After imprisoning the Titans beneath the ocean, the Greek gods Zeus and his wife, Hera, have a son named Hercules. While the other gods are joyful, Zeus' jealous brother Hades plots to overthrow Zeus and rule Mount Olympus. Turning to the Fates for help, Hades learns that in eighteen years, a planetary alignment will allow him to locate and free the Titans to conquer Olympus, but only if Hercules does not interfere. Hades sends his minions Pain and Panic to dispose of Hercules. The two succeed at kidnapping the infant and feeding him a formula that turns him mortal, but fail to remove his superhuman strength before Hercules is found and adopted by the farmers Amphitryon and Alcmene.
Years later, the teenage Hercules becomes an outcast due to his strength, and wonders where he came from. After his foster parents reveal the necklace they found him with, Hercules decides to visit the temple of Zeus for answers. The temple's statue of Zeus comes to life and reveals all to Hercules, telling him that he can regain his godhood by becoming a "true hero". Zeus sends Hercules and his forgotten infanthood friend Pegasus to find the satyr Philoctetes—"Phil" for short—who is known for training heroes. The two meet Phil, who has retired from training heroes due to numerous disappointments, but Hercules inspires him to follow his dream to train a true hero that will be recognized by the gods. Phil trains Hercules into a potential hero, and when he is older, they fly for Thebes. On the way, they meet Megara—"Meg" for short—a sarcastic damsel whom Hercules saves from the centaur Nessus. However, after Hercules, Phil, and Pegasus leave, Meg is revealed to be Hades' minion, having sold her soul to him to save an unfaithful lover.
Arriving in Thebes, Hercules is turned down by the downtrodden citizens until Meg says that two boys are trapped in a gorge. Hercules saves them, unaware that they are Pain and Panic in disguise, allowing Hades to summon the Hydra to fight Hercules. Hercules continually cuts off its heads, but more heads replace them until Hercules kills the monster by causing a landslide. Hercules is seen as a hero and a celebrity, but Zeus tells Hercules he is not yet a true hero. Driven to depression, Hercules turns to Meg, who is falling in love with him. Hades learns of this and on the eve of his takeover, offers a deal that Hercules gives up his powers for twenty-four hours. Hercules accepts on the condition that Meg will be unharmed and, after losing his strength, is heartbroken when Hades reveals that Meg is working for him.
Hades unleashes the Titans, who climb Olympus and capture the gods, while a Cyclops goes to Thebes to kill Hercules. Phil inspires Hercules to fight and kill the cyclops, but Meg is crushed by a falling pillar when she saves Hercules from it. This breaks Hades' commitment that Meg would come to no harm, and allows Hercules to regain his strength. Hercules and Pegasus fly to Olympus where they free the gods, save Zeus, and vanquish the Titans, though Meg dies before he returns to her. With Meg's soul now Hades' property, Hercules breaks into the Underworld where he negotiates with Hades to free Meg from the Styx in exchange for his own life. His willingness to sacrifice his life restores his godhood and immortality before the life-draining river can kill him; he rescues Meg and punches Hades into the Styx, where irate souls flush him under. After reviving Meg, she and Hercules are summoned to Olympus, where Zeus and Hera welcome their son home. However, Hercules chooses to remain on Earth with Meg, in lieu of immortality. Hercules returns to Thebes where he is hailed as a true hero as Zeus creates a picture of Hercules in the stars commemorating his heroism.Tate Donovan as Hercules, based on the mythological deity Heracles. Supervising animator Andreas Deja described Hercules as "...not a smart aleck, not streetwise, he's just a naive kid trapped in a big body", and that Donovan "had a charming yet innocent quality in his readings". Donovan had not done any voice-over work prior to Hercules. Deja integrated Donovan's "charming yet innocent quality" into Hercules' expressions. Ricky Martin provided both the voice and singing voice for the Latin American Spanish-language dub edition.
Josh Keaton provided the speaking voice of Hercules as a teenager, while Roger Bart provided his singing voice. Originally, Keaton provided also his singing voice, but his singing was re-recorded by Bart. Randy Haycock served as the supervising animator for Hercules as an infant and teenager.
Danny DeVito as Philoctetes/Phil. Eric Goldberg, the supervising animator for Philoctetes, cited Grumpy in Snow White and Bacchus in Fantasia as the inspirations for the character's design. Goldberg mentioned that they discovered that Danny DeVito "has really different mouth shapes" when they videotaped his recordings and that they used these shapes in animating Phil.
