The first time I ever watched Disney’s “Hercules,” I must have been around 4 or 5 years old. It was in the very beginning of the hegemony of the DVD, but my family still had our collection of VHS tapes sitting next to our old cathode ray tube television. My twin sister and I, being in that period of life in which we were too young to read but old enough to annoy our parents ceaselessly, had instigated a purchase of several Disney movies on this antiquated medium in an attempt to keep us occupied — at least, for maybe an hour or two at a time.
I can’t say that I have formed a distinct recollection of watching “Hercules” for the first time — after all, I was barely old enough to form my own opinions, let alone create lasting memories. But as a child, it was definitely one of those movies that I would watch again and again. Whenever my sister and I browsed our VHS selection, my first choice would always be “Hercules.” It drove her so insane that she probably still talks to her therapist about it today.
When I finally learned to read, one of the first books I remember reading was “Greek Myths for Young Children.” The book presented many of the classic Greek myths, simplified in order to be digestible for kids who didn’t have a lot of experience reading. This was the beginning of my Greek mythology phase, and, of course, the root of this was watching “Hercules” all those times when I was younger.
The movie, which came out in 1997, is of course influenced by the Greco-Roman myth of Hercules. But while the main characters of each story share the same name, the plots are entirely different. In the Disney version, Hercules is born to Zeus and Hera, two of the most powerful gods of the Greek pantheon. However, Zeus’ brother Hades, god of the underworld, is plotting to take over Olympus, the seat of power of the Greek gods. Hercules has the potential of interfering in this plan, so Hades has his two lackeys Pain and Fear turn Hercules human. While the pair are successful in removing Hercules’ status as a god, they are unsuccessful in removing his godlike strength. The rest of the movie follows Hercules as he finds out who he is, trains to be a hero and foils Hades’ plan, while all the time discovering himself and falling in love.
Hercules was a movie that shaped so much of who I am today — it initiated my passion for mythology and anthropology, and the Greek stories it inspired me to read were what made me so passionate about reading in a time when many of my classmates regarded it as boring and a waste of time. Hercules made me feel as if I, too, could overcome all obstacles in my path and “go the distance.” It probably even led me to take DS this year. However, until recently, I hadn’t watched the movie since I had been that small, impressionable kid and had all but forgotten about it. But last week, upon browsing Netflix in search of a movie to watch during one of those periods of time when one knows they should be doing work but doesn’t do it anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Hercules had recently been added. Considering the fact that it had been such a large influence on my life, I knew I had to watch it.
The thing is, it’s undeniable that Hercules is a children’s movie. It’s admittedly a classic Disney bildungsroman, similar in structure to Disney’s 1992 film “Aladdin,” where the character struggles with self-identity until he finally defeats the great enemy, finds love and discovers where he belongs in the world. Unlike “Aladdin,” however, which exists as a simplification of the Middle Eastern folktale of a character of the same name, “Hercules” is a complete perversion of its original myth. To be fair, much of this is because the original tale is, suffice it to say, not really appropriate for the young audience that Disney was aiming at. There’s a lot of adultery, familicide and generally R-rated content, so, while Disney includes the mythological task of Hercules slaying the Hydra, the majority of the movie is fabricated in order to get that G rating.
Despite all of this, Disney’s Hercules stands up. It has characters that are surprisingly fleshed out for a movie aimed at small children, and, even as a college student, I still find myself chuckling along to some of the one-liners thrown out by Hades’ character. In addition, the songs meld several different genres and definitely make the soundtrack something worth listening to. It certainly fulfills its purpose of entertainment for the sake of entertainment and continues to keep me captivated even today. My parents, who sat me down to watch it all those years ago in a simple attempt of keeping me occupied, would be pleased.
Jake Kalodner | firstname.lastname@example.org