As a Classics minor and someone who has a not-so-secret love for all things Greek, Roman or mythological, Disney’s Hercules is laughably off base. But as a Disneyphile, I love it. I used to rewind the VHS repeatedly to watch Meg’s song, “Won’t Say I’m in Love” over and over (this is probably why my parents thought it a wise investment to have an old TV and VHS player in my room). Mythologically speaking, there’s very little accuracy here. But the music, flow and style are so wonderful that I can kind of pretend it isn’t totally off base.
In Disney’s defense, they had never done a myth-based movie before. Fairy tales? Yes. Myths involving multiple cultures? No. Ron Clements and John Musker directed such successes as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and, quite frankly, I’d expect a little more of them, research-wise. For one thing, neither the Greeks nor the Romans portrayed the gods as being rainbow-colored. Blue Hades? Pink Hera? Only Zeus and Hercules aren’t pastel, and they don’t look remotely Greek. I mean, the Sultan in Aladdin is white, but at least Jasmine looks Arabian. Although I really don’t know if these are the Greek gods or the Roman ones, because they use the Greek gods’ names, but Hercules is the Roman version of Heracles. With an A right smack dab in the middle. Whoopsies, Disney! Also, Narcissus was punished by the gods for vanity, but he wasn’t actually a god and wouldn’t be on Mt. Olympus. Odysseus really was a hero, without the disgrace that Phil is disappointed by. Achilles chose to be a hero instead of living a peaceful, non-famous life. He wasn’t mocked, he was a real hero. So was Jason. Perseus was weak and the girl did all his feats, but he was considered a hero too. So Phil was a little…off with his failures/broken dreams deal. Heracles/Hercules also was tricked into a rage and murdered his wife and children (Megara and their children). I think Disney was wise to leave that part out.
Even while I was studying Classics in college, I enjoyed watching this film. It’s fun. The fates don’t share an eye, and the gods are constantly cheating on each other (and incestuous: Zeus and Hera are both married and siblings). Zeus didn’t banish the Titans and the Cyclops may not even be Titans, but it’s a fun movie. And it has a completely blatant Lion King reference, so it can’t be that bad.
The music is especially wonderful. “Go the Distance” won an Oscar and my VHS version nearly got worn out on Megara’s song. The wonderful Alan Menken worked on the music, so it isn’t any surprise that the music is so amazing. The score is very fitting, with all the reprises of “Go the Distance.” I’m not really sure who decided Danny DeVito’s character should sing, but I may never forgive them. Of course, I’m a little biased. He’s a villain in Matilda and he’s not exactly a great guy in the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I just associate him with negative, bad characters now. His singing didn’t really change my mind.
The scene when Hercules is stolen and his parents discover he’s missing tugged at my heart more and more. Even though I don’t yet have kids, I can’t imagine the cruelty of having your child taken from you in the middle of the night, then finding them but not being able to tell them who you are or bring them home. It’s terribly unfair, and it just broke my heart.
The style of animation is very particular. The vases and urns depicting Greek history and mythology in the beginning and “Zero to Hero” sequence actually really do resemble ancient Greek artifacts. The remainder of the film, with sharp lines and bright colors, has a specific style. The style works really well with the plot and music. It’s all very distinctive, detail oriented and just thorough (at least something is!)
I doubt you have to wonder who my favorite character is. I’ll give you a hint: he has blue hair, white fur and wings. It’s Pegasus! (I bet for a minute there you were afraid I was talking about Hades with the blue hair bit. Hehe.). Pegasus is loyal, smart, loving. He’s like a giant puppy with wings. Who wouldn’t love that?! And he’s a good judge of character—he knows Meg is bad news the first time he meets her.
Who are my least favorite characters? Pain and Panic, typically minions of war god Ares but in this version Hades’ dumb minions. They are annoying, cartoonish extreme parodies that I just don’t like. They detract from the plot, slow down the story and serve to be really annoying. And they’re weird looking.
The Lion King reference is very blatant. When Hercules is posing for the urn painter, he’s wearing the lion skin of the Neamean Lion he fought, but the lion is actually Scar—right down the green eyes and scar. It shows his face multiple times.
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The flower Hercules gives Meg, immediately before her song, is the same kind of flower that Aladdin gives Jasmine on their magic carpet ride. She hums to it right before the Sultan and Jafar come into her room and tell her she’ll be marrying Jafar.
The special features were seriously lacking. There was a short ‘making of’ segment that showed a few behind the scenes and gave some information the singing. And a quality music video of Ricky Martin singing “Go the Distance” in Spanish with bonfires burning all around him. Qual-it-y. Apparently he voiced Hercules in the Spanish release. The Spice Girls were originally considered for the singing muses. Oh, 1997. What a fun year. Thankfully the Spice Girls idea was nixed, as I don’t think the film would have worked as well or been enjoyable to watch after 1998.Hercules and his flying white horse are fun and punny, which is always a plus. If you know Greek myths, the puns are even greater in number. The modern day references in an ancient Greek setting (Air Herc mosaic billboards, the sandals, the slurpy cups) make for some laughs as well. And it’s nice to imagine yourself among the rolling green hills of Greece instead of the frozen landscape that you may be surrounded by (well, at least I am. I’m ready for the thaw, Mother Nature).
Most importantly, the lesson is extra special. Being true to yourself and finding where you belong, not lying (Pain and Panic), and choosing to be with your special someone, even if that means altering your plan or having your dreams evolve. It’s also important that they show Meg’s redemption. She made bad choices, but she made up for it—and was forgiven. Someone had to be the villain, which is why Hades was angry to be in the underwold (Zeus, Poseidon and Hades drew lots to see who ruled over what area). The villain had to be punished, which is why it was a good resolution to have Hades get drowned in a sea of angry dead souls (ahem, bodiless zombies!). Redemption, sacrificing for love, trusting your flying horse when he doesn’t like your date, it’s all there. What’s not to like?