James Woods as Hades. Producer Alice Dewey mentioned that Hades "was supposed to talk in a slow and be menacing in a quiet, spooky way", but thought that James Woods' manner of speaking "a mile a minute" would be a "great take" for a villain. Woods did a lot of ad-libbing in his recordings, especially in Hades' dialogues with Megara. Nik Ranieri, the supervising animator for Hades, mentioned that the character was "based on a Hollywood agent, a car salesman type", and that a lot came from James Woods' ad-libbed dialogue. He went on to say that the hardest part in animating Hades was that he talks too much and too fast, so much so that "it took [him] two weeks to animate a one-second scene". Ranieri watched James Woods' other films and used what he saw as the basis for Hades' sneer.
Susan Egan as Megara. Supervising animator Ken Duncan stated that she was "based on a '40s screwball comedienne" and that he used Greek shapes for her hair ("Her head is in sort of a vase shape and she's got a Greek curl in the back.").
Frank Welker as Pegasus. Ellen Woodbury served as the supervising animator for Pegasus.
Rip Torn and Samantha Eggar as Zeus and Hera, Hercules' birth-parents. Anthony DeRosa served as the supervising animator for both characters. In the Swedish dub Max von Sydow provided the voice for Zeus.
Lillias White, Cheryl Freeman, LaChanze, Roz Ryan and Vanéese Y. Thomas as the Muses (Calliope, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Thalia and Clio respectively), the narrators of the film's story. Michael Show served as the supervising animator for the Muses.
Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer as Pain and Panic, Hades' henchmen. James Lopez and Brian Ferguson respectively served as the supervising animators for Pain and Panic.
Patrick Pinney as the Cyclops. Dominique Monfrey served as the supervising animator for the Cyclops.
Hal Holbrook and Barbara Barrie as Amphitryon and Alcmene, Hercules' adoptive parents. Richard Bazley served as the supervising animator for both characters.
Amanda Plummer, Carole Shelley and Paddi Edwards as Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, the three Fates who predict Hades' attempt to conquer Olympus. Nancy Beiman served as the supervising animator for the three characters.
Paul Shaffer as Hermes. Michael Swofford served as the animator for Hermes.
Jim Cummings as Nessus. Chris Bailey served as the animator for Nessus.
Wayne Knight as Demetrius
Keith David as Apollo
Charlton Heston has a cameo role as the opening narrator.
In early 1992, thirty artists, writers, and animators pitched their ideas for potential animated features, each given a limited time of two minutes. The first pitch was for an adaptation of The Odyssey, which entered into production in the following summer. However, production on the film was abandoned when it was deemed too long and lacked central characters, and failed to translate into animation comedy. Animator Joe Haidar also suggested pitching a story from Greek mythology, but thought his chances plummeted when work on The Odyssey was discontinued. Nervously, he produced a pitch sketch of Hercules, and delivered a brief outline set during the Trojan War where both sides seek the title character for their secret weapon. Hercules makes a choice, without considering the consequences, though in the end, he learns humility and realizes that strength is not always the answer. With the pitching session concluded, Hercules was approved for development, Haidar presented a page-and-a-half outline, but his involvement with the project succeeded no further. In November 1992, fresh off their critical and commercial success of Aladdin, directors Ron Clements and John Musker re-developed Treasure Planet up until fall 1993, with Aladdin co-screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio taking Clements and Musker's ideas and writing a treatment and script for Treasure Planet. Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, disapproved of the project, but struck a deal with the directors to produce another commercially viable film before he would green-light Treasure Planet. Turning down adaptation proposals for Don Quixote, The Odyssey, and Around the World in Eighty Days, the directors were notified of Haidar's pitch for a Hercules feature. "We thought it would be our opportunity to do a "superhero" movie," Musker said, so "Ron and I being comic book fans. The studio liked us moving onto that project and so we did [Hercules]."
