It’s always been a toss up between The Lion King and Hercules for my favorite Disney film, with The Lion King usually pulling ahead just by a hair. It has the better songs, the better characters and a much more compelling story. But there’s something that’s genuinely lovable about Hercules, an underdog story that reaches god-like heights of animated Disney entertainment.
Hercules follows, well, Hercules, a man with extraordinary powers of strength but a bit of an awkwardness in how he should use them or how he should be perceived. When he finally becomes strong, he worries about becoming beloved. When he finally becomes beloved, he worries about being too famous and not enough of a hero. Only until he puts Meg, a not-so-damsel in distress’ life ahead of his own does he really see what being a hero is all about. Yay.
Danny Devito and James Woods are excellent as Phil and Hades, perfect Disney casting if there ever was such a thing. It’s like the characters were specifically written for the two in mind and if neither of them weren’t in this movie, it would be forgettable. The movie also looks visually stunning, with every frame delicately painted like some priceless art hanging in a museum in Athens. Animators clearly took their time with Hercules and it shows.
The only thing that kind of falls flat is the romance between Meg and Herc. It’s believable in the sense that Hercules is naïve and could fall for anyone, but even when he does wisen up, there’s not really anything these two have in common, except that they were both coaxed by Hades into doing things they weren’t really comfortable doing. It’s not as natural as a romance as say Aladdin or Jasmine, or Simba or Nala.
But it’s a Disney movie, where characters fall in love and elope after knowing each other for just days, sometimes hours. I’m willing to let the Hercules and Meg aspect slide because the songs are just so damn catchy. Try not singing Zero to Hero for the next couple of days after finishing this movie.
In the grand scheme of Disney films, Hercules hasn’t really conjured the respect it deserves. You won’t see any Hercules characters or exhibits at Disneyland, and maybe will see them appear in a Disney game or two every few years. I blame that on this film immediately following The Lion King, an undisputed masterpiece, and preceding Mulan, a story with a bit more of a compelling lead. It isn’t remembered as legendary as its other Disney counterparts, but it is, without question, just as fun.