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20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘Hercules’

1997’s Hercules is a film which departs somewhat from the usual Disney blockbuster. Rather than adapting a classic fairy tale, the studio took a page from Greek mythology, something that they hadn’t done before. The film was directed by dynamic duo John Musker and Ron Clements who been instrumental in the launch of the Disney Renaissance with their film, The Little Mermaid.

Read: 20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’

Though the film is traditionally animated (Pixar’s Toy Story had only been released two years prior, after all), there is a sequence featuring a heavy use of CGI. In order to avoid animating thirty separate heads for the character of Hydra, the animators decided to make him a completely CGI character. Though undoubtably impressive at the time, the integration between these two art forms is quite noticeable and does date the film somewhat. Oh, how times have changed!

Watching the film as an adult is an enjoyable experience. The characters are entertaining and memorable, largely due to the incredible voice talent. James Woods puts in a great performance as Hades, playing a different villain than what audiences had seen before. Other highlights include Danny DeVito as Phil and Susan Egan as Meg.

Alan Menken returned to write music for Hercules, this time without his usual collaborators Tim Rice or Stephen Schwartz. Instead, David Zippel was brought in to write lyrics and, unfortunately, is a poor substitute for those who had come before. Most of the lyrics are simply lacking in quality and make for what are ultimately unmemorable songs. This is particularly the case in One Last Hope. However, there are still a couple of great songs such as Go the Distance and I Won’t Say (I’m in Love) which harken back to earlier, better, Alan Menken songs.

For kids that are fans of Greek mythology or the Percy Jackson series, this film is fun and imaginative and, though not a classic in the vein of The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, is definitely a worthy chapter in the Disney Renaissance.

Live-action remake: In 2020, we revealed that a live-action Hercules remake was in the works. The Hollywood Reporter later confirmed our report, and also revealed that the Russo brothers, of the MCU, would be producing this film. The script will be written by Dave Callaham, writer of the upcoming Marvel film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. At this point, it is unknown if it will be a musical and no release date has been set.

Hercules in the theme parks: Hercules has been incorporated into several of the theme parks in various ways including musical shows and parades. However, the characters from Hercules only make occasional appearances in the parks.

Spin-off: Though DisneyToon Studios curiously never made a sequel to Hercules, a spin-off animated show aired on television from 1998 to 1999. Also titled Hercules, it revolved around the young character training to be a hero.

Hercules on stage: In 2019, a stage musical adaptation of Disney’s Hercules, featuring both new and original songs, premiered at the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. In this production, Roger Bart, the original singing voice for young Hercules, played the role of Hades. Despite the shutdown of theatres across the world in 2020, Alan Menken has since revealed that the production will make its way to Broadway at some point in the future.

Hercules is available to stream on Disney+.

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