With Hercules in production, Clements and Musker conducted research and wrote extensive notes for the film. On excerpts detailed in November 1993, the similarities between their outlines included the naive title character caught between two worlds, a Danny DeVito-type sidekick, a world-wise heroine, and a powerful villain in a battle of idealism versus cynicism. The directors also sought inspiration from classic screwball comedy films directed by Preston Sturges and Frank Capra with "Hercules as the young Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Musker explained, and "Meg is modeled on Barbara Stanwyck, especially the characters she played in The Lady Eve and Meet John Doe." While preparing the script, Clements and Musker consulted the works of Thomas Bullfinch, Edith Hamilton, Robert Graves, and other interpreters of Greek mythology until they reached the conclusion to not portray the traditional story of Hercules. Because Zeus sired Hercules outside of his marriage with Hera, Clements remarked "that illegitimacy would be difficult subject matter for a Disney movie. So we thought of different ways he could be half-man and half-god. We moved more toward making Hades the villain instead of Hera. The Underworld seemed like such a fascinating, dark images; the contrast with Olympus seemed to have all kinds of visual possibilities." Additionally during their research, the directors were inspired by the correlation of the popularity of Hercules in comparison to that of sport athletes and celebrities in the contemporary era with both directors stating Hercules was the Michael Jordan of his era. After multiple meetings and story conferences, Clements and Musker wrote several story treatments before proceeding to their first script draft. Comedy writers Don McEnery and Bob Shaw were recruited by creative executive Jane Healey to work on Hercules where their contribution was "important structural things like putting capital letters at the beginnings of sentences and adding periods and commas." Meanwhile, their draft was concurrently rewritten by Irene Mecchi, which altogether brought additional humor and definition to the script.
Donny Osmond originally auditioned as the speaking voice of the title character, but he was turned down because his voice was considered too deep. Writing the role of Philoctetes, Musker and Clements envisioned Danny DeVito in the role. However, DeVito declined to audition so Ed Asner, Ernest Borgnine, Dick Latessa were brought in to read for the part. After Red Buttons had auditioned, he left stating "I know what you're gonna do. You're gonna give this part to Danny Devito!" Shortly after, the directors and producer Alice Dewey approached DeVito at a pasta lunch during the filming of Matilda, where DeVito signed on to the role. For every Disney animated feature since Beauty and the Beast, Susan Egan auditioned for a role, and then landed the role of Belle in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast. Upon learning about Hercules, Egan actively pursued the role of Megara, though she revealed that "Alan Menken initially blocked me from going after that part. He said that the female lead in Hercules was supposed to be this cynical smart-ass, sounding nothing at all like sweet, innocent Belle." Menken eventually relented and allowed Egan to audition for the role. Egan read for the part in front of a microphone while being videotaped, while Menken, Beauty and the Beast musical director Michael Kosarin, and the filmmakers sat at a table with their eyes closed. Nine months following the results of the test animation synced with Egan's audition, Egan won the role. During production, Meg was originally given a ballad titled "I Can't Believe My Heart", but Ken Duncan, the supervising animator of Meg, pointed out the song was out of character for Meg. Menken and Zippel would later compose "I Won't Say I'm In Love" instead.
The casting of Hades proved to be very problematic for Musker and Clements. When DeVito asked the directors who had in mind to play Hades, Musker and Clements responded by saying they hadn't selected an appropriate actor. In response, DeVito blurted, "Why don't you ask Jack [Nicholson]?" After DeVito notified Nicholson of the project, the next week, the studio was willing to pay Nicholson $500,000 for the role, but Nicholson demanded roughly a paycheck of $10–15 million, plus a 50% cut of all the proceeds from Hades merchandise. Unwilling to share merchandising proceeds with the actor, Disney came back with a counter offer that was significantly less than what Nicholson had asked for. Therefore, Nicholson decided to pass on the project. Disappointed by the lack of Nicholson, Clements and Musker eventually selected John Lithgow as Hades in fall 1994. After nine months of trying to make Lithgow's portrayal of Hades work, Lithgow was released from the role in August 1995. According to John Musker, Ron Silver, James Coburn, Kevin Spacey, Phil Hartman, and Rod Steiger arrived to the Disney studios to read as Hades. Other actors who auditioned for the role were Michael Ironside, Terrence Mann, and Martin Landau. When they invited James Woods to read for the part, the filmmakers were surprised by Woods's interpretation, and Woods was hired by October 1995. Hades's co-henchman Pain was written with Bobcat Goldthwait in mind, although the actor confessed he still had to audition for the role despite playing himself.
In 1993, Ron Clements and John Musker fondly remembered a Time magazine cover of the Beatles, illustrated by English cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. While working as the production designer on a production of The Magic Flute, Gerald Scarfe was invited to tour the Disney studios where Clements and Musker noticed a direct correlation between Gerald's style and the Greek vase painting style, and with permission from the Disney studios, Scarfe was hired as production designer to produce a dozen drawings. Scarfe conducted minimal research, not wanting to be influenced by other interpretations where he sent thirty-two sketches via fax machine or courier, and ended up producing more than 700 drawings throughout production. By July 1995, Scarfe and fifteen animators and designers began developing working prototypes for every character in the movie. That same year, the filmmakers embarked on a research trip to Greece and Turkey to research classic Greek mythology. Since Scarfe's style proved to be too fluid and chaotic for the animators, production stylist Sue Nichols created reference charts for the animators on which elements of Scarfe's style, as well as classical Greek illustration, to adapt into their work.
