You wouldn’t think any Disney cartoon feature could be called under-appreciated, but that term does apply to two films I’m very fond of that you can find on Comcast this month.
“Hercules” wasn’t the box-office titan the studio hoped for, but it’s one of my favorite animated features of the 90s—great-looking and cleverly conceived, with terrific voice work and songs that capture the emotions and story points they’re supposed to. I especially love the use of a literal Greek chorus with a Motown touch. This is a comedic spin on Greek mythology, so even though Hercules, voiced by Tate Donovan, is the son of Zeus, he is raised as a human on earth. To return to Mount Olympus, he must prove himself a true hero, with the help of a trainer called Phil the Satyr, voiced by Danny De Vito. The vocal standout in this movie’s talented cast is James Woods as motor-mouthed Hades, God of the underworld…his asides and ad-libs are hilarious, perhaps more attuned to parents in the audience than kids. But that’s why I like him. There’s plenty of action and comedy for young viewers, too, in this underrated feature.
Use xfinity.com/tv to order “Hercules” on your TV.
Kids around the world read the stories of Roald Dahl, like BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the stop-motion animated adaptation of “James and the Giant Peach” was possibly too dark to appeal to a wide movie audience. That makes it ripe for rediscovery, as it tells the odyssey of a young British boy who is orphaned and then finds an unusual way to escape from the custody of his horrible aunts. That’s when the film transitions from live-action to animation and we meet the colorful array of costars, including a friendly spider, voiced by Susan Sarandon, a grasshopper, centipede, a worm, a glow-worm, and a ladybug, who accompany James on his magical voyage to his dream destination, New York City. With songs by Randy Newman, and sure-handed direction by Henry Selick, who piloted “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Coraline,” this film creates a witty, magical world all its own.
My favorite animated films are the ones that appeal to young viewers and anyone who’s young at heart. That describes these to movies to a T.
Note: These picks, which start at $0.99, may not be available in all areas. SEE MORE OF LEONARD MALTIN’S PICKS HERE.