bow.

And that's the problem with Hercules: While it's a fun film, it also has a paint-by-numbers story that seems more interested in wowing us with mythological spectacle than in caring about the characters, which Disney was able to do with many of its previous films. The end result is a movie that's neither great nor awful, a work that exists in a murky "good enough" netherworld. Watching it again since I took my eldest child to see it when he was a wee tot many years ago, I wondered what Pixar would do with this story if the studio decided to tackle it.

This is Hercules' first time on Blu-ray, and the package also includes a DVD and a code for a digital copy that you can stream or download. The bonus features are a paltry lot, though: a nine-minute making-of EPK from the late '90s that has the promotional feel of so many EPKs of that time period; a music video with Ricky Martin; and a three-minute "Zero to Hero" sing-along. All of the them are standard definition, and the DVD omits the "Zero to Hero" piece, for whatever reason.

It's a shame that Disney didn't commission any new bonus features, but maybe they felt the same way I do about this film: Good but not great. And I suppose the bean counters figured there was no point putting any resources beyond the bare minimum into it, since it's not considered a treasured classic.

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