Animation began in early 1995 with a team of nearly 700 artists, animators, and technicians in Burbank, California while Walt Disney Animation France contributed nearly ten minutes of animation, including the finale with the Titans and Hercules' descent into the Underworld. Andreas Deja, the supervising animator for Hercules, commented that the animation crew he worked with to animate Hercules was the "largest [he] ever worked with". He previously worked on other characters (like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Jafar in Aladdin, and Scar in The Lion King) with about four animators on his crew, but he had a team of twelve or thirteen for Hercules. Given Deja had worked with three villains before, he was first offered Hades, but asked to animate Hercules instead – "I knew if would be more difficult and more challenging, but I just needed that experience to have that in your repertoire." Following the release of Pocahontas, Eric Goldberg was initially assigned to animate Hades when Jack Nicholson was thought to play the character, but when Nicholson decided to pass on the project, Goldberg wasn't interested in animating the character anymore. At around the same time, Chris Buck was assigned to animate Philoctetes, but after he left the production of Hercules, this left the character of Philoctetes without a supervising animator. Goldberg then decided to instead animate Philoctetes when DeVito signed onto the role noting his similarities with DeVito in their short stature, baldness, and admittedly a little "soft around the middle". Throughout production, there were twenty-seven designs for the character, with Goldberg doing a literal caricature of DeVito with horns before being vetoed by the directors. While maintaining DeVito's features, Goldberg then took inspiration from Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bacchus in Fantasia in terms of their curmudgeonly personality and facial structure.
For the Hydra, Scarfe provided preliminary drawings to give the mythical beast its requisite fangs and serpentine necks before work was transferred over to the computer animation team headed by Roger Gould. The Hydra was sculpted into a clay model where the dimensions was digitized into the computers into a wire-frame model by which the monster was animated. Early into production, the filmmakers decided the Hydra would ultimately have thirty heads by which the animators created one master head, and the computer could multiply the heads to their desired scale. Overall, thirteen animators and technical directors spent nearly a year-and-a-half creating the four-minute battle sequence. Additionally, because the directors envisioned Olympus as a city composed of clouds, painted backgrounds of clouds and cloud-like imagery were blended with drawn effects animation to create a morphing technique that were used for baby Hercules's cradle and Zeus's reclining chair.
Hercules: An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack is the soundtrack for Hercules. It consists of music written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel, orchestrated by Daniel Troob and Michael Starobin, with vocals performed by Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Roger Bart, Danny DeVito, and Susan Egan among others. The album also includes the single version of "Go the Distance" by Michael Bolton. For the Spanish version of the film, "Go the Distance" was redone by Ricky Martin and released as a single under the title "No Importa La Distancia" and was also very successful, both inside and outside the United States. In the Turkish version of the film, "Go the Distance" was sung by Tarkan, who also performed the vocals for the adult Hercules.
In March 1994, Zippel was attached to compose the lyrics for the songs for the film, teaming up with Alan Menken. Zippel had previously collaborated with Menken on the cabaret revue titled It's Better With a Band, and the musical Diamonds, directed by Harold Prince. Distinctively for the film, the idea to incorporate gospel music for the songs was suggested by co-screenwriter and co-director John Musker, although Menken preferred "something very classic and Greek—a Candide approach". Musker explained, "Gospel is a storytelling kind of music. It can be exhilarating, especially when it gets everybody on their feet. We were looking for a modern equivalent for the Greek references and this style of music seemed to be entertaining and a real departure at the same time." The Spice Girls were originally approached to portray the Muses following an invitation to sing one of the songs, but declined the offer due to scheduling conflicts.
For the pop version of "Go the Distance", Michael Bolton was personally chosen by Menken to record the single, in which Columbia Records paid an undisclosed figure to Walt Disney Records for the rights to the soundtrack. "Go the Distance" was nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, but ultimately lost both to Celine Dion's hit "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic.
