This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.
Title: DISNEY'S HERCULES
Year: Disney, 1998
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Kidnapped from Mount Olympus by the evil minions of Hades, ruler of the Underworld, Hercules grows up as a superman among mortals. Unfortunately, they don't appreciate Herc's uncontrolled strength, nor his zealous desire to please. After visiting the Temple of Zeus and learning his true parentage, the teenager sets off to train with Philotetes, a famed trainer of heroes who seeks a protege who can "go the distance."
Hercules has no trouble mastering the skills required to slay Hydras and rescue women from giants. But developing the heart of a true hero eludes him until he falls in love with Megaera, a lost soul enslaved to Hades. The King of the Underworld, who plans to overthrow Zeus, must neutralize Hercules. Only when the young man braves the perils of the Underworld can he rise to Olympian standards.
Best For Ages:
2-5: Colorful animals and mythological beasts make this a memorable film for young children. But beware if your kids are prone to nightmares.
5-8: Will relate to the hero's training and quest for acceptance.
8-12: The love story will appeal to some kids; others will prefer the action sequences.
12 and up: Teenagers who have studied mythology in school will enjoy catching references to both Greek legends and contemporary heroes. Adults will appreciate the innuendo and pop culture jokes.
Educational Value: This is not a faithful adaptation of the myth of Hercules, yet it may arouse kids' interest in classical mythology. The hero's moral education takes precedence over his martial arts education.
Entertainment Value: Though the songs aren't as memorable as those in other recent Disney films, the hero's story is wittily told with verbal and visual puns, to appeal to a broad audience.
Violence: Hades creates natural disasters that injure characters. Monsters get decapitated.
Sex: The skimpily-clad Megaera attempts to seduce Hercules after selling her soul to save an unfaithful lover. Goddesses and groupies throw themselves at powerful men.
Frightening Situations: Meg's death and subsequent descent into the spooky River of Souls in Hades may upset children, though she is later brought back to life.
HERCULES isn't as emotionally powerful a Disney coming-of-age story as MULAN, but the layered humor makes it an enjoyable film for all ages. Hercules wants to learn valor, but instead finds himself sold as an action figure, drinking "Herculade," and hawking Air Herc sandals. The boy himself has a sense of humor about his divine birthright. "I thought I had problems!" he exclaims after a performance of Oedipus Rex. His desire to find acceptance gives the story heart.
Two- and six-year-old viewers cheered on Hercules's struggles with various monsters and his training by Phil, though the satyr's nymph jokes were lost on the children. Teens may get a kick out of sexy Megaera thrusting her weak ankles into Herc's strong hands, but viewers looking for strong female role models may not be amused--these damsels exist to be rescued.
Viewers familiar with MGM's live-action HERCULES TV series will find similarities between the stories, though mythological purists may be distressed at Disney's bumbling Zeus and weepy Hera. Bad guy Hades is the most interesting character, with funny lines about hostile takeover bids in the raspy voice of actor James Woods. The music is catchy despite Michael Bolton's overproduced theme song.
Very young children may find the sequences in the Underworld scary and need explanations about what happened to the dead souls, but most viewers will enjoy the humor and action at whatever level they're capable.
Children's Television Reviews