Quick Take: "A true hero isn't measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart."
For all his power and decency, Hercules starts out not knowing his own strength, and at the heart of the story is the idea of doing good things and helping people. But Herc doesn't fit in, and people see him as a freak; early on, he's an underdog, someone that all family members can relate to. Then there's a colorful and wacky cast of characters and the engaging and beautiful look of the animation and places like Olympus, floating in the clouds. Herc loves his parents on Earth but longs to know where he came from. When he discovers Zeus is his dad, the two have some interesting chats. During one, Herc boasts, "I mangled the Minotaur, grappled with the Gorgon ... and the crowds went wild." Zeus is proud of his son, but responds: "A true hero isn't measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart."
Kids Will Like:
Kids will love the baby Hercules with incredible strength, and most of the characters, even the bad ones, like Hades' henchmen Pain and Panic aren't really, really scary. And when Pain and Panic turn into a couple of fierce serpents, they are no match for Herc. And Herc's horse, Pegasus, is a good, loyal friend. Also loyal and likable is the peculiar, rotund satyr Philoctetes ("Call me Phil"), a coach to wannabe gods, and the guy who just might be able to help Herc become a hero. Girls will particularly take to Meg, a tough heroine with plenty of attitude. And of course, kids will appreciate Herc's good-hearted nature and incredible strength, not to mention his evolution ... from zero to hero.
Parents Will Like:
The dialogue, some of it improvised, is lightning-fast and full of references that parents will appreciate. (Hades: "It's a small underworld after all.") And the voices of Danny DeVito as Phil, and James Woods as cool, conniving Hades, are great fun to listen to, full of spirited patter. (With Woods, think Robin Williams as Genie in Aladdin.) When Phil takes Herc to the big Greek metropolis of Thebes -- the Big Olive itself -- ("if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere"), they find a troubled world with roadside peddlers selling things like sundials. The town's just aching for a hero, and Herc is itching to be it ... Grown-ups will also groove to the soulful gospel music, which is very catchy and likable, and Danny DeVito even sings!
Hades is the lord of the underworld, and while not one of Disney's scariest villains, has quite a temper and plenty of dark henchmen. Two of them, the shape-shifting Pain and Panic, are more humorous than hideous, though. Hades, in his lust to defeat Zeus kidnaps baby Herc and conjures up a way to make him mortal (that way he can be killed), and the idea of something happening to little Hercules could be disturbing to very young viewers. But even as a baby, he's far from helpless. Then there's a humungous monster that Hades sends down to defeat Herc, who prevails only to have the mega-beast return with multiple heads. Looking on, Hades intones, "My favorite part of the game: sudden death." Of course, Hercules has other things in mind. And Meg, can be a bit of a seductress, especially when she's being controlled by Hades, who is dead set on defeating Hercules and destroying Zeus. The fights that ensue between the enormous Cyclops and Hercules, and between Zeus and Hades, are dramatic but not too scary. More frightening is the scene near the end where it looks like Meg hasn't survived, but ... well this is a Disney movie!
Hercules is a fast-paced, engaging adventure that will appeal to grade-school kids all the way up to parents and grandparents, and it's worthy of at least a couple viewings. Still, save your money and rent it for a week or borrow it from your friendly library.