Experience HERCULES, Disney's animated classic from the creators of ALADDIN and THE LITTLE MERMAID, on Blu-ray for the first time ever! Nominated for an Academy Award(R) (Best Music, Original Song, "Go The Distance," 1997), this legendary family favorite is packed with colossal laughs and nonstop adventure. Taken from the gods as a newborn and adopted on Earth, Hercules is just an awkward pillar of strength trying to fit in. What he wants most is to impress his father Zeus. When Hercules discovers Hades' sinister plot to take over Mount Olympus, he goes from zero to hero and, with the help of his pals Pegasus and Phil, discovers that real strength comes from the heart!
Believe it or not, 'Hercules' marked the first time the animation department at Disney ventured away from traditional fairy tales and other more modern fantasy stories and tackled Greek mythology. Of course, Hercules' traditional tale is filled with much more violence and sex than a studio like Disney would touch, so his story gets a nice white-washing here for kids, primarily keeping the names and attributes of the Greek gods, but 'Disneyfying' the rest of the story.
In this version, baby Hercules (voiced as an adult by Tate Donovan) is kidnapped and poisoned by Hades (James Woods) and his two minions, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) in an attempt to make him mortal. Hercules winds up being found and adopted by two human parents, but despite his incredible strength is very much an outsider growing up. When he comes of age, he goes to the temple of Zeus for answers. The statue there comes to life, and Zeus (Rip Torn) reveals to Hercules that he is his father, but he can't be accepted back to Mount Olympus (the home of the gods) until Hercules proves himself a hero. Hercules is instructed to go get training from the satyr Philoctetes (Danny DeVito), who starts whipping him into shape so he can establish himself as a hero and overcome all the trouble that Hades is about to throw his way.
Although I don't hate 'Hercules', I do have a lot of problems with it, and think it's one of Disney's 'lesser' animated efforts. Let's start with the music. Even though the great Alan Menken (who did the music for such popular Disney releases as The Little Mermaid and 'Aladdin') composed the music for 'Hercules', the movie consists of exactly one memorable song: "Go the Distance" – which contains the kind of catchy melody that we'd expect from Menken. However, for whatever reason, the creators decided that the big bulk of their songs for the film would be sung by a group of muses, who are kind of the narrators for the story. These songs are a combination of gospel and R&B, which, in addition to not being at all memorable, seem oddly out of place for a movie focusing on Greek mythology.
The music isn't my only problem with 'Hercules'. I'm also not a big fan of the animation, which is unlike most other Disney animated films. Instead of a more natural look to the characters (or, at least, a look that compares with the dozens of other Disney animated movies), we get a more angled and jarring look, which I guess is supposed to be more in line with ancient Greek drawings of these characters, but comes off here as rather 'rough' and – dare I say it – 'rushed' in appearance. While most Disney animated movies have at least one sequence that 'wows' us with the animation effort, there's no such instance at any point in 'Hercules'. So, instead of something that gives off the look of a major Disney release, the movie appears more like one of their direct-to-video titles in terms of animation, despite the effort that I'm sure went into the film's creation.
The film also tries very hard to mirror some of the modern-day pop culture references that were such a success with the earlier 'Aladdin' movie, but those don't quite work either. About the only character that does really 'click' in "Hercules" is that of Hades, who is one of the more amusing villains we've seen in a Disney animated picture, thanks primarily to the fun James Woods seems to be having voicing the role. I haven't mentioned the lead female character, Meg (Susan Egan), until now because she's more of a plot contrivance for the Hercules versus Hades showdown than a real fleshed-out character. When we first see her we think she's going to be another in a long line of strong females in a Disney animated movie, but then it just turns out that she's only acting the way she does because Hades has a contract on her soul and, of course, has second thoughts about obeying him once she gets a look at Hercules.
'Hercules' isn't poor enough to qualify as a 'bad movie', but it's certainly no jewel in the Disney animated crown, either. While the film does contain some decent humor and at least one worthwhile song, it's also full of long stretches where not much of interest is going on (including animation-wise). So, while this is certainly a release that collectors of Disney animated movies are going to want to add to their library, most of the rest of us will probably want to stick to a rental or at least wait until this release finds itself in the bargain bin.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Hercules' muscles its way onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. The discs are housed inside an Eco-Lite Vortex keepcase, with the DVD on the inside left and the Blu-ray on the inside right. A fold-open insert is included that contains the code for both a digital copy of the movie, as well as Movie Rewards points for Disney's ongoing program. A slipcover matching the artwork of the slick slides overtop. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers for Sleeping Beauty, 'Planes: Fire & Rescue', and 'Legend of the NeverBeast', as well as an anti-smoking ad. The main menu consists of a montage of animation from the movie, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this set is region-free.
'Hercules' is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and looks really good on Blu-ray. A few weeks ago, I reviewed Disney's Blu-ray release of Tarzan, whose transfer – while still very nice – suffered from some marcoblocking issues within many of its darker solid colors. Thankfully, there are no such issues with 'Hercules', which provides a sharp, colorful transfer that is free from any noticeable issues, including artifacting, banding, or noise. While I don't think the colors in 'Hercules' are quite as vibrant as they were on the 'Tarzan' release (for the record, I'm comparing these two because they have the same U.S. release date on Blu, and are only a few years apart in original release date), but that has more to do with the way each movie was originally animated, rather than any weakness here in the transfer.
Black levels are nicely strong, which is a plus considering the various scenes that take place in darkened locations featuring the Hades character. Details are pretty strong too, although I'm not sure the more angled style of 'Hercules' animation benefits from that, as slight 'jumps' in characters (where the animation doesn't flow smoothly from one frame to the next) can sometimes be noticed. Overall, fans of the movie should be very happy with what they get here, which is easily the best this movie has looked since its theatrical exhibition.
Even though I find most of the musical numbers in 'Hercules' to be pretty lackluster, there's no denying that the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track does a great job of bringing them all to life, with great use of the surrounds to give the instrumentals their own distinct separation from the lyrics. Once again taking a moment to compare this with the Tarzan Blu-ray – while the music for 'Hercules' doesn't have as much low-end 'oomph" as the track on the 'Tarzan' disc, what 'Hercules' does a much better job of is immersiveness, particularly in the area of directionality, as noticed in a few scenes where Hades will swoop from one side of the screen to the other, and one can hear the movement from rear speaker to front or vice versa. The imaging here is well done.
In addition to the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 track, Dolby Digital tracks are available in English 2.0, French 5.1, Spanish 5.1 and Portuguese 5.1. Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese .
Note: In addition to being presented in standard definition, all of the bonus features on this release are also in the full-frame (1.33:1) format.
Although it gets a very strong A/V transfer to Blu-ray, there's nothing particularly 'Herculean' about this Special Edition release from Disney. Even if you're a fan of the movie (which I'm not – at least not when compared to many of Disney's other animated efforts), the lack of bonus materials here is pretty inexcusable considering the materials that must be in the Disney archives for the release of this film. Heck, we don't even get the original trailer. While lovers of the movie and Disney animation 'completists' will want to pick this up, there's not much here to offer for the rest of us. For Fans Only.