Belinda Carlisle recorded two versions of "I Won't Say (I'm in Love)" as well as a music video for promotional purposes. Though the English dub eventually opted not to use it, several foreign dubs have it in place of the reprise of "A Star Is Born" in the ending credits. These dubs include, but are not limited to, the Swedish one, the Finnish one, the Icelandic one and the Russian one. Curiously enough, the DVD release of the Swedish dub has replaced it with the reprise of "A Star Is Born".
- "Long Ago..." – Charlton Heston
- The Gospel Truth/Main Title – Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman, and Vanéese Y. Thomas
- The Gospel Truth II – Roz Ryan
- The Gospel Truth III – Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman, and Vanéese Y. Thomas
- "Go the Distance" – Roger Bart
- Oh Mighty Zeus (Score)
- "Go the Distance (Reprise)" – Roger Bart
- "One Last Hope" – Danny DeVito
- "Zero to Hero" – Tawatha Agee, Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman, and Vanéese Y. Thomas
- "I Won't Say (I'm in Love)" – Susan Egan, Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman, and Vanéese Y. Thomas
- "A Star Is Born" – Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman, and Vanéese Y. Thomas
- "Go the Distance (Single)" – Michael Bolton
- The Big Olive (Score)
- The Prophecy (Score)
- Destruction of the Agora (Score)
- Phil's Island (Score)
- Rodeo (Score)
- Speak of the Devil (Score)
- The Hydra Battle (Score)
- Meg's Garden (Score)
- Hercules' Villa (Score)
- All Time Chump (Score)
- Cutting the Thread (Score)
- A True Hero/A Star Is Born (End Title) – Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman, and Vanéese Y. Thomas
On February 4, 1997, Disney began its marketing campaign by starting a five-month promotional traveling tour, called Disney's Hercules Mega Mall Tour Sponsored by Chevy Venture, throughout 20 cities starting first in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously used for the marketing campaigns for Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the tour featured eleven attractions including a multimedia stage show, a miniature carousel themed to Baby Pegasus, a carnival with Hercules-themed game booths, and a ten-minute animation workshop hosted by animator Andreas Deja where visitors would try their hand at drawing Hercules.
On June 14, the premiere of the film was accompanied with an electric light parade held in Times Square. The parade of electrified floats traveled from 42nd Street to Fifth Avenue and 66th Street with included attendees such as Lauren Hutton, Harvey Keitel, Andy Garcia, Barbara Walters, Michael Bolton, and Marilu Henner, as well as Olympic athletes who later rode on thirty floats in the parade. The media event was not without controversy as former New York mayor Ed Koch objected to surrendering the city over Disney, and critics raising questions about what politicians are willing to give a private firm in return for investment. Also, nearly 100 members of National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians used the occasion to strike for a new contract from Disney/ABC, with local union president Tony Capitano who complained that "I think the Mayor gave away the city to Disneyland", and 5,000 businesses and residents who felt unusually eerie upon being asked to dim their lights as the parade passed. Following the parade, a private party was held at the Chelsea Piers complex, where dinner guests was served to a performance of Susan Egan singing songs from the movie along the Hudson River, and ten minutes of fireworks display.
Additionally, the film was accompanied with a marketing campaign with promotional tie-ins with 85 licensees including McDonald's, Mattel, Nestlé, Hallmark and various merchandise. Hercules was also received the first Disney on Ice adaptation before the film was theatrically released.
Hercules was first released on VHS and widescreen laserdisc in the United States on February 3, 1998, included as an installment of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection series. By the summer of 1998, sales and rentals of the VHS release had accumulated to $165 million. Released on November 9, 1999, Hercules was released in a "Limited Issue" DVD for a limited sixty-day time period before going into moratorium. Launching in January 2000, Walt Disney Home Video began the Gold Classic Collection, with Hercules re-issued on VHS and DVD on August 1, 2000. The DVD contained the film in its 1.66:1 aspect ratio and THX-certified, and was accompanied with special features including "The Making of Hercules" documentary video and the "Go The Distance" music video sung by Ricky Martin, as well as an "Animals of the Outback" activity booklet. The film was released on a Special Edition Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on June 10, 2014.
A tie-in video game, titled Hercules Action Game, was developed by Eurocom and released in July 1997 for the PC and PlayStation. Another tie-in game was developed by Tiertex Design Studios and was released for the Game Boy by THQ the same month.
Disney intended for the film to have an open-air premiere at Pnyx hill, but the Greek government declined after Greek media and public panned the film. A Greek newspaper entitled Adsmevtos Typos called it "another case of foreigners distorting our history and culture just to suit their commercial interests".
