XFINITY On Demand: Leonard Maltin Recommends ‘Hercules’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’

"James and the Giant Peach." (Disney)

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 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.

Use to order “James and the Giant Peach” on your TV.

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.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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