Music has always been a centerpiece of Disney's master storytelling throughout its feature animation history. This fall, "Disney's Hercules" will break new ground for music in animated television.

Music weaves an amusing and often narrative thread through most of the series' 65 episodes, which chronicle the Greek demigod's heroic feats during his formative, hero-in-training "high school" years. The action and comedy of "Disney's Hercules" is uniquely complemented in both full-blown songs and short ditties by an array of musical styles, ranging from gospel and pop to country-western, disco and rock.

"The all-star talent and the topnotch writing involved in this series have raised the bar on animated television for kids," says Bambi Moe, vice president, Music, Walt Disney Television Animation. "It's presented a wonderful challenge in the creation of music that is equally witty, surprising and memorable. Meeting that challenge has made this, by far, the most ambitious and most fun of any series I've ever worked on."

"In terms of both the volume of songs and their musical range," said Tad Stones, the series' executive producer, "'Disney's Hercules' is a groundbreaking series for us and, in many ways, for animated television history. The songs are funny, clever and provide story background or transitions in a light, easily understood, entertaining way."

Robert Stack is just one of several prominent stars - not known for singing - that have taken their crack at carrying a tune. As the show's staid narrator, Stack is in constant banter with the Muses - even breaking into song with the quintet on occasion. In the role of Bacchus, Dom DeLuise takes partying to a new level - to help Hercules throw a mentor's-away-so-let's-play bash - by hammering home "The Bacchanal" song. French Stewart, Hercules' daft pal Icarus, gets hit with Cupid's arrow and promptly plays pop to it's comic edge with "Love Is in the Air."

Even James Woods, re-creating his Hades role from last summer's hit feature film, belts out the show-stopping "My Town" during the "Hercules and the River Styx" episode when celebrating his takeover of Athens.

"Singing 'My Town' was, I'm sure, the Challenger shuttle moment of Disney animated history," Woods says. "I kind of Rex Harrison-ed my way through it. Don't get me wrong - the song came out great. But let's just say they haven't written any more songs for my character since then."

Randy Peterson and Kevin Quinn are the primary songwriting team responsible for the music of "Disney's Hercules." "Randy and Kevin have met every challenge we've thrown them," says Moe. "This series has such a high caliber of both scriptwriting and talent that Randy and Kevin had to hit a home run every time. I think they've been right on the mark - every song is clever, fun, well integrated into the story, and adds an extra entertainment component to the overall series."

A few actors took an active part in the creation of their musical roles. Playing Hercules' guidance counselor Parenthesis, Monty Python star Eric Idle penned his own comical "A Promethean Ditty," which tells the tale of the founder of the Prometheus Academy. For the series' opening episode, Kathie Lee Gifford went deeper into character - as Echidna, the "mother of all monsters" - by co-writing with Peterson and Quinn the hilarious "What's a Mother to Do." The song is a vivid reflection of basic maternal sentiments, with a brutish twist ("You try to teach them right from wrong, the proper way to drool; You give the best years of your life, and hope they turn out cruel ... it makes my black heart blue, what's a mother to do?").

Music gets it's serious treatment, as well. As in the feature film, the Muses (Lachanze Sapp, Roz Ryan, Lillias White and Cheryl Freeman) play an integral role in many of the musical numbers. Their versatility has been essential to expanding the variety of song types within the series - ranging from the film's use of gospel to new influences such as pop, rock, country-western, funk, techno-pop and disco.

Noted songstress Melissa Manchester and musician Paul Schaffer also have songs included in the series, the latter putting a "Rawhide"-like twist on his narrative "That's How the Story Goes" to open the episode "Hercules and the Return of Typhon" (Typhon is played by Regis Philbin). Hollywood Records recording artist Idena Menzel, a member of the original Broadway cast of "Rent," gracefully slipped into the role of enchantress Circe to sing the sassy "One Good Man."

Two of Walt Disney Feature Animation's leading ladies - Susan Egan (Meg from "Hercules") and Jodi Benson (Ariel from "The Little Mermaid") - have also recorded songs for their characters. Egan reprises her Meg role in two flashback episodes, while Benson has a recurring role in the "Disney's Hercules" television series as "Helen of Troy."

Series regulars Tate Donovan, Bobcat Goldthwait, Matt Frewer, Sandra Bernhard and Corey Burton also have recorded musical segments for the 65-episode series, which premieres Monday, Aug. 31 in syndication from Buena Vista Television five days a week, Monday-Friday (check local listings).