Wall Street analysts estimated that Hercules could bring in between $150 million in the United States based on the extensive marketing campaign and having a lighter, humorous tone similar to Aladdin. Hercules began its limited release in North America on June 13, 1997, playing in one selected theater. The film earned $249,567 in box office receipts during the weekend of June 13–15, standing at the thirteenth place in the box office ranking. On the following weekend, the film grossed $1.45 million in two weeks when it expanded into two selected theaters. The general release followed on June 27, 1997, in 2,621 screens. During the weekend of June 27–29, box office analysts estimated that Hercules earned $21.5 million ranking second behind Face/Off which grossed $22.7 million. In its first two weeks of general release, Hercules amounted $58 million in box office grosses, compared to Pocahontas, which took in $80 million and The Lion King which grossed $119 million in their respective two weeks. Considered a disappointment among Disney shareholders, Disney's stock price slipped 9.7 percent by which executives blamed the film's box office performance on "more competition". By its third weekend, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Dick Cook confessed that competing family films such as Men in Black and Batman and Robin played a role in the downward box office performance, but projected the film would receive a worldwide gross of $300 million. Likewise, entertainment analysts also targeted Hercules's lack of appeal for adults and teenagers compared to Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King which served as date movies and family outings. By spring 1998, Hercules grossed $99 million, and the international totals for Hercules raised its gross to $253 million.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported the film has an approval rating of 83% based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The site's consensus reads, "Fast-paced and packed with dozens of pop culture references, Hercules might not measure up with the true classics of the Disney pantheon, but it's still plenty of fun." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
James Woods received universal acclaim from film reviewers for his vocal performance as Hades. Reviewing for Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman graded the film an A- acclaiming that it was Woods' most exciting performance since Salvador publishing that "Woods' performance is an inspired piece of deadpan vaudeville. His dry jocularity is hilariously incongruous — he's like a hostile, wisecracking salesman trapped in the body of the Antichrist." Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a positive review of the film, enjoying the story as well as the animation. Ebert also praised Woods' portrayal of Hades, stating that Woods brings "something of the same verbal inventiveness that Robin Williams brought to Aladdin". Similarly, Chicago Tribune film reviewer Gene Siskel, while awarding the film 2 out of 4 stars, complimented that "the only memorable character in the film is the nicely drawn villain Hades (voice by James Woods), who seeks to turn Hercules to the dark side. Hades supplies the genie-like patter that Robin Williams provided in Aladdin." The New York Times critic Janet Maslin also praised Woods's performance remarking "Woods shows off the full verve of an edgy Scarfe villain", and added "On any level, earthly or otherwise, the ingenious new animated Hercules is pretty divine." James Berardinelli, film critic for ReelViews, awarded the film 3 out of 4 stars writing, "the real star of the show is James Woods, whose Hades is the most vibrant Disney creation since Robin Williams' Genie. Hades is a lively villain with a great repertoire of one-liners. And, although Woods isn't as much of a vocal chameleon as Williams, he's close enough that it hardly matters."
The Scarfe-inspired animation style received mixed reviews with Berardinelli labeling it as the film's most disappointing aspect noting "this approach makes the film look rushed and, at times, incomplete. It is never a visual marvel – even the computer-generated scenes fail to impress. The sequences intended to offer the biggest spectacle – Olympus and the Underworld – provoke little more than a yawn." Likewise, Siskel noted his surprise of "how soft and cheap the animation looks." Writing for The Washington Post, Desson Howe criticized the animation as being "some of the worst I've ever cringed through, including the corner-cutting junk of Don Bluth movies and every trashy cartoon that passes for entertainment on Saturday morning television. In Hercules, ancient Thebes looks like a hastily sketched field-trip location from public TV's The Magic School Bus; and no self-respecting immortal would be seen dead in this simplistic rendition of Mount Olympus. Nevertheless, Kenneth Turan of Los Angeles Times noted the animation "has just enough of a different look to it to make things interesting" and praised the Hydra as a technological marvel. Likewise, the music received a mixed response with Rita Kempley of Washington Post writing "Like the other songs by Disney veteran Alan Menken and his new lyricist, David Zippel (City of Angels), the number gets the job done, but it doesn't topple the temple. The score is influenced by gospel, Broadway musicals, processional music and R&B, but its only spice is its variety." Variety film critic Leonard Klady noted the lack of distinctiveness of the music writing Menken "is hitting too many tired notes in his sixth animated score" and "there's simply not a song in the piece that has you humming as you exit the theater, and ballads such as "Go the Distance" will require aggressive repetition to register as playlist material."