Venture into the mythical world of Ancient Greece as we explore the captivating universe of Disney’s “Hercules.” Released in 1997, this animated feature stands out in Disney’s pantheon for its unique blend of classical mythology, fast-paced humor, and vibrant animation. Infusing Greek mythology with a modern twist, “Hercules” is not only an adventurous tale of heroism and self-discovery but also a creative masterpiece filled with fascinating behind-the-scenes facts.
Each element of the film, from its gospel-inspired muses to its Olympian gods, was crafted with a blend of traditional storytelling and innovative artistic expression. In this article, we’ll dive into the intriguing aspects of “Hercules,” unraveling the lesser-known facts and creative nuances that make this animated journey a standout in Disney’s illustrious history. So, let’s embark on this heroic quest to uncover the secrets and stories that lie behind the making of Disney’s “Hercules.”
The Myth of Hercules
The story of Disney’s “Hercules” is based on the journey of the mythological hero Hercules, who originally belonged in Greek mythology as “Heracles” before being adopted into Roman mythology as “Hercules.” No one really knows how the mythological hero was created and applied to Greek mythology, but he is considered to be one of the most popular Greek mythological figures because of his strength and amazing adventures. Here are two key points that people should know about when it comes to the original Hercules.
- The Son of a God – Hercules is the son of the Roman god Jupiter and human Alcmene (also known as Alcmena). Jupiter is the king of the Roman gods and is also the god of the sky and thunder. Jupiter is the Roman equivalent of Zeus, the Greek god of thunder, who is also the king of the gods in Greek mythology.
- The Labours of Hercules – these are a series of tasks that were accomplished by Hercules in the service of Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns, which is one of the three Mycenaean strongholds in Ancient Greece. The Mycenaean era of Greece was the last phase of the territory’s Bronze Age, which is said to have lasted from 1750 to 1050 BC.
Disney’s “Hercules” has a plot that is loosely based on the Labours of Hercules, although Disney’s version of the tasks accomplished by the hero is more lighthearted. Check out below for the key moments of the original Labours of Hercules.
- Why Hercules Had to Perform the Labors: Hercules was driven mad by Hera, the queen of the gods, and in his madness, killed his own children. To atone for his sins, he was given twelve labors by King Eurystheus.
- 1st Labor: Nemean Lion: Hercules was tasked to slay the invulnerable Nemean Lion. He strangled the beast with his bare hands and thereafter wore its impenetrable skin.
- 2nd Labor: Lernaean Hydra: Hercules had to defeat the Hydra, a serpentine monster with multiple heads. Each time a head was cut off, two more would grow. With help from his nephew Iolaus, he burned the neck stumps to prevent regrowth and buried the immortal head under a rock.
- 3rd Labor: Ceryneian Hind: He was required to catch the golden-horned Ceryneian Hind, a creature sacred to Artemis, without harming it. Hercules chased it for a year before finally capturing it.
- 4th Labor: Erymanthian Boar: Hercules was tasked to capture the fearsome Erymanthian Boar alive. He chased the boar into thick snow and trapped it.
- 5th Labor: Augean Stables: He had to clean the Augean stables, which housed a vast number of cattle, in a single day. Hercules accomplished this by rerouting the rivers Alpheus and Peneus to wash out the filth.
- 6th Labor: Stymphalian Birds: Hercules had to drive away the man-eating Stymphalian birds. He used a pair of bronze crotalon (an ancient percussion instrument), given by the goddess of wisdom, Athena, to frighten the birds and then shot many of them with arrows.
- 7th Labor: Cretan Bull: Hercules was sent to capture the ferocious Cretan Bull. After wrestling the bull to the ground, he shipped it back to Eurystheus.
- 8th Labor: Mares of Diomedes: Tasked with stealing the Mares of Diomedes (man-eating horses), Hercules fed their master, Diomedes, to them and tamed them in his absence.
- 9th Labor: Belt of Hippolyta: He was ordered to obtain the belt of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. Initially, Hippolyta agreed to give the belt willingly, but Hera incited the Amazons against Hercules, leading to a battle in which he killed Hippolyta and took the belt.
- 10th Labor: Cattle of Geryon: Hercules had to steal the cattle of the monster Geryon. He journeyed to the end of the world, slew Geryon, and herded the cattle back to Eurystheus.
- 11th Labor: Apples of the Hesperides: He was instructed to steal the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides. After several adventures, including holding up the heavens for Atlas, Hercules obtained the apples.
- 12th Labor: Cerberus: The final labor was to capture Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to the Underworld, without using weapons. Hercules subdued Cerberus with his strength and brought him to Eurystheus.
After completing these labors, Hercules was absolved of his guilt and achieved immortality, joining the gods on Mount Olympus. His labors symbolize a path to redemption and the idea that perseverance and courage can overcome any obstacle.
