From a DVD cover.


Original Medium: Traditional
Produced as a cartoon feature by: Walt Disney Productions
First appeared: antiquity
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Many of Disney's animated features, from Snow White forward, were based on classic stories, that have been told since time immemorial. But for decades, the stories tended to be directly taken from a single published version — the 1697 Perault version of Cinderella, the 1756 Beaumont version of Beauty & the Beast … In the case of Hercules, the authoritative source is Bullfinch — but while many elements of Bullfinch's …

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… narrative were present in the Disney version, they were put together in an entirely different configuration; and some elements of the movie never appeared in Bullfinch — and vice versa.

One thing missing in the movie was Herc's extra-wedlock birth. Alcmene, the woman who (with her husband, Amphitryon) raised him, his mother according to Bullfinch, was demoted here to a mere foster-mom. Herc was the legitimate son of Zeus, king of the gods, and his wife Hera — another departure from Bullfinch, using the Greek names for most of the deities alongside the Roman form "Hercules" (as opposed to the Greek "Heracles"). The plot was entirely a Disney invention, in addition to a general scrambling of the character relationships.

In this version, the Titans of myth (no relation) had been imprisoned by Zeus for having wrought havoc long before Herc's birth. When Herc is born, Hades, ruler of the Underworld, gets a prophecy that he'll interfere with Hades freeing the Titans as part of a plot to overthrow Zeus. He sends his minions out to kidnap Herc and poison him to remove his godhood. They bungle the job, and Herc retains his awesome strength. He's found and raised by Alcmene and Amphitryon.

Hercules grows up a clumsy oaf, kind of like Awarkman of The Inferior Five, super-strong but unable to do anything with his strength except wreck things. His adoptive parents reveal what they know of his heritage, and a statue of Zeus comes to life and tells him the rest. He can regain his godhood, the statue says, by becoming a hero instead of a klutz. He gets a satyr named Philoctetes to teach him the art of being a hero. In the process, he picks up with Megara (whom, as we recall from Bullfinch, he was destined to marry), and is repeatedly thwarted by Hades. Eventually, Hades is decisively defeated, Herc demonstrates heroism sufficient to restore his goodhood, and Herc and Meg live happily ever after.

Hercules was one of Disney's post-Roger features, when the studio was experiencing a renaissance of animated excellence. However, its release on June 27, 1997 came long after the fresh energy of The Little Mermaid had settled into a routine. Still, it got a good enough critical response, tho it didn't do outstandingly well at the box office. It was condemned in Greece as yet another case of foreigners mangling their history and culture for commercial gain.

The main voice of Hercules was provided by Tate Donovan, a face actor who lacks other voice credits except an incidental part in an episode of the TV version of Disney's Tarzan. His younger self was mostly Josh Keaton (Cyclops in X-Men), but his younger self's singing voice was Roger Bart (who also sang for Scamp). Hades was James Woods (also a face actor, who has done his own voice as a character in Family Guy). Megara was Susan Egan (also known mostly for face work, tho she did play Belle in some live-action performances of Beauty & the Beast). Philoctetes was Danny DeVito (Homer's half-brother in The Simpsons). The same cast was on hand for the video game, which came out shortly after the movie.

Robert Costanza (Harvey Bullock in Batman) replaced DeVito in the TV series, which began August 31, 1998 as a segment of One Saturday Morning, the programming block that also included Recess. The TV series took place during the period when Herc was learning the hero trade. Megara had a much smaller role in this phase of his life, so the void was filled by giving giving him a couple of school pals, Icarus (played by French Stewart, who also voiced Rentwhistle Swack in Buzz Lightyear) and Cassandra (played by Sandra Bernhard (a face actress who has done only minor other voice roles, such as an old lady in American Dad). Costanza continued as Phil, with the rest reprising their parts as well, in the the feature-length conclusion of the series, Hercules: Zero to Hero, which tied the series continuity back in with the original movie. Zero to Hero was released to home video in 1999.

The characters have since turned up on The Disney Channel's House of Mouse. Megara has been seen as one of The Disney Princesses. Apparently, the Hercules characters have become as much a part of Disney's pantheon of exploitable characters as The Big Bad Wolf, Panchito and Daisy Duck.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Walt Disney Productions.