The first HD appearance of Hercules is another Disney Blu-ray winner

Disney’s mixture of the playful and morbid in Hercules neglects their traditional family focused softness. Much of the film feels like an evolution of the animated medium in the late ’90s, ditching the quaintness of the studio’s prior films for something a touch edgier, even infused with the concussion-causing slapstick born of Chuck Jones.

Hercules is forward thinking and thus remains adequately relevant to a nostalgic audience or those adults exploring animation historically. It’s structure of mammoth gods warring between the underworld and heavens peers into the realm of death. Loss of life is not implied so much as it is a direct action. Witches snip a cord, and lights turn off.

And still, despite this surprisingly dim turn into the after life, Hercules is a blast. Pacing and dialog delivery seems seconds removed from the grandiose charms of Emperor’s New Groove. James Woods slaps Hades with a genuine deceitful personality, this in spite of a passe design which makes him appear as Ursula’s kin.

There are a number of odd decisions which birthed this mini or true classic (depending on perspective), including a wrap-around series of enthusiastic gospel numbers which should be misplaced yet oddly bond to the narrative. Hercules is not a story of rough-and-tumble monster fights – although it has those too – so much as it is a story of finding ones self. Intertwined with the bits about Greek gods, suddenly the soulful singers are logically planted into the aesthetic.

A sense of beauty is instantly established as well, causing further mourning over Disney’s long since lost traditional animation team. Background plates flourish with color, and the lanky human characters comparatively buff up Hercules as he enters adulthood. Hercules brings in bits of computer work, subtle and smooth as to not intrude while acting as an enhancement aid. The work is so active and fluid, it’s as if those Looney Tunes shorts have birthed contemporary feature length comedy but with all of the pointy glowing head wounds.

Then again, those steps back in animation tradition are also in desperation to cling onto those olden ideals. Hercules is agonizing with its over activity at times, including Hades’ henchman Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) ignoring any sense of build-up. Rarely are these two considered turned off, and are instead peace breakers. They’re obnoxious, but Hercules isn’t as an acceptably mainstream retelling of legend. It seems awfully comfortable in that mold and away from the safety of fairy tales. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Shocked Pegasus @ 32:29

Rising over their few Blu-ray flops (Sword in the Stone, we will not forget you), Hercules soars with the now familiar cycle of perfectionist sharpness and dazzling color. But, this feature is delivering source material absolutely generous in these areas. Opening back plates are splashed with vivid hues, zooming in to a gathering of the gods with some of the more intense primaries in animation. These flourishes are gorgeous.

Even down into the pits of Hades, Disney’s once ample colorist team displays a penchant for avoiding the obvious. Vivid blue/green rivers of souls cast a glow onto eerily gray rock formations, or fire ignites the entire scene. It’s splendid to see here on Blu-ray after the aging compression algorithms of DVD have long since hindered this movie.

So detailed is the disc, backgrounds appear to show some banding, yet in reality it’s separation of paint hues. Hercules’ carries remarkably clean lines too. Outside of an aliasing flub (during an extreme distance shot of Pegasus), there is nothing to fault this disc for. Compression parameters are perfect and mastering work gives this feature all of the best Disney-level attention, equal to that of their Diamond Edition discs. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Video]

DTS-HD work is eager to please with plenty of spatial motion. Mixing sweeps dialog from front to rear without a hiccup in the transitions, while ambient elements further extend the sound field. Set to meet Phil, Herc finds goats bleating on statues, and each of their calls carries a distinct directional point.

Action scenes are of course spectacular. LFE stampedes into the mix with force, especially during a finale loaded with titans stomping across the land. Earlier moments, including an entire structural collapse, is one blast of bass after another until it concludes. Hercules has an energy few other animated discs too.

Of course, there is a choir to consider as well. Their full wrap effect is intact in this move to HD audio. Piercingly clear lyrics pop from the center channel with the ability to travel outward. Background voices swell up vividly into the stereos and rears for a complete acoustic presentation. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

All of that positivity and the disc simply dies here in the extras. A 10-minute making-of promo is pulled from the era of VHS, and a Ricky Martin music video is merely dating the entire thing. Kids can jump into a sing-a-long, but Disney refuses the lavish treatment for Hercules. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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