Fascinating Facts About Disney’s Hercules
Disney’s “Hercules” stands out for its distinctive animation style, memorable music, and humorous take on Greek mythology. Here are twelve interesting facts about Disney’s “Hercules” that showcase its distinctiveness and the innovation behind its creation:
- Celebrity Inspiration: Hercules’ appearance was inspired by various actors known for their ‘All-American’ look, including Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
- Gospel Music Influence: The film’s music, composed by Alan Menken, features gospel music influences, a departure from traditional Disney soundtracks.
- Comedic Take on Mythology: “Hercules” is known for its humorous approach to Greek mythology, blending ancient stories with modern humor and references.
- Character Design: The character designs were influenced by the work of British cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, whose style gave the film its unique and exaggerated look.
- Star-Studded Cast: The voice cast includes Tate Donovan as Hercules, Danny DeVito as Philoctetes, James Woods as Hades, and Susan Egan as Megara.
- James Woods’ Improvisation: James Woods, who voiced Hades, improvised much of his dialogue, bringing a unique and dynamic quality to the character.
- Megara’s Unique Character: Megara, Hercules’ love interest, was praised for being a more independent and complex character compared to traditional Disney heroines.
- First Disney Film with a Living Celebrity Caricature: The film features a caricature of Danny DeVito (Philoctetes) as the first time a living celebrity was caricatured in a Disney film.
- Animation Techniques: “Hercules” utilized a combination of traditional hand-drawn animation and computer-generated imagery, particularly in scenes involving the Hydra.
- The Muses: The Muses, who narrate the story, are depicted as figures akin to a Greek chorus but with the twist of being styled as Motown-style singers.
- Scarfe’s Involvement: Gerald Scarfe, who influenced the film’s visual style, was involved in the production for over three years, contributing to character development and background designs.
- Training Montage Homage: The training montage in “Hercules” is a nod to similar sequences in movies like “Rocky,” showcasing Hercules’ transition from zero to hero.
These fascinating facts about “Hercules” highlight the creative efforts and unique artistic decisions that went into crafting a film that stands out in Disney’s animated repertoire. With its blend of mythological storytelling, innovative animation, and memorable musical scores, “Hercules” remains a beloved and distinctive film in the Disney canon.
The Creation of Disney’s Hercules
The creation of Disney’s “Hercules” is a fascinating tale of how classical mythology met the imaginative world of Disney animation. The film marked an adventurous departure from Disney’s traditional fairy tale adaptations, delving into the rich tapestry of Greek mythology with a distinctive twist.
The initial idea for “Hercules” emerged during a period when Disney was exploring new narratives beyond their established formula. The directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, who had previously worked on successful projects like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” were interested in crafting a story around a well-known mythological figure. Hercules, with his legendary feats and status as a cultural icon, presented an exciting challenge. The aim was to retell his story in a way that was both respectful to its origins and infused with a contemporary and family-friendly appeal.
One of the most distinctive aspects of “Hercules” was its visual style. Disney sought the talents of British cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, known for his satirical and exaggerated art. Scarfe’s influence is evident in the film’s bold lines, dynamic characters, and vibrant settings, which gave “Hercules” a unique look, setting it apart from its predecessors. This artistic direction was a deliberate choice to mirror the film’s departure from traditional Disney storytelling and to embody the larger-than-life nature of Greek myths.
Musically, “Hercules” also took a different path. Renowned composer Alan Menken, who had scored several Disney classics, collaborated with lyricist David Zippel to create a soundtrack that combined traditional Disney melodies with the energy and spirit of gospel music. This choice added a modern and lively flavor to the movie, perfectly complementing its dynamic animation style.
The film’s development also involved extensive research into Greek mythology, ensuring that while the narrative took creative liberties, it remained rooted in the essence of Hercules’ legendary stories. The character of Hercules was reimagined from a traditional demigod hero to a more relatable and endearing character, embodying the journey from an awkward teenager to a true hero.
The casting process was another crucial aspect of bringing “Hercules” to life. Tate Donovan was chosen for the titular role for his ability to balance innocence and strength, while James Woods’ portrayal of Hades brought a unique blend of humor and menace to the villain. The casting of Danny DeVito as Philoctetes and Susan Egan as Megara added depth and charisma to the film.
The creation of “Hercules” showcased Disney’s willingness to explore new creative territories. By blending Scarfe’s dynamic art style, Menken’s vibrant music, and a narrative steeped in mythology, Disney delivered a film that was not just an entertaining adaptation of a Greek legend but also a fresh and innovative addition to its animated legacy. “Hercules” remains a testament to the enduring power of storytelling and the limitless possibilities of animation.
From its unconventional visual style inspired by Gerald Scarfe’s dynamic artistry to its gospel-infused soundtrack and humorous reimagining of ancient mythology, “Hercules” stands out as a distinctive and adventurous endeavor in Disney’s animated canon. The film’s blend of classical myth with contemporary sensibilities, coupled with memorable characters voiced by a talented cast, showcases Disney’s ability to adapt and evolve its narrative approach.
The creative risks taken in the making of “Hercules” not only paid off in crafting a film that is both entertaining and artistically inspiring but also underscored Disney’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of animation. “Hercules” remains a beloved and impactful film, resonating with audiences for its humor, heart, and the timeless message that true heroism comes from within.