Due to the nature of their source material, Disney has a lot of creative control when it comes to their stories, but I do believe that there should be some aspects which they should strive to depict accurately, the top of this list being religions (and yes, ancient religions still count). Which is why, as a classics nerd, I both hate and love Disney’s adaption of Hercules.
The first mistake in Disney’s adaption is the name of our protagonist. ‘Hercules’ the characters Roman name while his Greek name is Heracles (after Zeus’s wife, Hera). Now, this would be fine if the movie was portraying the Roman version of the myth but all other characters have their Greek names and the film is very clearly set in ancient Greece.
Similarly, whenever numbers are used, they appear in the form of Roman numerals (“Call IX I I !”), despite the fact that the ancient Greek versions of the numbers would be alpha, beta, gamma and so forth.
The next mistake comes in the opening series. Disney only utilised five out of the nine muses (Calliope- epic poetry, Clio- history, Melpomene- tragedy, Terpsichore- dance, and Thalia- comedy). I can see why they trimmed down the numbers. It makes it easier to focus on developing the characters and makes it easier to choreography the muses dance routines. But still, I can’t help but feel bad for Euterpe, Erato, Polyhymnia and Urania who didn’t make the cut. Tangentially, I do love the inclusion of the muses as the narrators. Most works of epic poetry from the time would start with an invocation to the muses for inspiration and guidance. So it makes sense that they would be the ones to help the actual narrator tell the story. I’m not too sure about the christian gospel style music though…
If you know the myth of Heracles, you’ll know that the Disney story has nothing to do with the original myths. Disney do have the power to take liberties with their stories but this adaption bares no resemblance to the original. It’s like Cinderella without her stepsisters or Snow White with no evil queen.
The most striking difference is Hades being cast as the villain of the story and Hera being the lovely, doting mother. For one thing, Heracles wasn’t Hera’s son. Zeus was a notorious womaniser and had a child with the mortal Alcmene (who appears as Herc’s foster mother in the film). Hera hated all of Zeus’ illegitimate offspring and made it her mission to ruin Heracles’ life. The most prominent of the Herculean myths is the Labours of Heracles. Heracles was driven mad by Hera and consequently killed his sons and wife (sorry Megara). To atone for his sins, Heracles undertook the 12 labours. These labours are referenced to throughout the film, for example; the battle with the Hydra (2nd Labour). Hercules fighting the Lion (1st Labour), the Boar (4th Labour) and the Stymphalian Bird (6th Labour) and the capturing of Cerberus (12th Labour) at the end of the film. Phil also mentions the task of cleaning Augean’s stables (5th Labour) and retrieving a Girdle from ‘some Amazons’ (9th Labour). However, despite the passing references to the labours, they don’t contribute to the plot of Disney’s adaption.
Similarly, in the film, Hercules meets Megara after he saves her from the River Guardian. This story is actually how Heracles meets his second wife Deianira in the original myths.
Now, I can see how some aspects of the original myths (like the protagonist killing his wife and children) aren’t exactly child friend, but dammit Disney, you could at least try.
Similarly, a lot of the myths surrounding the other characters are misinterpreted. For example, the main reasoning behind Hades’ villainous behaviour is that Zeus bestowed the Underworld upon him. In the original myths, Zeus didn’t decide who got what, the three brothers (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon) drew lots. Hades was just an unlucky guy, that’s all.
In addition to this, characters who shouldn’t be in Olympus appear during the film. The most noticeable being Narcissus, who was never a god, and therefore wouldn’t be able to reach Mount Olympus.
Disney’s version of the story oddly incorporates Jewish characters. For example, Hades had a tendency to use phrases such as “Oy Vey” when aggravated. Now, I’m not denying that Jewish people were around at this time, but it seems highly unlikely that the Greek god would be one of them. This could be a reflection of Walt Disney’s anti-Semitism (by making the villains Jewish) or it could be related to the fact that the Hebrew version of the underworld (She’ol) was translated into Greek as Hades.
Another unexplained Jewish character is Philoctetes, the satyr, who uses Yiddish like a second language. Phil goes through a number of changes for the Disney adaption, the main of which being that in the myths Phil wasn’t a satyr, he was a prince and a hero. Instead of a valiant hero, we get…
In the film, when Hercules first enters Phil’s hut, he bangs his head on the mast of the Argo. Hercules is suitably impressed by the artefact, but in the mythology, Heracles was one of the heroes aboard the Argo at the time.
Another Phil-related error is Phil’s desire to have trained a hero to be immortalised in the stars. In the film, Phil claims to have trained Perseus, who has a constellation. So this kind of diminishes the impact of his big dream.
Other characters who’ve been vastly misinterpreted in the film adaption are Pain and Panic. The nearest corresponding characters are Phobos (the personification of fear) and Deimos (the personification of terror) who are actually sons of Ares. However, Phobos and Deimos also appear in the TV series (Episode 14: Hercules and the Owl of Athena) named Fear and Terror (who were presented as being dim-witted instead of terrifying). Which suggests that Pain and Panic weren’t meant to be adaptions of the Greek characters.
The Fates were confused with The Graeae in the Disney film. The Graeae were the perpetually old women who helped Perseus find Medusa. This trio of women shared a singular eye, not the Fates.
Furthermore, Pegasus was created by the blood of Medusa, not from clouds. Pegasus had nothing to do with the Herculean myths, and instead belonged to either Bellerophon or Perseus.
Another massive misinterpretation of the story comes from the depiction of the Titans. In the Disney adaption, The Titans say that Zeus put them in their prison, but Zeus’s grandfather Uranus did. Furthermore, in the movie, Hades releases the Titans from a place at the bottom of the ocean but in the original myths they were banished to Tartarus (the prison of the underworld). In addition,the Cyclops who fights Hercules was not an actual Titan and the other Titans in the film are shown as personifications of wind, fire, ice and earth. This a stark difference from how they appear in Greek mythology, but is remarkably similar to the Jötun of Norse mythology.
So, you can probably tell that I have a lot of strong feeling about Disneys’ adaption of the Greek myths. I’m going t stop here though, because if I keep going then I’m going to be writing all night. Let me know what you think about Disneys’ Hercules. Do you like the adaption or are there other errors that make it hard for you to watch. Feel free to let me know in the comments.