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Hercules: A Lovely Disaster

So I am enrolled in both a costume designing course and a Greek/Roman drama course this year, because I needed a break from the science quad (and I have distribution requirements; yay, liberal arts). Strangely, the two classes have crossed paths and I ended up designing some of my costumes based off of Greek tragedy and satyr plays. I wanted to do a more “stereotypically Greek” look, however, so I spent a lot more of my time examining Greece in pop culture than Greece on ancient pottery.

Besides looking at video games (God of War, Spartan) and Roman paintings (Ingres), I turned to movies, and the obvious choice was Disney’s Hercules. I hadn’t seen the movie too recently, but I remember enjoying it and it had some good voices behind it. So last week, I watched it again.

Disney’s Hercules is… weird. It isn’t amazing or top-tier Disney at all, but it isn’t a bad movie either. It’s above average. It’s good... but not great. Why?

 

The Choices for the Voices

Casting Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin was, by far, the best decision Disney ever made. They utilized his quirks and comedy and references so perfectly. I’d argue, however, that the decision to cast James Woods as Hades in Hercules is a close second best. I don’t even have to talk about Hades much, he’s pretty iconic. Whenever I picture Hades now, I picture James Woods’ role. He is definitely my favorite Disney villain next to Yzma.

Susan Egan as Megara was another amazing choice. Her voice is seductive and dangerous, like a Siren. Egan is also responsible for singing my favorite Disney song of all time. So I am more than happy with this decision.

Danny DeVito plays a satyr named Phil. The character and the voice seem to fit really well—A Jersey voice for a Jersey-esque character—so once again, I am happy with this decision.

Every other voice was fine as well. None bad, none super amazing, but I feel the same way about a lot of other Disney movies. A few great choices surrounded by a bunch of reasonable ones.

The Animation

The animation is poor. Young Hercules is comically overproportioned and Megara is uncomfortably oversexualized. There are none of those amazing dreamy moments like the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast, or a good chunk of the love scenes in Pocahontas (I still think the movie is not good). Hades’ flame hair and smokey claws are the best-looking things in the movie. I expect a lot from Disney animation, and this felt sub-par. Then there was that terrible CGI hydra that was just distracting… I dunno. I guess after Pocahontas I expected better art. (Trust me, I hate the movie, but it is still beautifully drawn.)

The Tone

The tone flip flops a lot in this movie. A lot. It goes from lighthearted to serious to a strange mix of both.

One egregious example is right after Megara gets hurt (spoilers?) when a pillar falls on her. Hercules rescues her and at first, wants to stay by her side, but she urges him to help his father stop the Titans. He rushes out to save Olympus, but has some cute buddy buddy moments with his boy Pegasus, seemingly forgetting about his dying love back on the ground. If Hercules had fought less whimsically and more seriously, it’d seem like Meg was on his mind, but it’s as if her death is not an issue for Hercules. Like, I know I’d be fighting more desperately than happy if my true love were in that much trouble, so what the hell, Herc?

The problem is, the “lighter” bits of this movie are really great (unlike the ones in Hunchback of Notre Dame, which completely take away from the plot), but so are the serious bits. I can’t see the movie with one of these bits missing; potentially, there just needs to be a rebalance.

The History

Here’s the chance for me to list off all the inconsistencies between the myth of Hercules and the Disney Hercules. It’s just nitpicking (some of the myth changes actually work in the plot’s favor), but I have to to make Professor Hahnemann proud.

  • There are nine Muses, not five.
  • Zeus is a cheating, lying, power-hungry bag of dicks. This should have been punched up way more in the movie.
  • Zeus and Hera are siblings. And if this movie is bold enough to mention the incestuous family of Oedipus, then it should be bold enough to mention this.
  • The Titans (apart from two) are locked in the Underworld, specifically in a place called Tartarus. There are also at least 12 different Titans that Hades could have released from Tartarus at any time he wanted.
  • It’s fucking HERACLES, not Hercules. Hercules is the son of Jupiter, Heracles is the son of Zeus. Be consistent, dammit.
  • Heracles is usually depicted with a beard.
  • Heracles is the bastard son of Zeus and Alcmene, not Zeus and Hera. He was mortal from the start. Hera hated his guts, and actually made Heracles go mad and kill his two sons.
  • Hades just… does his job. He doesn’t hate it, he doesn’t hatch any diabolical plans, he’s just bored. Hera is the one who sends shit after Hercules.
  • Hades has a wife: Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. He kidnapped her.
  • The Fates don’t share one eye; that’s a Gorgon thing.
  • Heracles fit in, always. He was always a superstar.
  • Heracles’ primary goal was not to achieve immortality: it was to earn forgiveness for the aforementioned infanticide.
  • Pegasus comes from the blood of Gorgons, not clouds.
  • Heracles does, in fact, marry a woman named Megara, and she bears him two sons. That (I reiterate) he kills in a Hera-induced rage. Megara also gets killed in that rage. Love me a Disney ending!
  • Heracles does not have a “happily ever after.” Look up his death, it’s wild.
  • Philoctetes is not a satyr who trains heros. Philoctetes is a hero himself.
  • If Phil the satyr’s ultimate goal was for his heroes to get a constellation, why mention Perseus as a failure? Perseus has a constellation.
  • The Trojan War hadn’t happened yet. Achilles and Odysseus are after Hercules’ time.
  • It’s not surprising that Hercules is the son of Zeus. So was Perseus.

I could go on, but I’m only a partial asshole.

Summary?

Is Hercules good? Sure. Is it great? Hell no.

What made this movie shine for me were the voices and songs. The weird animation, mythically inaccurate plot, and inconsistent tone are enough to make me shy away, but just listening to James Woods as Hades and Susan Egan as Meg keeps bringing me back. The songs are also some of my favorite all-time Disney tunes. I can use this movie as background noise for my work. This movie is an audio masterpiece for me.

I don’t regret having to rewatch this film, but if you’re in a pinch and want a good Disney renaissance film to watch, I suggest The Lion King.

Image Credits: Feature, 1, 2, 3, 4

 

People call me Suz.
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