Directed By: Ron Clements & John Musker
Produced By: Alice Dewey, Ron Clements, & John Musker
Inspired By: The Tales of Heracles (Ancient Greece)
Premiered On: June 14, 1997
Distribution By: Buena Vista Pictures
At last, we come to a film that has generated the most mixed feelings I’ve ever had for a Disney film, animated or otherwise, which I’ll try to refrain from speaking about until the end of this review. Disney’s take on the tale of Hercules (or rather Heracles as he’s actually known in Greece as “Hercules” is in fact his Roman name but more on that later) is easily the most… Censored, I suppose is as good a word as any.
Whereas films such as Pocahontas, which were romanticized purposefully, or films like Tangled and Frozen, which became virtual originals in their own right, Hercules is one of the few films that has been given the most work over of any story bar none. It takes too much of the original tales to really be called a loose adaptation and changes far too much to be readily ignored either. Still, the story of the film in itself is rather straightforward.
Hades, Lord of the Underworld and eldest brother to Zeus, learns that his ploy to take over Mount Olympus by way of releasing the Titans he and his fellow Olympian gods had vanquished long ago has only one minor failing point. That being Zeus and Hera’s newborn son, Hercules whom Hades immediately has kidnapped by way of his stereotypical comedic incompetent minions Pain and Panic and given a potion that will turn him fully mortal and thus able to be killed.
Unfortunately, said minions fail to turn Hercules fully mortal as he retains his godlike strength and deals out a surprising amount of damage to the two imps before they retreat back to the Underworld. Years go by and Hercules, a young teen, goes to a temple of Zeus to try and learn his origins and more besides. His father, speaking to him through the statue in the temple, tells him that in order to become a god once more, he must prove himself a true hero and sends his young son off to the satyr Philoctetes, or Phil for short.
A few more years go by and Hercules makes a name for himself in the city of Thebes by first combating and vanquishing the Hydra, just one of many monstrous pawns Hades unleashes upon his nephew before he realizes the lad’s one true weakness. That being Meg, Hades’ unwilling servant who likewise has slowly but surely begun to fall in love with Hercules despite how much she strives not to.
Seeing as there is no one true definitive claim to what story of Heracles, as the tales had been told time and time again through various means in the ancient world, I won’t try to nitpick the differences between those original tales too much with this film. However, someone just so happened to have replaced my usual chair with a soapbox so I make no further apologies.
First and foremost, the one true change above all others, is Hercules himself insomuch that he is a son of Zeus and Hera. This is not the case in any of the myths. Hercules, or Heracles as I’ll refer the original stories version, was born of Zeus and a mortal woman whom he had an affair with. One of several other women in point of fact as Zeus, the Lord of Olympus and God of the Sky, is also the most infamous deity in all the various pantheons of the world for his adulterous/erotic escapades.
If you want specifics, Zeus had over 92 children, forty or so of which were divine while the rest were mortal. Of those children, only seven of them were by his wife Hera and of those seven only about four of them were bestowed any major influence or power over mortal kind.
Speaking of the Queen of Olympus, it is actually Hera, not Hades, who is the major thorn in Heracles’ side from day one. In point of fact, upon learning that a midwife had helped bring him into the world despite her efforts, she turned that midwife into a weasel and spent a good chunk of Heracles’ life tormenting him whenever and however she could. Heck, he was named Heracles, which essentially translates to “Glory of Hera” and was named as such as a means of mollifying her.
This did not work and backfired on Heracles with a vengeance.
Well, his wife, Megara (AKA Meg to her friends), and his children were unwittingly killed by him when Hera drove him insane and would have remained as such hadn’t a friend managed to cure him of the god-induced insanity. Seeking penance for his crimes, Heracles was given ten impossible labors, which became twelve due to certain circumstances.
Many of these labors are featured in the film itself, most notably with Hercules fighting the Hydra, which was labor number two after defeating the Nemean Lion, a creature that boasted an impenetrable hide and who bears a remarkable resemblance to Scar now that I look at it…
The last major difference between the film and the original tales that I’ll focus on, because by the gods there are so many, is that of Pegasus. See, in the film he is made by Zeus, with some cirrus, nimbostratus, and a dash of cumulonimbus even, as a gift to Hercules. He is stated as being a magnificent horse despite having the brain of a bird but that’s neither here nor there. See, Pegasus’ origin is vastly different than what is portrayed in the film.
See, it was actually Poseidon, the Greek God of the Oceans and Sire of Horses, who… technically… created Pegasus. The most commonly accepted origin behind Pegasus is more to do with his… “mother,” the eldest of the Gorgon Sisters known as Medusa. Contrary to what you might be thinking, Pegasus was not “born” so much as “sprung” and by sprung I mean leapt out of the gushing blood issuing from Medusa’s neck when the hero Perseus had beheaded her.
… The tales of Ancient Greece, ladies and gentlemen… Making the likes of the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Andersen look like writers for Sesame Street by comparison…
As to the music… My favorite song in the film as a whole has been, and will always be, Meg’s song “I Won’t Say I’m in Love” but it is, unfortunately, not the song that I would pick that best describes the film as a whole. No, that honor goes to the song sung by the Muses “Zero to Hero.” The song is not only incredibly fun to listen to, visually speaking its comedy gold.
There are so many jabs towards what our modern world does with people of fame and fortune that seeing it in ancient times is nothing short of hilarious, particularly when those jabs even take aim at some of Disney’s own faults like merchandising the heck of out a popular film.
Overall, I give Hercules… blast it all, ten out of five stars. Much as I nitpicked on the vast differences between it and the original source material I will always, always, judge a movie based on its own merits and believe me Hercules has plenty of them. It’s not often we see a film where we see that it’s the power of a hero’s heart and not their, if you’ll pardon the pun, herculean strength that defines them. That and as I’ve said time and time again, no Disney Villain will ever compare to the scene stealing likes of Hades.