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Hercules Review

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Disney does Greek mythology as Hercules seeks to work his way back to the Gods after being kidnapped by underworld big man Hades. All the standard pit stops are made - comedy sidekicks, aspirational songs, spunky heroines - and a by-the-numbers feel prevails.

★★★★★

The more they re-promote the back catalogue, the easier it becomes to draw a line between Old Disney and New Disney. Stick on The Aristocats (1970); then watch The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996) - they're both set in Paris, it's fair - each is beautifully drawn and contains virtually the same horse, yet one is charming, simplistic and compulsive, the other noisy, intellectual and relentless. Hercules, Disney's 35th full-length animated feature, falls in with the latter.

A Greek myth from the Aladdin/ Little Mermaid crew, it charts the to-hell-and-back odyssey of the heroic son of Zeus, kidnapped by minions of Underworld boss Hades (a show-stealing Woods), and - after a bungled attempt to rub him out - stranded on earth as a mere mortal. In order to climb the stairway back to heaven, he must become a true hero, assisted by cloven-hoofed Philoctetes or "Phil" (DeVito), cleverly styled on a down-at-heel Hollywood boxing trainer. Throw in Pegasus, mythical beasts aplenty, and a poisoned-chalice heroine Megara ("Meg"), and you have steroid-pumped good and intense, Satanic evil. With a soul-singing Greek chorus to boot.

Disney have always delighted in jazzy adaptation, and now, they've "done" Greek mythology. But while the sources of the other films were - to the kiddy viewer - immaterial, a full enjoyment of Hercules requires a basic understanding of classical studies for its gags about Narcissus, Achilles, Nymphs, etc. Technically, the drawings are springy and delightful (the hand of British nib-punisher Gerald Scarfe looming loose and large), and the songs are fulsome and camp, if again hard to follow if you're under ten - which hints at the film's basic flaw: it works too hard for the grown-ups.

If the animation lacks the richness of classic Walt, it consistently catches the eye, with the bold imagination of Brit graphic guru Gerald Scarfe consistently to the fore. But Hercules is first and foremost a parent-pleaser, which is a fundamental distortion of the Disney ethic.

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